Cheney vs. the Peaceniks

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, August 19, 2005; 12:18 PM

With President Bush kicking back at his ranch, the task of nipping a nascent antiwar movement in the bud fell to Vice President Cheney yesterday, and he went at it with his typical gusto.

To the extent that Cindy Sheehan and other supporters of an Iraqi pullout aim to start a national conversation about American options in Iraq, Cheney made it very clear that as far as he's concerned, that conversation only extends this far: Are you with us or are you against us?

The text of Cheney's speech at a convention of veterans in Springfield, Mo., was distributed to the White House press corps in Crawford, lest anyone overlook it.

Casting the war in Iraq as a battle in the same great tradition as the Revolutionary War -- and as a natural response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- Cheney likened any retreat from the administration's current policies to "turn[ing] over the future of mankind to tiny groups of fanatics committing indiscriminate murder, enslaving whole populations, oppressing women, imposing an ideology of hatred on an entire region, and arming to create death and destruction on an unbelievable scale."

And the only thinkable way to honor the wounded and the dead in Iraq is to fight to the end, he said. "Every man and woman who fights and sacrifices in this war is serving a just and noble cause. This nation will always be grateful to them, and we will honor their sacrifice by completing our mission."

It was not, in a nutshell, a detailed, reasoned response to the increasingly forceful call for troop withdrawal.

Cheney, for instance, didn't discuss the administration's current military strategy, or the lessons learned since the invasion. He didn't describe in any detail either the current tactical situation or the mission objective. He certainly didn't discuss the merits and drawbacks of alternative approaches, or acknowledge the desire of many Americans to start bringing the troops home now.

What he did -- very much in keeping with previous White House strategy -- was try to marginalize any opposition to the war as being deeply unpatriotic.

Because that's much easier than arguing for the war on its merits.

The Coverage

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney declared yesterday that the United States 'will not relent' in the war in Iraq and will hunt down insurgents there 'one at a time if necessary,' implicitly rebutting escalating pressure on the Bush administration to bring U.S. troops home.

"Addressing a friendly audience of combat veterans a day after antiwar candlelight vigils were held around the nation, Cheney cast victory in Iraq as 'critical to the future security of the U.S.' and said the country should not lose its resolve to defeat the militants. . . .

"Cheney's speech represented the first high-profile White House response in the past week to gathering antiwar demonstrations galvanized by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq. . . .

"Two months after declaring that the Iraqi insurgency was in its 'last throes,' Cheney painted a starker picture yesterday, acknowledging that 'there is still tough fighting' to come. Rather than promising quick victory, he reminded Americans that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks Bush warned that the broader struggle with terrorism would be 'a lengthy campaign.' "

Andrea Mitchell reports for NBC News: "As anti-war criticism grows, Vice President Dick Cheney addressed Purple Heart winners Thursday and strongly defended the conflict. 'We are hunting down the terrorists and training Iraqi security forces so they can take over responsibility for defending their own country,' said Cheney. 'Over time, as Iraqi forces stand up, American forces will stand down.' "

Says Mitchell: "All of this is becoming a political problem, as even some Bush supporters worry about finding an exit strategy from Iraq while the death toll mounts -- both for Iraqis and Americans."

Editorial Response

Cheney's speech didn't impress the local paper's editorial board. The Springfield News-Leader points out this morning that Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11.

"The blunder into Iraq and the rising toll there is stealing American resolve. It has blurred the focus on the global war on terror.

"Cheney's speech was a step toward reminding Americans that this is a worldwide conflict. We must extract ourselves, at the proper time, from Iraq and leave it in the hands of a democratically elected government. And we must go after al-Qaida everywhere it is and destroy it.

"When the White House truly regains that vision, Americans will rally behind it."

Hagel on Cheney

CNN reports: "Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska on Thursday said the United States is 'getting more and more bogged down' in Iraq and stood by his comments that the White House is disconnected from reality and losing the war.

"The longer U.S. forces remain in Iraq, he said, the more it begins to resemble the Vietnam war."

"Hagel mocked Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion in June that the insurgency in Iraq was in its 'last throes,' saying the U.S. death toll has risen amid insurgent attacks."

Here's the transcript of Hagel's appearance on CNN with Wolf Blitzer.

"BLITZER: You caused quite a stir back in June in those comments you made in 'U.S. News and World Report' when you said, 'Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse,' referring to what's happening in Iraq. You said, 'The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq.'

"Do you still stand by those comments?

"HAGEL: Well, I do, Wolf. It gives me no great pleasure to have said that and to say that now. . . .

"BLITZER: Senator Hagel, after your comments in 'U.S. News & World Report,' I sat down with the Vice President Dick Cheney and I asked him about what you said. Listen to this exchange that we had.


"RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fact of the matter is the town has a lot of people in it who are armchair quarterbacks or who like to comment on the passing scene. The bottom line is. . . .

"BLITZER: Chuck Hagel is. . . .

"CHENEY: Wrong.


"BLITZER: Do you think the vice president is wrong?

"HAGEL: Well, it was the vice president who said a couple of months ago that the insurgency was in its last throes. I didn't say that; the vice president said that.

"The fact is -- the facts speak for themselves, Wolf.

"Maybe the vice president can explain the increase in casualties we're taking and all the other issues that I just addressed.

"If that's winning, then he's got a different definition of winning than I do."

President Cheney?

PRNewswire reports: "Sportsbook.com says bettors are zeroing in on Vice President Cheney as the next American President. The world's largest online sportsbook and casino has seen a significant rise in wagering on Vice President Dick Cheney as the likely winner of the presidential race in 2008. Odds on Cheney have improved from 100-1, when betting on presidential candidates opened in May, to 20-1 currently."

It's apparently all due to Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward's recent suggestion in a speech in Aspen that a Cheney candidacy is "highly likely."

Cheney still lags behind Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y., 7-2), former New York major Rudolph Giuliani (10-1), and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz., 12-1).

Sheehan Watch

Julie Mason writes in the Houston Chronicle: "Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan abruptly left her vigil near President Bush's ranch Thursday, saying she needed to be with her ailing mother in California. . . .

"As word spread through the ramshackle campsite, Sheehan's supporters expressed concern that her absence would also mean the departure of dozens of journalists who have been broadcasting her vigil to the world."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "Ms. Sheehan told reporters that she would return to Texas as soon as possible, and that while she was gone, mothers of others killed in Iraq would keep pressure on Mr. Bush and continue to demand a meeting with him here. The group wants all American troops immediately withdrawn from Iraq."

Angela K. Brown writes for the Associated Press: "Although their leader had just departed because of a family emergency, anti-war demonstrators here didn't miss a beat, marching closer to President Bush's ranch to deliver handwritten letters.

"The protest camp outside Bush's ranch resumed its activities Thursday shortly after Cindy Sheehan -- whose 24-year-old son Casey died in Iraq -- learned that her 74-year-old mother had a stroke in Los Angeles and made preparations to leave."

CNN reports: "At one point, a group of Gold Star mothers marched about 4 miles to a police checkpoint outside of Bush's ranch and delivered about 200 letters.

" 'It was a privilege to accept the letters on behalf of the president and Mrs. Bush,' a White House official said. 'Every letter will receive a response.' "

Growing Political Opposition

Steve Hartsoe writes for the Associated Press: "Congressman Walter Jones said Thursday he has about 50 co-sponsors on a joint resolution that calls on President Bush to announce by year's end a plan for withdrawal from Iraq.

"The resolution -- introduced in June by Jones, another Republican and two Democrats -- calls on the president to begin executing the withdrawal by Oct. 1, 2006."

Roger Simon writes in U.S. News with more about the call by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq by Dec. 31, 2006.

Feingold "said that many within his own party are afraid of demanding a withdrawal of troops from Iraq for fear of being branded unpatriotic or anti-military.

" 'I call what I am doing breaking the taboo,' Feingold said. 'The senators have been intimidated and are not talking about a timeframe. We have to make it safe to go in the water and discuss this. A person shouldn't be accused of not supporting troops just because we want some clarity on our mission in Iraq.'

"While Feingold is aware some will accuse him of playing into the hands of the insurgents and strengthening terrorism, he says the Iraq war has made America less and not more safe.

" 'The president's policy in Iraq has played into the hands of the terrorists,' he said. 'Iraq is now the principal training ground for terrorists.' "

Bush Doctrine Watch

Gideon Rose writes in a New York Times op-ed today that "the Bush doctrine has collapsed, and the administration has consequently embraced realism, American foreign policy's perennial hangover cure."

Rose, managing editor of Foreign Affairs, describes how "all three pillars of the supposedly revolutionary Bush doctrine - pre-emption, regime change, and a clear division between those 'with us' and 'against us'- came crashing down.

"What the administration meant by pre-emption was really preventive war, a concept whose poor reputation has been reinforced by the failure to find unconventional weapons in Iraq together with the costly and bungled occupation. Regime change was based on the idea that problems abroad stem from the nature of certain foreign governments and can be fully solved only by replacing them with better ones. Today, as during the Cold War, it remains a worthwhile goal unmatched by a practical strategy for achieving it. And as for dividing the world between friends and foes, the Bush team-like all its predecessors-has found itself stuck dealing primarily with inconvenient cases in the middle, from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to China and France. . . .

"Just as they have so many times before, the realists have come in after an election to offer some adult supervision and tidy up the joint. This time it's simply happened under the nose of a victorious incumbent rather than his opponent (which may account for the failure to change the rhetoric along with the policy)."

Wolff on Leaking

In an article in the latest issue of Vanity Fair, columnist Michael Wolff criticizes those in the mainstream media who knew of Karl Rove's role in the outing of Valerie Plame, but refused to expose him.

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewed Wolff and investigative reporter Murray Waas yesterday on Democracy Now! An excerpt:

"JUAN GONZALEZ: Your article also suggests that Karl Rove was the ultimate source in Washington, to a large degree, and that he became this off-the-record source for so many reporters that, in essence, he was managing those reporters, to a large degree.

"MICHAEL WOLFF: Well, I mean, I think the truth is we don't know that, but what we do know is that we have reason to believe that if he was talking to these people, he was probably talking to lots of other people, too. One of the interesting things is that the Bush administration, I mean, since the beginning, there has always been this thing that they don't leak, that they're incredibly secret, that, you know, that finally there's a disciplined administration, an administration with media discipline. And what it probably turns out now is that that's not true. They just didn't leak -- they didn't leak willy-nilly. They leaked with a strategy and a method and with Karl Rove sitting right up at the top of that media war room."

Armstrong's Visit: Sponsored by Discovery

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino broke the news to the press corps yesterday that cyclist Lance Armstrong's visit to Crawford on Saturday will be off limits to everyone in the press -- except for the Discovery Channel, a sponsor of Armstrong's Tour de France team.

Gaza Watch

Agence France Presse reports: "President George W. Bush is constantly being updated about events in the Gaza Strip, and has expressed faith in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's ability to resolve the situation, a White House spokeswoman said."

Gas Watch

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush and members of Congress are facing an uncomfortable political reality this summer: They have little to offer Americans to ease their pain at the pump."

Crawford Tourists Get Skunked

Oren Dorell writes in USA Today: "Since 1999, when Bush and his wife bought the property about 7 miles out of town, tourism in Crawford has grown from none to some."

But there ain't much for the tourists to see.

"While Bush is in Crawford, which is several times a year for short stays and for a month or so each summer, his security bubble goes with him. The airspace above his 1,600-acre ranch is off-limits, and the Secret Service and Texas Department of Public Safety place guards and orange barrels in the road about a mile from the gate. Only residents and invited guests get by."

Return of the Background Briefing

I don't believe the White House has called a single official "background briefing" since a group of Washington bureau chiefs met with Press Secretary Scott McClellan this spring to urge him to curtail the practice. (See my May 4 column.)

But desperate times call for desperate measures, apparently, and the White House has put together a "Background Briefing via conference call by a Senior State Department Official on the Iraq constitutional process" today. At first scheduled for 10 a.m., it was postponed until 2 this afternoon.

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