Thursday, November 15, 2001

CRAWFORD, Texas The White House, buoyed by advances against the Taliban in Afghanistan, yesterday took some measure of satisfaction in proving wrong the naysayers who had been criticizing the administration’s prosecution of the war.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney derided “the hand-wringers who, a week or two ago, were saying: ‘It’s not going to work; you’re not doing enough; you’ve been at it now for three or four weeks, and my gosh, the war is not over yet.’”
During a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, Mr. Cheney said he “can’t help but” indulge in a bit of crowing over the folly of his critics.
“When you read the Washington press and see what all of the pundits have to offer and some of the talking heads on Washington have to offer, it’s nice, at a moment like this, to be able to remind them that a lot of what they put out over the course of the last few weeks was just dead wrong,” he said. “The results are there for all to see.”
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said President Bush was shrugging off the potshots he took when the war appeared to be dragging last week.
“He knows that it doesn’t matter what a president does; the president will always have critics,” Mr. Fleischer said in response to questions from The Washington Times.
“But the president’s focus is on winning this war and bringing those terrorists to justice who attacked our country, regardless of what any of the positive-sayers say or the naysayers say,” he added. “He’s, of course, always cheered to have more positive-sayers than naysayers.”
Mr. Cheney said the naysayers can learn “a couple of lessons” from the administration’s progress in recent days.
“Things have changed so dramatically,” he said. “We see the Taliban in retreat virtually all over the country.
“They lost their control over a major part of Afghanistan,” he said. “They’ve lost control of most of the cities. Many of their forces have been killed, captured or fled to the hills.”
The vice president said this should serve as a warning that nations who continue to harbor terrorists will be punished under “what is increasingly known as the Bush doctrine.”
He added: “If anybody has any questions about whether or not we’re determined to carry through on that threat, all they have to do is go visit Afghanistan today and interview members of the Taliban if they can find any.”
Still, both Mr. Fleischer and Mr. Cheney cautioned against being overconfident since control of Kabul and other Afghan territory was wrested from the Taliban.
Mr. Cheney said recent progress in the war “does not by any means indicate that this operation is over yet. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Noting that al Qaeda is a global terrorist network, he added: “A far more appropriate way to look at it is, this is a very good beginning to what’s likely to be a long struggle.”
As that struggle continued yesterday, Mr. Bush welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin to his ranch here for further discussions on missile defense and the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Although Mr. Bush failed to convince Mr. Putin to withdraw from the treaty during talks Tuesday at the White House, the president was determined to discuss the issue “in greater length here in Crawford,” Mr. Fleischer said.
Yet the White House is downplaying expectations for a breakthrough on the ABM Treaty by the time Mr. Putin leaves Crawford this afternoon.
“Don’t look for anything of that nature,” Mr. Fleischer said. “This is one stop along the road. There will be many other stops after Crawford.”
Those stops might have to be completed by the end of the year, however, because the ABM Treaty prevents the United States from conducting certain tests that would precede deployment of a missile-defense shield.
Republican senators are urging Mr. Bush to fulfill his long-standing pledge to withdraw from the ABM Treaty altogether, although Mr. Putin favors merely amending the agreement in such a way that would allow the tests to proceed.
Yesterday, the White House seemed open to either scenario.
“The president has always been open to the modalities with which it would take place,” Mr. Fleischer said. “The president has never ruled out what the best process would be.”
While the White House was shying away from talk of a breakthrough on the ABM Treaty, it said history was made Tuesday when the president announced he would unilaterally slash America’s nuclear arsenal by two-thirds.
“That’s a singular change and a breakthrough,” Mr. Fleischer said. “No one has done this. President Bush is the first.”

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