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Cheney trumpets Bush antiterror policies

Optimistic assessment of Iraqi changes


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(CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday declared "America is safer and the world is more secure" because of the antiterrorism policies of the Bush administration.

Speaking on the same day that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appeared in a Baghdad courtroom to hear criminal charges lodged against him, Cheney offered an optimistic assessment of the changes in Iraq.

"As I was on my way to the museum today, I couldn't help but think of my last visit here on April 9, 2003," Cheney said in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he visited the National D-Day Museum and spoke to a largely Republican audience. "That was the same day Saddam Hussein's statute came down in Baghdad. Today, 15 months later, Saddam Hussein stands arraigned in an Iraqi court where he will face the justice he denied to millions."

As he has before, Cheney cast the military invasion of Iraq as part of the broader war on terrorism, a stance that has come under attack this election year from Democrats who say President Bush exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam -- particularly as it relates to weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam was toppled from power during a U.S.-led invasion of the country last year, after the administration rallied Congress and some allies to support military action, noting that Saddam had violated numerous U.N. resolutions and asserting that he possessed a WMD arsenal.

No such weapons have been found in Iraq since Saddam was booted from power.

The United States transferred sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government in a highly secure ceremony Monday, two days ahead of schedule.

Roughly 140,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, where insurgents stage deadly attacks against them and civilians. The Bush administration has said those troops will remain in Iraq as long as needed and has not announced a withdrawal date for them.

Cheney described the handover of power in Iraq as an "historic transformation."

"Fifteen months ago, it was under the absolute control of a dictator," Cheney said. "With the assumption of power by the Iraqi interim government ... Iraq is now a country where the government will answer to the people, instead of the other way around."

As he lavished praise on Bush's response to terrorism, Cheney appeared to blame the prior Clinton administration for leaving the country vulnerable to attack.

He described the 1990s as a time when "Saddam Hussein was providing financial rewards to the families of suicide bombers in Israel and safe haven and support for terrorists," as well as a time when terrorists were "on the offensive around the world."

The independent 9/11 commission, during its public hearings this spring, asked pointed questions about both the Bush and Clinton administrations' antiterrorism policies, suggesting both had failed to do enough to thwart terrorism.

Cheney's speech comes as numerous polls show growing doubts about the mission in Iraq and a decline in favorable ratings for Bush.


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