Cheney told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) it is time Congress shifted its attention from leaving Iraq to winning the war there.
There have been moves in both the Senate and the House of Representatives -- both now controlled by opposition Democrats -- to limit funding for further expansion of U.S. military activity in Iraq or to set a timetable for a withdrawal of forces.
The vice president noted that the United States had only just begun a new military effort, sending in 21,500 additional troops, most of them to try to quell the sectarian fighting in Baghdad, which has raged for more than a year.
He said he wants Congress to approve the $100 billion in emergency funds requested by U.S. President George W. Bush to pay for that and other efforts to win the war.
The 'Myth' Of Withdrawal
"In Iraq, our goal remains a democratic nation that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security and is an ally in the war on terror," Cheney said. "But for this to happen, the elected government in Iraq needs the space and the time to work on reconciliation goals, and it's hard to do that without basic security in Baghdad."
Unfortunately, Cheney said, the leaders in Congress seem more interested in looking for ways to disengage from Iraq. He said they appear to embrace what he called a "myth" that a withdrawal would be in the U.S. interest.
"Some apparently believe that getting out of Iraq before the job is done will actually strengthen America's hand in the fight against terrorists," Cheney said. "This myth is dangerous because it represents a full validation of the Al-Qaeda strategy. The terrorists don't expect to beat us in a stand-up fight. They never have. They're not likely to try. The only way they can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission. And the terrorists do believe that they can force that outcome."
Disaster For The Region
In fact, Cheney said, withdrawing before victory would be disastrous, not only for the United States, but for the entire Middle East. Moderate political leaders, he said, would be replaced by Iranian-backed Shi'ite extremists, who would struggle for control of the country against Sunni extremists backed by Al-Qaeda.
Also, Cheney said, the world might face the threat of a terrorist Iraq wealthy enough to produce powerful weapons of war.
"If Sunni extremists prevailed, Al-Qaeda and its allies would recreate the safe haven they lost in Afghanistan -- except now, with the oil wealth to pursue weapons of mass destruction and underwrite their terrorist designs, including their pledge to destroy Israel," Cheney said. "If Iran's allies prevailed, the regime and Tehran's own designs for the Middle East would be advanced, and the threat to our friends in the region would only be magnified.”
The vice president warned that while Islamic militants have what he called a "backward-looking" ideology, their methods are as modern as the Internet. As a result, they must be taken seriously as a threat to Western values.
Cheney's remarks were well received by AIPAC, which supports strong U.S. ties with Israel. He told the meeting that "Israel has never had a better friend in the White House than George Bush."