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Cheney Urges First Strike Against Iraq

The alternative to a pre-emptive attack on Iraq is to let Saddam Hussein get stronger and stronger until he is bold enough to act, Vice President Dick Cheney warned on Monday.

"The imminence of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the huge dangers it involves, the rejection of a viable inspection system, and the demonstrated hostility of Saddam Hussein combine to produce an imperative for pre-emptive action," Cheney told a national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville, Tenn.

"This nation will not live at the mercy of terrorists or terrorist regimes," he added.

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales concluded this weekend that President Bush can attack the rogue nation without congressional authorization based on his interpretation of the Constitution, officials said Monday.

Aides, however, have repeatedly said that Bush will consult with Congress when and if he decides on a course of action.

Cheney repeated that the administration is prepared to join the debate on Capitol Hill when lawmakers return from their August recess.

White House officials said Cheney was making a case for a pre-emption doctrine, not pre-emptive attack during his 30-minute speech to the veterans at Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

Cheney indicated that the United States needs to act sooner rather than later, and he quoted former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's warning about the threat Saddam poses.

Cheney said that U.N. weapons inspectors were prepared to certify Iraq clean of chemical and biological weapons in 1995 just before a defector gave them evidence they had not found on their own. He said Saddam was also shown to have been much closer to developing nuclear weapons than originally thought.

The vice president added that Saddam would not accept an inspection program that would provide acceptable security since he has perfected the art of "cheat and retreat."

And while the White House has not said that military action is inevitable, Cheney indicated the administration intends to take some kind of action.

"We will not simply look away, hope for the best and leave the matter for some future administration to resolve. As President Bush has said, time is not on our side. 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. The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action."

The United States will consult with allies, Cheney said, though most of America's allies oppose a military operation.

While in town, Cheney also attended a GOP fundraiser for Senate candidate Lamar Alexander and gubernatorial nominee Van Hilleary in downtown Nashville. That event was closed to the public.

Tennessee helped Bush win the 2000 election despite being the home state of then-Vice President Al Gore. Republicans now want to make sure that the GOP hangs on to the seat being vacated by Sen. Fred Thompson, who is returning to his Hollywood acting career.

Hilleary, who faces Democrat Phil Bredesen, and Alexander, who is running against Rep. Bob Clement, may also get visits from the former and current President Bush.

Matt King, a spokesman for the Tennessee Republican Party, said plans are in the works to bring other prominent Republicans to the state.

"The White House made it clear on primary night that they were very interested and enthusiastic about our statewide candidates," said Elizabeth Phillips, a spokeswoman for the state GOP. "Tennessee was instrumental in electing George W. Bush president, and Tennesseans share his compassionate conservative values."

Republican leaders are assisting Tennessee candidates in other ways. State GOP Chairwoman Rep. Beth Harwell said presidential adviser Karl Rove will host an event in Washington for Alexander, and White House Chief of Staff Andy Card will hold one for Hilleary.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.