WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday it’s OK for Congress to debate whether invading Iraq was the right decision, calling such open exchanges “more than just a sign of a healthy political system — it’s also something I enjoy.”
But minutes later, Cheney changed his tone. One of the most outspoken architects of the war, Cheney accused critics of “corrupt and shameless” revisionism in trying to suggest that he and President Bush manipulated intelligence and misled the nation in a rush to war.
He called such tactics “dishonest and reprehensible.”
Cheney’s words came a day after Bush appeared to be easing off on his own attacks on war critics.
“President Bush is trying to tone down the rhetoric. Did the vice president not get the memo?” said a statement put out by the office of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Cheney denounced proposals for a quick U.S. withdrawal from Iraq as “a dangerous illusion” and shrugged off the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. “We never had the burden of proof,” he said, adding that it had been up to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to prove to the world that he didn’t have such weapons.
As Bush had done the day before, Cheney praised the character of Rep. John Murtha even as he voiced strong disagreement with the Pennsylvania Democrat’s proposal last week to pull out all U.S. troops.
“He’s a good man, a Marine, a patriot — and he’s taking a clear stand in an entirely legitimate discussion,” Cheney told the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Cheney, who represented Wyoming in the House of Representatives in the 1980s, called Murtha “my friend and former colleague.”
A key Democrat on military issues with close ties to the Pentagon, Murtha set off a firestorm last week when he proposed all of the some 160,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq be pulled out over the next six months.
Congressional Republicans denounced him and White House spokesman Scott McClellan, traveling with the president in Asia, branded him as an ultraliberal comparable to activist filmmaker Michael Moore.
Later, Bush and other administration officials toned down their criticism, fearful of a backlash in support of Murtha. Bush on Sunday called Murtha “a fine man” and longtime supporter of the military.
Murtha was “taking a clear stand in an entirely legitimate discussion,” Cheney said.
However, Cheney said, “It is a dangerous illusion to suppose that another retreat by the civilized world would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone.”
“Those who advocate a sudden withdrawal from Iraq should answer a few simple questions,” Cheney said, such as whether the United States would be “better off or worse off” with terror leaders such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri in control of Iraq.
Murtha told CNN, “I’m trying to prevent another Vietnam” and predicted Cheney would eventually see it that way, too. “This war cannot be won militarily, … cannot be won on the ground,” Murtha said.
Earlier Monday in his hometown of Johnstown, Pa., Murtha defended his call for a pullout. “The public turned against this war before I said it,” Murtha told reporters after a speech at a civic center. Murtha, 73, is a decorated Vietnam veteran, has served in Congress for three decades and is the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.