WASHINGTON—Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday he was wrong to predict a quicker end to fighting in Iraq, but added that the Bush administration would invade again—even knowing that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, the administration's primary rationale for war.
"It was the right thing to do and if we had it to do over again, we'd do exactly the same thing," he said during a nearly hour-long appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" program.
Cheney defended not only the war in Iraq but the war in Afghanistan, the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists, the search for Osama bin Laden, and progress building up U.S. defenses against terrorist attack.
"I think we've done a pretty good job of securing the nation against terrorists," he said, adding that it is "no accident" that there has not been a terrorist attack in the country since Sept. 11, 2001.
On the Iraq war, he noted that it was former CIA director George Tenet who assured President Bush that Saddam Hussein still had weapons.
"Clearly, the intelligence that said he did was wrong," Cheney said, without elaborating on his own role or the White House decision to later honor Tenet with the Medal of Freedom.
Still, he said invasion was warranted even without the stockpiled weapons because Saddam was already working around sanctions and eventually would have defeated them outright and rebuilt his weapons programs.
Several times during the interview, Cheney was confronted with videotapes of his own assertions about the war that have since been proved to be false.
_His prediction that U.S. forces would be greeted by the Iraqi people as liberators. "We were," he said Sunday. "What obviously has developed after that, the insurgency, has been long and costly and bloody, no question."
_His claim in 2005 that Iraqi insurgents were in their "last throes." "There's no question that the insurgency has gone on longer and been more difficult," he said Sunday.
_His statement that Sept. 11 terrorist Mohammad Atta met with Iraqi forces, suggesting an Iraqi link to the attacks on the United States. "We've never been able to confirm any connection," he said, adding that it was the CIA that suggested an Iraq-Sept. 11 connection and that the CIA did not back off that suggestion until after Cheney spoke publicly.
Former intelligence officials have repeatedly challenged the idea that the CIA was promoting links between Iraq and Atta or wider connections between Iraq and al-Qaida.
Former White House terrorism official Richard Clarke said he was pressured by Cheney's former top aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to accept as fact the Atta-Iraqi connection. And a former senior U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his continued involvement in sensitive issues, said administration officials have promoted the idea that the CIA "led them to this cliff that they jumped off. And the contrary is actually the truth."
On Afghanistan, Cheney insisted that progress is being made despite a resurgence of violence by the Taliban regime.
He also said the United States remains committed to capturing or killing bin Laden.
Confronted with polls showing majority sentiment solidly against the war or the Bush administration's rationale, Cheney conceded that Americans "obviously are frustrated."
But he said debating how or whether to withdraw from Iraq or Afghanistan plays into a terrorist strategy that hopes to test American resolve.
"They can't beat us in a stand-up fight, they never have, but they're absolutely convinced they can break our will," he said.
Cheney said U.S. allies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan have doubts about U.S. resolve, and fear they could be left prematurely to face terrorists alone.
"Suggestions, for example, that we should withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq simply feed into that whole notion, validates the strategy of the terrorists," Cheney said.
(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Warren Strobel contributed to this report.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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