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Powell: Iraq action 'was fully justified'

Administration makes push to answer critics of war

Vice President Dick Cheney is one of several administration figures defending the invasion of Iraq.
Vice President Dick Cheney is one of several administration figures defending the invasion of Iraq.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration launched its new effort to reach out to the American people about Iraq this week because "it was important to remind" them that the U.S.-led war "was fully justified," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday.

"The president wanted the American people to understand clearly that there are no second thoughts on our part," he told reporters at the State Department.

President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice all have given speeches this week as part of a new public relations effort aimed at curbing the growing criticism of U.S. actions in Iraq. (White House tries new PR effort)

Powell wrote an opinion article in The Washington Post on Tuesday that discussed the interim report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq being led by Washington's chief weapons inspector, David Kay. (Kay: Iraq team making significant finds)

Powell said his article "made the case clearly, I think, that Iraq was in material breach of its obligations [to disarm itself of banned weapons]."

Despite the speeches and article, Powell said he would not characterize the effort as being on "the level of a mammoth new campaign."

Earlier Friday, Cheney told the conservative Heritage Foundation that terrorists are "doing everything they can" to get weapons of mass destruction that could kill hundreds of thousands of Americans "in a single day of horror."

The speech defended the U.S.-led war in Iraq as part of the Bush administration's efforts to prevent terrorist attacks against the United States. The arguments over the administration's handling of Iraq are "helping to frame the most important debate of the post-9/11 era," Cheney said.

"Some claim we should not have acted because the threat from [deposed Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein was not imminent," Cheney said. "Terrorist enemies of our country hope to strike us with the most lethal weapons known to man, and it would be reckless in the extreme to rule out action and save our worries until the day they strike."

He added, "As long as George W. Bush is president of the United States, this country will not permit gathering threats to become certain tragedies." (Bush marks Saddam's fall)

Democrats, particularly those seeking their party's 2004 presidential nomination, have grown sharper in their criticism of the administration's Iraq policy. During the Democratic presidential debate Thursday night, Rep. Richard Gephardt made a point of highlighting the hundreds of U.S. soldiers killed and wounded in Iraq since Bush declared an end to major combat May 1.

"The president is failing in his responsibility to get us the help we need," said Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat.

More than 100,000 U.S. troops are leading the occupation of Iraq, which President Bush calls the "central front" of the war on terrorism that he declared shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Although no evidence links Iraq to those attacks, the vice president stressed the administration's argument that Saddam "cultivated ties to terror, ... supporting terrorists, making payments to the families of suicide bombers in Israel. He also had an established relationship with al Qaeda, providing training to al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons, gases, making conventional bombs."

Cheney called the possibility of terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction "the ultimate nightmare" that "could bring devastation to our country on a scale we have never experienced. Instead of losing thousands of lives, we might lose tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of lives in a single day of horror. ...

"We must do everything in our power to keep terrorists from ever acquiring weapons of mass destruction."

Cheney also pointed to elements of Kay's recent report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Although Kay's team has not found any such weapons, Cheney stressed that it did find "related program activities" and equipment concealed from U.N. weapons inspectors.

"Critics of our national security policy have also argued that to confront a gathering threat is simply to stir up hostility," he said. "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 Qaeda terrorists, their hostility has long been evident. And year after year, the terrorists only grew bolder in the absence of forceful response from America and other nations."

He added, "Another criticism we hear is that the United States, when its security is threatened, may not act without unanimous international consent. ... 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."

Cheney said the policies of deterrence and containment that the administration's critics call for are things of the past because a terrorist "has no country to defend" and "there's no containing a terrorist who will commit suicide for the purposes of mass slaughter. There's also no containing a terrorist state that secretly passes along deadly weapons to a terrorist network."


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