“I didn’t come here today to dwell on the current shortcomings of Congress,” Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday. “After all, you haven’t got all day.”
Cheney addressed a Manhattan Institute breakfast at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. He took the occasion to tell some 225 New Yorkers about how, as he sees it, the Democratic Congressional leadership is undermining American national security.
“The United States now has less ability to track the plans of the enemy than we did a few months ago,” Cheney said, citing the House of Representatives’ refusal to renew electronic tracking of suspected terrorists under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which expired in February. Cheney also cited Congress’ foot dragging on approving a free-trade agreement with Colombia.
“The problem is the House leadership is refusing to bring it to a vote,” Cheney said, “and has even changed the rules to keep it off the floor. If they persist in unfair action, the result will be a tremendous setback for one of our closest allies in Latin America, severe damage to our nation’s credibility in the region, and a boost of confidence for demagogues who want to subvert democratic values in our own hemisphere.”
Cheney denounced both the substance of administration critics on Capitol Hill, as well as their obstructive maneuvers.
“Congress has resorted to gimmicks, from meaningless expiration dates to last-minute switches in the rules,” Cheney said. “With these tactics, they only undermine the American people’s confidence in the legislative branch of government.”
Turning to Iraq, the vice president compared how that nation and its neighborhood might look, if the administration’s policies continue to succeed, and Iraq grows peaceful and prosperous, versus Iraq’s status if the White House’s mainly Democratic critics abruptly withdraw American troops.
“A free, democratic Iraq will be a strategic partner in the heart of the Middle East, helping us fight and win the war on terror,” Cheney said. “And that outcome will send a message to moderates throughout the region. From Syria to Lebanon to Iran, advocates for democracy and human rights will take heart, and will be reassured that the free world is not indifferent to their future. As hopes rise in the Middle East, a vital and troubled region can move in the direction of peace and stability. And the day will come when terrorists and terror states no longer pose a danger to the United States or to our friends.”
Cheney contrasted this sanguine picture with a lugubrious portrait of how Iraq might look if Coalition forces retreat amid even greater mayhem than what has filled the world’s TV screens since 2003.
“Those who insist that we leave Iraq should at least give some thought to what we would leave behind,” the vice president suggested. “I hope they’ll remember the case of Afghanistan a few years ago.”
“Back in the 1980s, we were heavily engaged in Afghanistan, lending support to the Mujahideen in their struggle against the Soviet Union,” Cheney reminded his listeners. “After we succeeded, and the Soviets had evacuated from Afghanistan, everybody walked away and forgot about Afghanistan. What followed, of course, was a civil war, and then the emergence of the Taliban, and finally, of course, in 1996, an invitation to Osama bin Laden to come have a sanctuary, a safe haven, in Afghanistan.”
Cheney predicted that an abandoned Iraq could become a fertile crescent for a Taliban II, a cozy new home for al-Qaeda and its ilk, and “a staging area for further attacks, with America as the target.”
For now, Cheney sees hope on the ground in Iraq.
“It’s worth remembering that some in Washington predicted the surge in Iraq would have no effect whatsoever,” Cheney recalled. “The critics have been proved wrong. The surge is working. The forces of freedom are winning.”
Vice President Cheney effusively praised the Manhattan Institute, a prominent free-market think tank whose president, Lawrence Mone, introduced America’s second in command.
“In a few hours I’ll be headed back to Washington,” Cheney said. “And if there’s one thing I could bring along with me from this city, it would be a good supply of the common sense and the fresh thinking of the Manhattan Institute…You do more than dwell in the world of ideas — you know how to build a case for reform and how to set events on a new track.”
Cheney generated hearty laughter when he noted that “one of your New York senators has recently taken to calling me ‘Darth Vader.’ I didn’t take that personally.” Added the vice president: “I asked my wife Lynne if the nickname didn’t bother her, and she said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘It humanizes you.’”