By Dick Cheney
WASHINGTON -- For most of this year, the attention of the world has centered on Iraq. Now, having liberated that country, it is crucial that we keep our word to the Iraqi people, helping them to build a secure country and a democratic government. And we will do so.
Our mission in Iraq is a great undertaking and part of a larger mission that the United States accepted more than two years ago. Sept. 11, 2001, changed everything for this country. We came to recognize our vulnerability to the threats of the new era. We saw the harm that 19 evil men could do, armed with little more than airline tickets and box cutters and driven by a philosophy of hatred. We lost some 3,000 innocent lives that morning in scarcely two hours' time.
Against this kind of determined, organized, ruthless enemy, America requires a new strategy -- not merely to prosecute a series of crimes, but to conduct a global campaign against the terror network.
A new strategy
Our strategy has several key elements. We've strengthened our defenses here at home, organizing the government to protect the homeland. But a good defense is not enough. We are going after the terrorists wherever they plot and plan. Of those known to be directly involved in organizing the attacks of 9-11, most are now in custody or confirmed dead. The leadership of al-Qaida has sustained heavy losses. They will sustain more.
We are also dismantling the financial networks that support terror, a vital step never before taken. The hidden bank accounts, the front groups, the phony charities are being discovered and the assets seized, to starve terrorists of the money that makes it possible for them to operate.
Our government is also working closely with intelligence services all over the globe, including those of governments not traditionally considered friends of the United States.
And we are applying the Bush doctrine: Any person or government that supports, protects or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent and will be held to account. The first to see this doctrine in application were the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan by violence while turning the country into a training camp for terrorists. With fine allies at our side, we took down the regime and shut down the al-Qaida camps. Our work there continues.
In Iraq, we took another essential step in the war on terror. The United States and our allies rid the Iraqi people of a murderous dictator and rid the world of a menace to our future peace and security. Saddam Hussein had a lengthy history of reckless and sudden aggression. Saddam built, possessed and used weapons of mass destruction. He refused or evaded all international demands to account for those weapons.
In the post-9-11 era, certain risks are unacceptable. The United States made our position clear: We could not accept the grave danger of Saddam Hussein and his terrorist allies turning weapons of mass destruction against us or our friends and allies. And, gradually, we are learning the details of his hidden weapons programs. This work is being carried out under the direction of Dr. David Kay, a respected scientist and former U.N. inspector who is leading the weapons search in Iraq.
Dr. Kay's team faces an enormous task. They have yet to examine more than a hundred large conventional weapons arsenals -- some of which cover areas larger than 50 square miles. Finding comparatively small volumes of extremely deadly materials hidden in these vast stockpiles will be time-consuming and difficult. Yet, Dr. Kay and his team are making progress, and have compiled an interim report, portions of which were declassified last week. Let me read to you a couple of passages from Dr. Kay's testimony to Congress, which deserve closer attention:
"Iraq's WMD programs spanned more than two decades, involved thousands of people, billions of dollars and were elaborately shielded by security and deception operations that continued even beyond the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002. The discovery of these deliberate concealment efforts have come about both through the admissions of Iraqi scientists and officials concerning information they deliberately withheld, as well as through physical evidence of equipment and activities that the Iraq survey group has discovered [that] should have been declared to the United Nations."
Among the items Dr. Kay and his team have already identified are the following:
A clandestine network of laboratories and safe houses within the Iraqi intelligence service that contained equipment suitable for continuing chemical and biological weapons research; a prison laboratory complex, possibly used in human testing of biological weapons agents, that Iraqi officials were explicitly ordered not to declare to the United Nations; reference strains of biological organisms, concealed in a scientist's home, one of which can be used to produce biological weapons; new research on BW-applicable agents, Brucella and Congo Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever, and continuing work on ricin and aflatoxin, which has not been declared to the United Nations; documents and equipment hidden in scientists' homes that would have been useful in resuming uranium enrichment by centrifuge and electromagnetic isotope separation; a line of unmanned aerial vehicles, not fully declared, and an admission that they had been tested out to a range of 500 kilometers -- 350 kilometers beyond the legal limit imposed by the U.N. after the Gulf War; plans and advanced design work for new long-range ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges capable of striking targets throughout the Middle East, which were prohibited by the U.N. and which Saddam sought to conceal from the U.N. weapons inspectors; clandestine attempts between late 1999 and 2002 to obtain from North Korea technology related to 1,300-kilometer range ballistic missiles, 300-kilometer range anti-ship cruise missiles and other prohibited military equipment.
Even as more evidence is found of Saddam's weapons programs, critics of our action in Iraq continue to voice other objections. And the arguments they make are helping to frame the most important debate of the post-9-11 era.
Some claim we should not have acted because the threat from Saddam Hussein was not imminent. Yet, as the President has said, "Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?"Critics of our national security policy have also argued that to confront a gathering threat is simply to stir up hostility. In the case of Saddam Hussein, his hostility to our country long predates 9-11, and America's war on terror. In the case of the al-Qaida terrorists, their hostility has long been evidenced. And year after year, the terrorists only grew bolder in the absence of forceful response from America and other nations. Weakness and drift and vacillation in the face of danger invite attacks. Strength and resolve and decisive action defeat attacks before they can arrive on our soil.
Another criticism we hear is that the United States, when its security is threatened, may not act without unanimous international consent. Under this view, even in the face of a specific, stated, agreed upon danger, the mere objection of even one foreign government would be sufficient to prevent us from acting. This view reflects a deep confusion about the requirements of our national security. Though often couched in high-sounding terms of unity and cooperation, it is a prescription for perpetual disunity and obstructionism. In practice, it would prevent our own country from acting with friends and allies, even in the most urgent circumstance.
The United States is committed to multilateral action wherever possible. Yet this commitment does not require us to stop everything, and neglect our own defense, merely on the say-so of a single foreign government. Ultimately, America must be in charge of her own national security.
This is the debate before the American people, and it is of more than academic interest. It comes down to a choice between action that assures our security and inaction that allows dangers to grow. And we can see the consequences of these choices in real events.
And despite difficulties we knew would occur, the Iraqi people prefer liberty and hope to tyranny and fear.
Our coalition is helping them to build a secure, hopeful and self-governing nation which will stand as an example of freedom to all the Middle East. We are rebuilding more than a thousand schools, supplying and reopening hospitals, rehabilitating power plants, water and sanitation facilities, bridges and airports. We are training Iraqi police, border guards and a new army, so that the Iraqi people can assume full responsibility for their own security. Iraq now has its own Governing Council, has appointed interim government ministers, and is moving toward the drafting of a new constitution and free elections.
Sometimes history presents clear and stark choices. We have come to such a moment.
Those who bear the responsibility for making those choices for America must understand that while action will always carry cost, measured in effort and sacrifice, inaction carries heavy costs of its own.
Much is asked of us, and much rides on our actions. A watching world is depending on the United States of America.
Only America has the might and the will to lead the world through a time of peril, toward greater security and peace.
And as we've done before, we accept the great mission that history has given us.
Dick Cheney is vice president of the United States. These excerpts are from remarks he made last week at the Heritage Foundation.