- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Vice President Richard B. Cheney yesterday said a return of weapons inspectors to Iraq would provide "no assurance whatsoever" that Saddam Hussein has given up his pursuit of nuclear weapons and should not avert "pre-emptive action" by the United States.

During a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Nashville, Tenn., Mr. Cheney provided the administration's most vigorous rebuttal to a rising chorus of voices opposing war against Saddam.

"I am familiar with the arguments against taking action in the case of Saddam Hussein," he said. "Some concede that Saddam is evil, power hungry and a menace, but that until he crosses the threshold of actually possessing nuclear weapons we should rule out any pre-emptive action.

"That logic seems to me to be deeply flawed," he added. "The argument comes down to this: Yes, Saddam is as dangerous as we say he is. We just need to let him get stronger before we do anything about it."

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer cautioned reporters near the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, that Mr. Cheney "did not make the case for pre-emptive attack."

"He made the case for the pre-emptive doctrine, and it's an important difference," he said.

The term Mr. Cheney repeatedly used was "pre-emptive action." And he seemed to equate the word "act" with "war" during a discussion of the ongoing military campaign against al Qaeda.

"In Afghanistan, the world has seen that America acts not to conquer but to liberate," he said.

Although the administration did not specify what kind of "action," other than a military strike, it is contemplating against Iraq, Mr. Cheney warned that "inaction" by the United States would embolden Saddam and doom future efforts at building an international coalition against Baghdad.

"As one of those who worked to assemble the Gulf war coalition, I can tell you that our job then would have been infinitely more difficult in the face of a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein," he said. "And many of those who now argue that we should act only if he gets a nuclear weapon would then turn around and say that we cannot because he has a nuclear weapon.

"At bottom, that argument counsels a course of inaction that itself could have devastating consequences for many countries, including our own," he added.

Although Mr. Cheney and President Bush have publicly espoused a doctrine of pre-emption for months, yesterday's speech by the vice president was the administration's most detailed and comprehensive argument for action against Iraq. It took the form of a point-by-point rebuttal to naysayers on both sides of the political aisle.

It also marked a resumption of saber-rattling by the administration, which just last week was chiding the press for going into a "frenzy" of speculation about war against Iraq.

Mr. Fleischer said the president's tweaking of the press was limited to its coverage of a meeting Mr. Bush held with military advisers at his ranch to discuss missile defense on Wednesday. Although the White House told reporters before, during and after the meeting that Iraq was not on the agenda, the press remained preoccupied with the topic.

"The president's comments that day were limited to a day in which the president was having a meeting about missile defense," Mr. Fleischer said. "The president understands that there is a focus on Iraq. Questions about it are certainly appropriate."

In his Nashville speech, Mr. Cheney warned that Saddam cannot stave off U.S. efforts to oust him by merely lifting a ban on U.N. weapons inspectors, which Baghdad imposed in 1998.

"A person would be right to question any suggestion that we should just get inspectors back into Iraq, and then our worries will be over," Mr. Cheney said. "Saddam has perfected the game of shoot and retreat, and he is very skilled in the art of denial and deception.

"A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with U.N. resolutions," he added. "On the contrary, there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam is somehow back in his box. Meanwhile, he would continue to plot."

Mr. Cheney warned that leaving Saddam alone to realize his ambitions would have catastrophic consequences.

"Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies, directly threaten America's friends throughout the region and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail."

Mr. Cheney also promised that after deposing Saddam, the United States would remain in Iraq to help build a democratic society, much like it has in Afghanistan.

"We would act in that same spirit after a regime change in Iraq," he said.

In the past, the United States has urged Kurds and other ethnic minorities in Iraq to rise up against Saddam's regime, only to stand by while such uprisings were crushed. But yesterday, Mr. Cheney was promising such help only after Saddam is deposed by the United States.

The vice president also dismissed concerns about roiling the "Arab street" by acting against Iraq. Such concerns were raised before the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.

"After liberation, the streets in Basra and Baghdad are sure to erupt in joy in the same way throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans," Mr. Cheney predicted. "Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad, moderates throughout the region would take heart, and our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced just as it was following the liberation of Kuwait in 1991."

Mr. Cheney also implicitly disputed reports that war against Iraq was opposed by a prominent member of the Nixon administration.

"As former Secretary of State [Henry] Kissinger recently stated, the imminence of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the huge dangers it involves, the rejection of a viable inspection system and the demonstrated hostility of Saddam Hussein combine to produce an imperative for pre-emptive action," he said.

"If the United States could have pre-empted 9/11, we would have, no question," he added. "Should we be able to prevent another, much more devastating attack, we will, no question. This nation will not live at the mercy of terrorists or terror regimes."

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