By MIKE GLOVER
Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday rejected a call from some Democrats for a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, arguing that it would run counter to American interests.
"Either we are serious about fighting this war or we are not," Cheney told an Iowa audience in his first visit to the state since the 2004 election.
Several congressional Democrats favor the initial steps of drawing down U.S. forces in Iraq, a proposal that has divided the party but united Republicans who accuse the opposition of a "cut-and-run" approach.
Looking ahead to the midterm elections, Republicans such as White House adviser Karl Rove have sought to portray the Democrats as weak on national security. Cheney, campaigning for congressional candidates in Iowa, echoed that sentiment.
The vice president singled out Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record), D-Pa., a decorated Marine who has pushed for a timetable for withdrawing Americans from Iraq.
"That’s a bad idea. That proposal is contrary to the national interest," said Cheney, who contended that it will be more difficult to defend the country if such a step is taken. The vice president stressed that troop strength would be dictated by conditions on the ground "and not by artificial deadlines set by politicians in Washington, D.C."
Democrats have argued that Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has raised the possibility with a troop withdrawal plan similar to what Democrats have proposed.
Although the latest Associated Press-Ipsos polls showed more Americans favor congressional Democrats over Republicans, the GOP still has the edge in dealing with issues such as foreign policy and terrorism.
The poll found that Republicans in Congress — 43 percent approval — have an advantage over Democrats — 33 percent approval — on handling foreign policy and the war on terrorism. But the GOP has
On Iraq, however, the Republican strength isn’t what it used to be. Republicans have a smaller advantage over Democrats — 36 percent to 32 percent approval — when it comes to handling the situation in Iraq. The poll was conducted last week.
Cheney raised $150,000 for Republican Jeff Lamberti, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell (news, bio, voting record). Later, the vice president was attending a rally with Iowa National Guard troops.
Cheney urged Republicans to focus on the war on terror.
"As we make our case to the voters in this election year, it is vital that we keep issues of national security at the top of the agenda," Cheney said.
The vice president also criticized news organizations, which have published secret information about the government’s monitoring of terrorist activities. He said publication of the information makes it more difficult to protect the country.
The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal were the first to report that a secret CIA-Treasury program was tracking millions of financial records in search of terrorists.
The administration and some congressional leaders have focused their criticism on the New York Times, which also reported last year that Bush had authorized an electronic eavesdropping program shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"These kind of stories simply alert the terrorists as to what we’re doing," Cheney said. "The leak to the New York Times and the publishing of those leaks are very damaging to the national interests."
Cheney said the administration’s hard-line stance on terrorism has paid off with a lack of terrorist activity in the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Obviously, no one can guarantee we won’t be hit again, but the relative safety of this past nearly five years did not come about by accident," he said. "It came about because we waged an effort on every front, and we must not let up for a moment."
Even before Cheney’s appearance, Democrats issued their own criticism of the vice president and Lamberti.
"If Republicans retain control of the House, the Senate and the White House, they will privatize Social Security," said Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Mike Milligan.
© 2006 The Associated Press