November 5, 2006 9:08 pm

Cheney says vote will not deflect US in Iraq

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The Bush administration’s strategy in Iraq will remain “full steam ahead” regardless of the outcome of US mid-term elections that take place on Tuesday, Dick Cheney, the vice-president, said in an interview with ABC news on Sunday.

Opinion polls predict that the Democratic party, which is arguing for a phased redeployment of US troops out of Iraq over the next 12 to 18 months, are on course to win control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1994 and possibly the Senate, for the first time since 2002.

Mr Cheney, who, along with George W. Bush, has stepped up his election campaign schedule for the final days before voting, said that since neither he nor the president were running for office they would continue to “do the right thing” in Iraq.

Mr Cheney also said that a US withdrawal from Iraq would undermine the “war on terror” by sending the wrong signals to allies such as Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, and Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan.

“You cannot make national security policy on the basis of that [election outcomes],” he said.

“These are people who are running for Congress and they are entitled to their own views ... It may not be popular with the public. It doesn’t matter, in the sense that we have to continue the mission [in Iraq] ... and that is what we are doing.”

Mr Cheney made the comments at the tail-end of an election in which the unpopularity of the war in Iraq has featured prominently on the campaign trail. Republican leaders, including Mr Cheney, have sought to portray the Democrats as weak on national security and as the party of “cut and run” from Iraq.

However, recent polls suggest that a consistently large majority of the US public believes that the Bush administration is pursuing the wrong course in Iraq. On Sunday leaders from both parties said the conviction and sentencing of Saddam Hussein, the former dictator, in an Iraqi court was unlikely to have any impact on the US elections.

Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, attention is expected to revert to the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission of inquiry into the Iraq war led by James Baker, the former secretary of state, and Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic lawmaker.

According to leaks from the group, which is expected to publish its recommendations next month or in January, it will offer a clear change of course in Iraq, including greater emphasis on achieving stability rather than democracy and a possible redeployment of troops from Iraq into the region.

Mr Baker who is close to George H. W. Bush, the president’s father, has already recommended that the Bush administration hold direct talks with Iran and Syria, both of which are allegedly helping to destabilise Iraq.

On Sunday Mr Cheney also said that he would “probably not” agree to appear before Congress to be questioned on the conduct of the Iraq war even if a Democratic-controlled house issued subpoenas requiring him and Mr Bush to do so.

The Democrats have played down rumours that they would try to impeach Mr Bush if they took control of Capitol Hill. But they have pledged to restore “oversight of the executive” particularly on the administration’s controversial eavesdropping programme and its alleged misuse of intelligence to launch the war in Iraq.

“I have no idea that I’m going to be subpoenaed,” said Mr Cheney. “Obviously, we’d sit down and look at it at the time. But probably not, in the sense that the president and the vice-president are constitutional officers and don’t appear before the Congress.”

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