BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Vice President Dick Cheney Wednesday portrayed the war in Iraq as another battle in the war on terrorism as the Bush administration weathered continuing allegations it had its eye on overthrowing Saddam Hussein well before Sept. 11, 2001.
In a speech in Beverly Hills on the final day of a West Coast fundraising trip, Cheney compared the United States' anti-terrorism strategy to the Cold War-era Truman Doctrine and said American forces had no choice but to take the offensive against terrorist organizations rather than waiting for them to strike in the United States.
"They are confronting terrorists every day in Iraq so that we don't some day have to meet them in the streets of America," Cheney told the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in his familiar monotone voice.
The Bush administration's response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 was swift and decisive as U.S. troops quickly routed the Taliban in Afghanistan and was generally met with overwhelming approval by the American public.
Afghanistan was then followed up last spring with the massive U.S.-British campaign in Iraq that ousted Saddam, but also raised questions about the strength of Iraq's alleged links to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
The doubts climbed to a new level of reality this month when former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill released a book that included the blockbuster allegation that Bush, Cheney and other administration officials had been surreptitiously planning a second Gulf War prior to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
In a scathing speech in Washington on Wednesday, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., accused the Bush team of exaggerating nebulous links between al-Qaida and Saddam, and of running the war effort in a manner that would boost their re-election chances.
"No president of the United States should employ misguided ideology and distortion of the truth to take the nation to war," Kennedy thundered. "In doing so, the president broke the basic bond of trust between government and the people. If Congress and the American people knew the whole truth, America would never have gone to war."
O'Neill's book hit the stores and the media at the same time the Democratic presidential candidates were barnstorming in New Hampshire and Iowa for the opening rounds of the 2004 presidential campaign. In a speech on Tuesday, Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt accused President Bush of "bungling" the entire Iraq operation, while former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's early opposition to the war was credited with his popularity in the pre-primary polls.
During his Beverly Hills speech, however, Cheney made no effort to counter any of O'Neill's recollections nor would he take any questions from the assembled media following his appearance on the podium. What the vice president did do was to fan the flames of urgency over the war on terrorism, largely ignoring Saddam's potential to threaten anyone other than the Iraqis.
Cheney compared the current White House strategy for addressing terrorism to the landmark Truman Doctrine that was declared at the dawn of the Cold War in the late 1940s and committed the United States to containing the perceived spread of communism.
A key difference between the Truman and Bush policies, Cheney said, was that unlike the Soviet Union, terrorists have no boundaries and no standing army to contain.
"Containment is meaningless against terrorism," he declared. "We are waging this war (against terrorism) the only way it can be won, by taking the fight directly to the enemy."
Rolling Iraq and Afghanistan into the historical context of the Cold War could give the Bush-Cheney campaign a means of putting Iraq in a more positive political light. By arguing that it is better to fight al-Qaida now in Baghdad than to wait for another surprise homeland attack, the president can better portray the invasion as a necessity rather than an act of unilateralism.
Cheney said the aggressive Bush strategy had already paid off in the capture of Saddam and in Libya's sudden decision to stop trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
"Each (action) came about due to the resolve of the United States and its allies," he said.
With nearly a year to go before the November presidential elections, Cheney will no doubt be giving more and more updates on the war on terrorism, stressing the Bush's decisiveness while ignoring the musings of the former Treasury secretary.