Cheney warns on Iraq

Times Staff Writer

With the Bush administration laboring to persuade skeptical Americans to stick with its war effort, Vice President Dick Cheney delivered a graphic warning Saturday about the high stakes of the ongoing conflict in Iraq.

“Al Qaeda’s leadership has said they have the right to ‘kill 4 million Americans, 2 million of them children, and to exile twice as many and to wound and cripple thousands,’ ” Cheney told graduates in a commencement speech at the U.S. Military Academy.

“America is fighting this enemy in Iraq,” he said.

Cheney’s caution came just a day after President Bush issued his own new warnings at a White House news conference during which he told reporters that terrorists are a danger to their children.


Last week, Bush succeeded in turning aside a congressional effort to impose a withdrawal timeline. But the president continues to face mounting pressure from Capitol Hill and elsewhere to bring the troops home, and he has opened the door in recent days to troop reductions.

Polls show that nearly two-thirds of Americans now favor a timetable for pulling out troops.

The White House has said such plans would surrender Iraq to terrorists intent on striking the United States.

Cheney, who is often responsible for the administration’s most combative rhetoric, painted a particularly dark picture of the consequences of failure.

“Scarcely 50 miles from this place,” Cheney said on the leafy campus perched above a wide curve on the Hudson River, “we saw thousands of our fellow citizens murdered, and 16 acres of a great city turned to ashes.”

The vice president heaped scorn on “enemies” who “oppose and despise ... every notion of upright conduct and character.”

“Their cruelty is not rebuked by human suffering, only fed by it,” Cheney said. Yet, he said, they “demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution” when captured.

“America is fighting this enemy in Iraq because that is where they have gathered.... And we are there because the security of this nation depends on a successful outcome,” Cheney said.

Although Cheney won applause from the graduating class at West Point -- and a hug from one cadet -- the administration’s message was challenged by another military voice.

In their weekly radio rebuttal to the president, Democrats tapped a Marine Corps reservist who served a seven-month tour in Afghanistan.

“I know I speak for many of my friends overseas when I say that the best way to honor the troops is to responsibly end our involvement in Iraq’s civil war,” Elliot Anderson said in his address.