FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Vice President Dick Cheney argued yesterday against an early withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, saying that to do so would be ''unwise in the extreme" and that it would increase the risk of terrorist attacks in the United States and other nations.
''On this, both Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree: The only way the terrorists could win is if we lose our nerve and abandon our mission," Cheney said at this military base in northern New York, where the Army's 10th Mountain Division and the New York Army National Guard's 42d Infantry Division gathered for a rally.
The 42d Infantry, based in Troy, N.Y., whose commander oversaw a task force of 24,000 troops in north-central Iraq, had about 3,500 Guardsmen return home in November.
''I realize some have advocated a sudden withdrawal of our forces. This would be unwise in the extreme -- a victory for terrorists, bad for the Iraqi people, and bad for the United States," Cheney said to cheers from the crowd of 3,000 troops. ''To leave that country before the job is done would be to hand over Iraq to car bombers and assassins."
The vice president's appearances, which include a rally and a sit-down with troops, were part of a series of speeches by top administration officials intended to spell out US goals in Iraq more clearly in the campaign for Iraq's elections on Dec. 15.
They come as polls indicate that President Bush's approval rating is at the lowest of his presidency: 37 percent in a recent AP-Ipsos poll, with a majority of Americans now saying the war was a mistake.
One of the administration's harshest critics in recent weeks has been Representative John Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, a longtime hawk on military matters who now wants US troops to pull out of Iraq.
Murtha said yesterday that the administration was trying to justify the US presence in Iraq by saying it was necessary to fight terrorism, when in reality the problem was insurgents rebelling against the US presence and US-backed government.
''When you fight an insurgency, you have to win the hearts and minds of the [Iraqi] people, and we've lost the hearts and minds of the people," Murtha said in an interview on NBC's ''Today" show. Once the United States withdraws from Iraq, he said, the Iraqis themselves would take care of terrorist groups.
''Our military has done everything they could do," Murtha said. ''The Iraqis themselves have to take care of Al Qaeda. . . . We'll be better off if we redeploy outside of Iraq and go back in for something that affects our allies in the region or our national security."
Cheney's words to the troops were not as biting as two speeches he made late last month, one to a Republican audience and the other to the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
In those addresses, he lambasted Democratic legislators who had voted to authorize the war in October 2002, and who are now among the most outspoken war critics.
Yesterday, Cheney praised Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, for supporting the US mission, and underscored divisions within the Democrats.
''Some have suggested by liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein, we simply stirred up a hornet's nest," Cheney said.
''They overlook a fundamental fact: We were not in Iraq in September 2001, and the terrorists hit us anyway."