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Cheney vs. Kennedy

THE BUSH administration's post-Sept. 11 strategy led the United States straight into Iraq. Vice President Richard Cheney, one of its architects, had the gall to question Senator Edward Kennedy's criticism of the war there. But American political leaders have to call a halt to the reckless unilateralism born on 9/11 before it enmeshes the United States in more conflicts around the world.

Cheney, on the CBS program ''Face the Nation,'' was responding to Kennedy's statement that the United States should not have gone into Iraq. Cheney said: ''After they [the Al Qaeda terrorists] hit us and killed 3,000 of our people we said 'enough is enough.' We're going to aggressively go after them . . . We'll go after those states that sponsor terrorists.''

''Enough is enough,'' an emotionally satisfying response, can lead to overreaction. The United States waged war in Afghanistan, justified by international law and supported by allies, but instead of figuring out a secure but humane method of dealing with prisoners captured there, the administration set up the camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the mistreatment of prisoners has caused an international scandal. Cheney's remark about ''states that sponsor terrorism'' recalls the administration's campaign to drum up support for the war in Iraq more than three years ago by linking Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda. Saddam was a vicious tyrant, but he had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks. US troops used coercive techniques imported from Guantanamo Bay to mistreat Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. Cheney and President Bush ought to have the intellectual courage to acknowledge that the American presence in Iraq may be spawning more terrorists than US and Iraqi forces are killing.

According to Cheney, the administration's ''aggressive, forward-leaning strategy is one of the main reasons we haven't been struck since 9/11.'' That is his bedrock argument, for who can say what has kept the United States safe from attack over the last 4 1/2 years. But terrorists have attacked in Britain, Spain, and other countries, and the United States has lost the support of many of its friends around the world in the process because of Guantanamo Bay and Iraq.

Kennedy supported the war in Afghanistan, opposed the Iraq conflict, and has raised questions about conditions at Guantanamo Bay. The administration, in its latest strategy paper, likens the struggle against terrorism to the Cold War. The United States made many mistakes during that 40-year conflict, many of which could have been prevented if policy makers had heeded their critics.

''He's the last man I'd go to for guidance,'' said Cheney of the senator. Given Cheney's record on the war, a bit of humility is warranted, if not expected.

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