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Cheney: Iraq pullout 'worst possible thing we could do'

"If we pull out, they'll follow us," Vice President Cheney said of terrorists in Iraq.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


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Dick Cheney

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Withdrawing American troops from Iraq would embolden terrorists and leave the United States and its allies vulnerable to new attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday.

"The worst possible thing we could do is what the Democrats are suggesting," Cheney told CNN's John King in an interview at the vice president's residence.

Some Democrats have urged an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Others have pushed for a phased troop withdrawal. (Watch Dick Cheney explain that withdrawal "in effect validates the terrorists' strategy" -- 3:29)

The Senate voted 86-13 on Thursday against a proposal offered by Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin that would have required all U.S. troops be withdrawn from Iraq by July 2007. (Full story)

The Senate also rejected a proposal by Sen. Carl Levin by a vote of 60-39 that would have required a drawdown to begin by the end of the year but not set a timetable for a complete withdrawal.

Neither an immediate nor phased withdrawal would confer any protection on the United States, Cheney said. "If we pull out, they'll follow us," he said of terrorists.

"It doesn't matter where we go. This is a global conflict. We've seen them attack in London and Madrid and Casablanca and Istanbul and Mombasa and East Africa. They've been, on a global basis, involved in this conflict. (Read the full interview transcript)

"And it will continue -- whether we complete the job or not in Iraq -- only it'll get worse. Iraq will become a safe haven for terrorists. They'll use it in order to launch attacks against our friends and allies in that part of the world."

Cheney said a pullout would signal the United States would not stand its ground in the war on terror.

"No matter how you carve it -- you can call it anything you want -- but basically, it is packing it in, going home, persuading and convincing and validating the theory that the Americans don't have the stomach for this fight."

North Korea strike dismissed

On North Korea and its possible test of a long-range ballistic missile, Cheney rejected a pre-emptive U.S. military strike, saying current diplomatic moves can deal with the issue.

"I think, at this stage, we are addressing the issue in the proper fashion," he said. "Obviously, if you are going to launch strikes at another nation, you better be prepared to not fire just one shot. The fact of the matter is, I think, the issue is being addressed appropriately."

Cheney was asked about a Thursday op-ed piece in The Washington Post from William Perry, defense secretary under President Clinton, and Ashton Carter, Clinton's assistant secretary of defense, which said the United States, if necessary, should strike beforehand and destroy the missile before North Korea tests it.

Cheney said that, while "I appreciate Bill's advice," such an action could worsen the situation.

Cheney declined to comment on the CIA leak investigation saying he might be called as a witness.

But he did offer support for his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who faces perjury and obstruction of justice charges in the probe of the leak of the identity of an undercover CIA officer.

Libby is "one of the finest men I've ever known," Cheney said. "He's entitled to the presumption of innocence."

The administration's 'Darth Vader'?

Asked if it were true he's become a "dark, nefarious source in the administration," Cheney said, "I suppose sometimes people look at my demeanor and say, 'Well, he's the Darth Vader of the administration.' "

Cheney was unequivocal about his plan not to seek another political office.

"My career will end politically with this administration," he said. "I have the freedom and the luxury, as does the president, of doing what we think is right for the country. ... We're not trying to improve our standing in the polls; we're not out there trying to win votes for ourselves."

Asked about those polls -- Cheney's approval rating is lower than the president's -- the vice president said, "We don't worry about the polls -- they go up, the polls go down. The fact of the matter is we're doing what we think best for the nation. And that's what the American people elected us to do.

"History will judge this president as a very successful, very effective leader," he said. "And I'm proud to be part of his team."

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