- The Washington Times - Friday, July 2, 2004

Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday said terrorists struck American targets throughout Bill Clinton’s presidency “with little cost or consequence,” but that the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq has made the United States and the world safer.

The vice president lashed Mr. Clinton for his administration’s weak responses to terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993, an Air Force compound in Saudi Arabia, U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the USS Cole in the waters off Yemen.

Those attacks killed 74 Americans and left hundreds more wounded. In one retaliation, Mr. Clinton bombed sites in Sudan and Afghanistan that later turned out to have little or no value.

“Repeatedly, [terrorists] had struck America with little cost or consequence,” the vice president told 600 supporters at the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. “In none of these cases did the United States respond very forcefully.”

But all that has changed since President Bush took office, he said.

“Under President Bush’s leadership, we answered that challenge with decisive and relentless action. We did not fire million-dollar cruise missiles into empty tents, or drop bombs from 30,000 feet on abandoned obstacle courses. Instead, America launched a broad and sustained war on terrorist networks around the globe.”

Responding to Mr. Cheney’s speech, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s campaign spokesman, Phil Singer, said, “Clearly, the American people are making up their minds about the president’s handling of the war on terrorism and the Bush administration is running scared.

“In the nine months before September 11, Bush did not hold a single Cabinet meeting on terrorism.”

The vice president, in one of his strongest attacks yet on Democrats, said the nearly decade-long string of weak responses to attacks against Americans emboldened terrorist organizations around the world.

“Our enemies took lessons from this experience. They concluded that our country was soft. They grew to believe that if they hit us hard enough, if they inflicted sufficient casualties, the United States could be forced to retreat and withdraw,” he said, referring to Mr. Clinton’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Somalia in 1993 just weeks after rebels shot down several Black Hawk helicopters.

During the Clinton presidency, Mr. Cheney said terrorists began planning the September 11 attacks and moved freely in “terrorist states” that included Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

“All of these dangers were gathering in January of 2001. In short, this was the situation when President Bush and I came to office,” he said.

But under Mr. Bush, whose doctrine calls for pre-emptive strikes against belligerent enemies, Mr. Cheney said the world’s most dangerous regimes have been met with relentless opposition.

“President Bush set out not merely to send a message or take symbolic action, but to destroy those who had attacked our people. The president also made a necessary shift in the strategic doctrine of our country. He declared that any person or regime that harbors or supports terrorists is equally guilty of terrorist crimes and will be held to account.”

The Bush administration has strengthened the military, increased “our military and intelligence investments” and raised salaries for America’s troops, Mr. Cheney said.

Despite continued criticism from opponents of the war in Iraq, the vice president said Mr. Bush built a broad coalition of nations “to fight the enemy on many fronts.”

Ending the free reign of terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq has dramatically changed the world, Mr. Cheney said.

“America is safer, and the world is more secure, because Iraq and Afghanistan are now partners in the struggle against terror, instead of sanctuaries for terrorist networks.”

In his speech, the vice president repeated his position that Saddam Hussein’s regime had “long-established ties with al Qaeda,” the Islamist group responsible for the September 11 attacks. Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said after he took office that he believes “very strongly that Saddam had relations with al Qaeda.”

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