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White House Let Hussein 'Off the Hook,' Cheney Says


Dick Cheney, the Republican vice presidential nominee, accused the Clinton-Gore administration Wednesday of letting Saddam Hussein "slip off the hook" by failing to maintain the "robust" weapon-inspection program imposed upon Iraq after the Persian Gulf War.

"We have not seen the kind of aggressive, effective leadership that President Bush provided . . . in terms of maintaining peace and civility in that part of the world," Cheney said at a boisterous campaign stop in Lancaster, Calif. "We had demonstrated conclusively that we meant what we said--our allies respected us and our adversaries feared us--and I don't think that's the case today."

Cheney, who was Defense secretary during Operation Desert Storm, has spoken frequently and harshly about the state of the American military under President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. He has lashed out at both men for "leading the military down the wrong path" and for increasing military commitments while reducing the force below levels Cheney helped set.

Cheney has repeatedly thanked veterans for their service and vowed to make sure the country's debt of gratitude is paid in benefits and respect. At the same time, he has criticized the administration for neglecting the needs of both active-duty and retired military personnel.

Democrats punched back Wednesday, describing Cheney's repeated appearances with veterans as "outrageous" in light of his congressional record of voting against budget bills that set funding for the Veterans Administration. Those votes came in the 1980s, when Cheney was a U.S. representative from Wyoming.

Jenny Backus, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, cited a series of votes in which Cheney joined a minority of legislators opposing billions of dollars earmarked for benefits, pensions and other programs to assist veterans.

Yet the bills in question funded a wide range of government agencies beyond the VA, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Council on Environmental Quality, the National Science Foundation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Cheney spokeswoman Juleanna Glover Weiss said Cheney has been "a consistent fiscal conservative throughout his career" and said there are "many bills that come before Congress that have to be viewed within a larger framework of budgetary constraints."

"All across the country, parents of Gulf War veterans and Gulf War veterans themselves come up to Secretary Cheney and thank him for presiding over wise and judicious use of our military," Weiss said. "One can safely say few are thanking Gore for the military expeditions over the past eight years."

A usually low-key campaigner, Cheney becomes most animated when talking about defense, a theme he raises at nearly every campaign stop. The phrase "help is on the way"--meant to reassure the military--has become his campaign trademark since he used it a month ago in Atlanta while charging the military is underfunded and unprepared.

On Wednesday, Cheney used a crowded hotel banquet hall in Lancaster to introduce vice chairmen for California Veterans for Bush/Cheney. The lineup included former astronaut Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr.; Fitz Fulton, former space shuttle piggy-back pilot; Gordon Fullerton, commander of the space shuttle Challenger; Dick Rutan, who piloted the space shuttle Voyager; and California state Sen. William "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale), a former fighter pilot.

"I can't think of a finer group of Americans," Cheney said. "I'm proud to share the stage with them this morning."

Cheney also campaigned in Bakersfield and New Mexico on Wednesday before moving on to Fayetteville, Ark., where he will campaign today.


Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this story.

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