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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cheney Bangs Drum on Iraq II

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday delivered the Bush administration's most extensive and forceful statement about the danger posed by the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the reasons for taking preventive action against it.

"There is no doubt," Cheney said, "that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction; there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." The vice president reviewed Saddam's violations of resolutions by the United Nations Security Council, recounted his evasions and deceptions of UN inspectors, and ticked off his history of aggression. He said it is likely that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons "fairly soon" and that, once he has them, he will seek to dominate the Middle East and its oil supplies through nuclear blackmail.

Though the facts he cited were not new, Cheney outlined a powerful case to support his conclusion that "the risk of inaction" on Iraq is "far greater than the risk of action." Even more important, he suggested that the Bush administration will soon begin to spell out the details of that case before Congress, the American public and U.S. allies -- an initiative that is both essential and overdue.

Until recently President George W. Bush and his top aides had avoided fully joining the Iraq debate, in part by asserting that no decision had been made on a course of action. Cheney reiterated that position Monday: The president, he said, "will proceed cautiously and deliberately to consider all possible options to deal with the threat." But his speech left little room for measures short of the destruction of Saddam's regime through preemptive military action. Though European governments and some congressional leaders have urged the administration to seek the return to Iraq of UN weapons inspectors, Cheney appeared to dismiss that option, saying that "a return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever" that Iraq's chemical and biological weapons would be neutralized.

The vice president noted that some outside the administration argue that action should not be taken until there is proof Saddam is at the point of acquiring nuclear weapons. "If we waited until that moment," he answered, "Saddam would simply become emboldened and it would become even harder for us to gather friends and allies to oppose him." To those who say an Iraqi campaign would destabilize the region and interfere with the war on terrorism, Cheney bluntly rejoined: "The opposite is true. ... Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad. Moderates ... would take heart, and our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced."

Cheney suggested that his speech marked the beginning of an effort by the administration to build a consensus on Iraq; the president, he said, "welcomes the debate" and has asked his national security team to "participate fully" in the next round of congressional hearings next month. That is the appropriate course: The administration still has much to do if it is to lay an adequate legal, political and diplomatic foundation for the ambitious enterprise it has in mind. The evidence of Saddam's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and ambitions for using them must be more fully and convincingly detailed; so must the administration's calculation of the likely costs, in lives and resources, of destroying his regime.

Cheney said Monday that the U.S. goal would be "an Iraq that has territorial integrity, a government that is democratic and pluralistic, a nation where the human rights of every ethnic and religious group are recognized and respected." The administration must be ready to offer a realistic plan for how that goal can be achieved, and seek a congressional vote, as well as the material commitment of key allies, in support of it. Cheney was passionate and persuasive in describing the menace the administration sees in Saddam Hussein; as the debate continues, the administration must be as convincing in laying out its vision of a solution.

This comment appeared as an editorial in The Washington Post.