WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney (search) picked up where President Bush left off a day earlier, saying Friday that removing Saddam Hussein from power was one of few offensive actions the United States has taken to combat terror.
Picking up the baton passed among administration officials throughout the week, Cheney said the president took the bold move of declaring war on terror because he recognized that what had previously been viewed as individual terrorist acts were actually part of a coordinated effort by a ruthless network.
"For Al Qaeda, the World Trade Center attack in 1993 was part of a continuing campaign," Cheney told an audience at the Heritage Foundation (search) in Washington. "For us, that war started on 9/11. For them, it started years ago when Usama bin Laden (search) declared war on the United States."
He said that the United States and its allies rid the Iraqi people of a murderous dictator who "cultivated ties to terror" and "had an established relationship with Al Qaeda, providing training" in the development of biological and chemical weapons production.
"Our mission in Iraq is a great undertaking and part of a larger mission that the United States accepted now more than two years ago," Cheney said.
The vice president received applause on more than one occasion, including when he repeated the Bush administration declaration that those who sponsor or harbor terror will be held to account.
The warm response followed a speech a day earlier to National Guardsman in Portsmouth, N.H. Bush told the part-time soldiers that have been major contributors to the force structure in Iraq that the United States was changing its reaction to terrorist activities by turning from a passive approach to threats to an active response.
"The challenges we face today cannot be met with timid actions or bitter words," Bush said.
"It would be reckless in the extreme to rule out actions and save our worries until [terrorists] strike," Cheney echoed on Friday.
Cheney's speech was also an effort to respond to specific criticisms from Democrats and others who have said that taking pre-emptive action would increase resentment toward the United States.
Cheney responded that weakness and vacillation invite attacks, while strength repels them.
Cheney also responded to critics who have complained about the United States' decision not to seek an international resolution before declaring war on Iraq.
"This view represents a deep confusion about our national security interests," Cheney said, adding that while the United States wants to pursue multilateral action whenever possible, to allow one nation to intervene and prevent the United States from taking action would "confer undue power on them while leaving the rest of us powerless to act in our own defense.
"This commitment [to pursuing a multilateral approach] does not require us to stop everything and neglect our own defense merely on the say-so of one foreign country," Cheney said.
The vice president's speech was the latest in a wave of public appearances and interviews White House officials are using to strike back at critics of Bush's handling of Iraq. The president planned to conduct a half-dozen TV interviews on Monday.
Thursday, six months after the statue of Iraqi leader Saddam fell in Baghdad, Bush said he was concerned that "perceptions" didn't reflect the reality of progress in Iraq. He spoke on a day when more than a dozen people, including a Spanish attache and two American soldiers, died in a fresh burst of violence in Baghdad.
But the nation has also seen considerable progress with schools and hospitals reopening and the rebuilding of electricity and water supply sources.
"They're trying desperately to undermine Iraq's progress and throw that country into chaos," Bush said at an Air National Guard base. "They believe that America will run from a challenge. They're mistaken. Americans are not the running kind."
Americans, he said, "did not run from Germany and Japan following World War II."
"We helped those countries become strong and decent and democratic societies that no longer waged war on America, and that's our mission in Iraq right now," Bush said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.