- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 15, 2004

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Vice President Cheney told a Jewish group yesterday that the videotaped slaying of Philadelphia businessman Nicholas Berg in Iraq at the hands of terrorists serves as a reminder that the United States is still in a struggle against “evil.”

“We have no illusions about the nature of this struggle, or the character of the enemy,” Mr. Cheney told the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County. “The recent murder of Nicholas Berg, like the murder of Daniel Pearl in 2002, is a reminder that there are evil people in the world capable of any atrocity and determined to take innocent life.

“This nation will never be intimidated by the killers who despise us and everything we stand for. We are taking this fight to the enemy, and we will prevail.”

Mr. Berg, a Jew, was beheaded by al Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi, mirroring the killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002.

The vice president’s comments were made to the Jewish group the same day as Mr. Berg’s small, private funeral near his family’s home of West Chester, Pa. Only close relatives attended the service.

Mr. Cheney’s speech, billed as a major foreign-policy address, was delivered to a generally favorable audience in a Democratic stronghold that was at the center of the contested Florida recount that handed President Bush a 537-vote victory in 2000.

The speech, however, plowed little new ground. Basically, it was a reiteration of the Bush administration’s strong support for Israel coupled with support for an independent Palestinian state that is committed to rooting out Islamist terrorism.

With a backdrop of U.S., Florida, and Israeli flags, Mr. Cheney said that both “Americans and Israelis have shared the pain of terrorist attack,” and it is an experience that has strengthened the ties between the two countries.

Since September 11, Mr. Cheney said, the United States and Israel have been “joined in our refusal to tolerate a future based on fear and terror.” And Mr. Bush will stay on the offensive against the terrorists.

“We have to assume they will make further attempts inside the United States,” Mr. Cheney said. “And every American can be certain: This government is doing everything we can to prevent another attack on America.

“Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength. They are invited by the perception of weakness.”

Mr. Cheney’s tough words come as support for the war in Iraq has slipped in the wake of extended firefights to root out small pockets of resistance in Najaf and Fallujah and the revelation of abuse of prisoners at the hands of U.S. troops.

A CNN/Time poll conducted May 12 and 13 — after the prison-abuse scandal had played in the press for more than a week — showed that public support for Mr. Bush’s handling of the war on terrorism and Iraq has taken a hit.

Just 46 percent of respondents said Mr. Bush was doing a good job handling terrorism, with 47 percent saying it was doing poorly. On the question of Iraq, 55 percent said the president was doing poorly, and only 39 percent said he was handling it well.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to a presidential stop in Missouri that Mr. Bush is little concerned about his current poll numbers.

“There are going to be a lot of polls between now and November,” Mr. McClellan said. “I’m sure there will be all sorts of analysis of the poll numbers that come out on a weekly basis now. You always have to take into account current events and developments.”

Referring briefly to the prison-abuse scandal, Mr. Cheney repeated the administration’s insistence that “the recent misconduct of a few does not diminish the honor and decency that our servicemen and women have showed in Iraq.”

While public support for the war effort may be flagging, now is not the time to abandon Mr. Bush’s “forward strategy of freedom” in the Middle East, Mr. Cheney said.

“Democracies do not breed the anger and the radicalism that drag down whole societies or export violence,” he said. “Terrorists do not find fertile recruiting grounds or welcome bases of operations in societies where young people have the right to guide their own destinies and to choose their own leaders.”

The vice president’s speech was well received by the mostly Republican audience, but reaction was lukewarm when he spoke of the administration’s commitment to the establishment of a permanent homeland for the Palestinians.

“Our vision is for a viable, independent Palestinian state, living side-by-side at peace with Israel,” Mr. Cheney said, to light applause. “Yet we recognize that peace will not be achieved by Palestinian rulers who intimidate opposition, tolerate and profit from corruption and maintain ties to and encourage terrorist groups.”

The attendees, however, enthusiastically applauded Mr. Cheney’s statement that “we will remain steadfast in our support of Israel’s right to defend itself.”

He wrapped up his day with an evening fund-raiser for the Republican Party’s “Victory 2004” campaign and a speech that attacked presumed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for voting against funds that supported troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Senator Kerry was asked whether he would vote against the president’s request [for $87 billion in funding],” Mr. Cheney said. “He said, quote, ‘I don’t think any United States senator is going to abandon our troops. That’s irresponsible.’

“Within weeks, the legislation passed overwhelmingly, with a vote in the Senate of 87-12. Senator Kerry voted no. … The senator is free to vote as he wishes, but he should be held to his own standard. It is irresponsible to vote against vital support for the United States military.”

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