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Vice President Argues for War, Pre-emptive Strike Against Iraq

By Dana Milbank
THE WASHINGTON POST -- CRAWFORD, TEXAS

Vice President Dick Cheney argued Monday for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, declaring there is “no doubt” the dictator has weapons of mass destruction and is preparing to use them against the United States and its allies.

The vice president’s remarks, to a Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting in Nashville, provided the most detailed and passionate case the administration has made for action against Iraq, and it gave the issue new urgency by implying that hostilities could not wait long.

“Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network or a murderous dictator, or the two working together, constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined,” Cheney said. Repeating President Bush’s caution that “time is not on our side,” he added: “The risks of inaction are far greater than the risks of action.”

Cheney’s speech to the veterans served as the Bush administration’s answer to growing criticism -- even from prominent advisers to President George H.W. Bush -- that it had failed to make a detailed and convincing case for an American attack to remove the Iraqi dictator.

While mentioning in passing that the administration is considering all options and would consult with Congress and allies, Cheney seemed to be ruling out anything short of an attack. He contended that all alternatives had failed: U.N. agreements, inspectors, international ostracism, even four days of American bombing in 1998.

“What he wants is time, and more time to husband his resources to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons program, and to gain possession of nuclear weapons,” Cheney said. “Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror and a seat atop 10 percent of the world’s oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies, directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.”

Cheney has been hawkish in administration debates about Iraq, and his remarks Monday were strikingly firm and explicit. In notable detail, Cheney listed justifications for removing Hussein in what he called a “candid appraisal of the facts.” He mentioned Iraqi firing on American and British planes in the no-fly zone imposed after the Persian Gulf War; Hussein’s efforts to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush; the invasions of Iran and Kuwait and the firing of missiles at Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel; and Hussein’s ranking by the State Department as a sponsor of terrorism for two decades.

Cheney argued that Hussein has broken United Nations agreements from 1991 to end his nuclear weapons program, destroy his chemical and biological weapons, and admit U.N. inspectors.