Thursday, June 2, 2005

COLORADO SPRINGS — Vice President Dick Cheney issued an unapologetic defense of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan yesterday and promised Air Force Academy graduates more “great victories to come.”

“America chose to lead and had the courage to act,” he told 906 graduates on the academy’s sun-drenched football field. “And so the murderous regimes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein are history, more than 50 million people have been liberated from tyranny, and democracy is coming to the broader Middle East.”

The vice president’s rhetorical victory lap included a swipe at the administration’s detractors.

“There are some in the world who doubt the seriousness of our commitment,” he said. “But those doubters do not include members of the former regime in Afghanistan or the former dictator of Iraq.”

Still, Mr. Cheney acknowledged that the administration’s quest to democratize the Middle East is not entirely altruistic.

“We are committed to the advance of freedom in that region not just because it serves our ideals, but also because it serves our interests,” he said. “Our country is safer today because Afghanistan and Iraq have governments that fight terrorists instead of harboring them.”

Mr. Cheney reminded the class of 2005 that the task of keeping America safe has changed radically since they began their studies late summer of 2001.

“Four years ago, when you arrived at the Air Force Academy, some believed our nation had entered a long period of relative quiet — with few real threats to our security, little reason to expect serious danger from abroad and no chance of direct attack,” he said. “You were here on that day comforting illusions gave way to immediate and critical national priorities.”

It was a reference to September 11, 2001, when terrorists killed nearly 3,000 Americans.

“The attacks on our country underscore the seriousness of the profession you had entered and the oath you had taken only a few months earlier,” Mr. Cheney said. “And many of you shared the same wish that you could graduate on September 12 and take your place in the first war of the 21st century.”

Without mentioning former Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush or Ronald Reagan, Mr. Cheney critiqued their responses to terrorism.

“During the ‘80s and ‘90s, as terror networks began to wage attacks against Americans, there was a tendency to treat those attacks as isolated incidents,” he said. “As time passed, the terrorists concluded that they could hit America with very little consequence to themselves and might even change American policy through acts of murder.

“So their attacks became more ambitious and more deadly.”

The vice president also warned of future warfare.

“You will be among those who lead us to victory against freedom’s enemies,” he said. “And you will play an historic role in the great victories to come.”

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