Washington: Vice President Dick Cheney blasted the Democrat-controlled Congress for trying to manage the US Iraq strategy, saying its wartime role is “limited” by law and urging lawmakers not to shortchange funding for troops.
The American military “answers to one commander-in-chief in the White House, not 535 commanders-in-chief on Capitol Hill”, Cheney said in a speech here to about 6,000 members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
“Congress does play a critical role in the defence of the nation and the conduct of the war, but that role is defined and limited by the Constitution,” he said, noting that lawmakers hold sway over the Pentagon’s budget.
House Democrats are debating putting restrictions on President George W. Bush’s request for money to pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. A proposal under consideration would attach to the money a deadline for the US to begin withdrawing.
The president’s aides said last week that Bush would veto any such legislation. In the Senate, Democrats introduced a measure that would revise the 2002 congressional authorization for the use of force in Iraq and require most US troops to be withdrawn by March 31, 2008.
When binding votes in Congress are taken in coming weeks to determine war funding, “I sincerely hope the discussion this time will be about winning in Iraq,” Cheney said.
“When members of Congress support an anti-war strategy that’s been called ‘slow-bleed,’ they’re not supporting the troops, they’re undermining them,” he said. Setting time limits for withdrawal tells the enemy to “watch the clock”, he said.
The US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was followed by an insurgency, infiltration by foreign guerrillas and terrorists and sectarian strife between Shiite, whose leaders now dominate the government, and Sunni Muslims who are dispossessed after the overthrow of fellow Sunni, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
In the past year, escalating sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims has raised the threat of all-out civil war. Bush earlier this year announced the deployment of 21,500 more soldiers and Marines to help stabilize the country, a plan that polls show isn’t supported by most people in the US.
More than 3,100 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq and almost 24,000 have been wounded.
Cheney recalled a line from Ronald Reagan’s June 1982 speech to the British Parliament, when he said, “If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly.”
Reagan was referring to the Cold War struggle against Soviet totalitarianism. Cheney applied it to the war against terrorism and expressed confidence the US will win the current struggle, too.
“Either we are serious about fighting the war on terror or we are not; either we persevere despite difficulty or we turn our backs on our friends and our commitments,” Cheney said. “I for one have never had more confidences in the outcome.”
With about 100,000 members, AIPAC is a pro-Israel lobbying group that has pressed the US government to take a hard line against the Iranian nuclear threat, pushing for diplomatic and economic sanctions against Tehran.