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Political Play of the Week

Bringing out the big guns?

President Bush waves as he leaves Marine One.
President Bush waves as he leaves Marine One.  

By Bill Schneider

(CNN) -- The vice president is supposed to be the president's flak-catcher. Lately the president has been getting a lot of flak about Iraq. So this week, Vice President Dick Cheney started catching the Iraq flak -- and the Play of the Week besides.

In June and July, the focus was on the stock market and the economy. Democrats had the political momentum.

In August, the focus shifted to Iraq -- a far better subject in the White House view.

Except for one thing. Suddenly critics were coming from all corners, including leading Republicans, staunch conservatives and men who had served President Bush's father.

The president seemed to be losing the initiative. But was he?

The critics made a point of saying that they share the same goals as President Bush.

"Is Saddam a threat?" asks Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, "Of course he is. Would we like to take him out? Of course we would."

What they've been complaining about is the process.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, said, "We have all these senators and members of the House who say the president hasn't made his case yet."

Vice President Dick Cheney says the United States can't afford to wait in taking action against Saddam Hussein.
Vice President Dick Cheney says the United States can't afford to wait in taking action against Saddam Hussein.  

OK, the White House said, we'll bring Dick Cheney out of his secure, undisclosed location and let him make the case, in terms of the agreed-on goals.

According to Cheney, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us."

The critics say the president must consult with Congress and U.S. allies?

Cheney responds, "He will, as he said he would, consult widely with our Congress, with our friends and allies around the world."

Then there was criticism from Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President Bush's father. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he urged the administration to wait for "compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein had acquired nuclear-weapons capability."

Mr. Cheney?

The vice president responded by saying, "That logic seems to me to be deeply flawed. The argument comes down to this. Yes, Saddam is as dangerous as we say he is. We just need to let him get stronger before we do anything about it."

The administration has unleashed Dick Cheney -- its weapon of mass political destruction. And he hit his target -- the political Play of the Week.

Summer is over. Who won August? Judging from the polls, the president's critics scored some points. But the real political battle comes in November. And the White House is just getting out the big guns.




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