by Jonathan Karl, ABC News
British Prime Minister Tony Blair's announcement that British troops will begin withdrawing from Iraq would appear to be bad news for the Bush administration.
Blair said today that Britain will cut its forces in Iraq to 5,500 by summer, down from 7,100 currently. And additional cuts to as few as 5,000 British troops in Iraq are possible by the end of summer, Blair said.
But in an exclusive interview with ABC News, Vice President Dick Cheney said the move was actually good news and a sign of progress in Iraq.
"Well, I look at it and see it is actually an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well," Cheney told ABC News' Jonathan Karl.
"In fact, I talked to a friend just the other day who had driven to Baghdad down to Basra, seven hours, found the situation dramatically improved from a year or so ago, sort of validated the British view they had made progress in southern Iraq and that they can therefore reduce their force levels," Cheney said.
ABC News interviewed the vice president in Tokyo, where he told troops aboard the USS Kitty Hawk that the United States would not withdraw until the job was done.
"I want you to know that the American people will not support a policy of retreat," Cheney told the soldiers.
Democrats' Strategy Would "Validate al Qaeda'
Cheney also had harsh words for Democratic leaders, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., who says he wants to stop the surge of more U.S. troops into Iraq.
Cheney said Pelosi and other Democrats were pushing a policy in Iraq that would "validate the al Qaeda strategy."
"I think if we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all we'll do is validate the al Qaeda strategy," Cheney told ABC News.
"The al Qaeda strategy is to break the will of the American people, knowing they can't win in a stand-up fight, try to convince us to throw in the towel and come home and then they win because we quit," he said.
"I think that is exactly the wrong course to go on," Cheney said. "I think that is the course of action that Speaker Pelosi and Jack Murtha support. I think it would be a mistake for the country."
Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., has proposed putting conditions on funding for U.S. military operations in Iraq, such as requiring the military to guarantee that troops will spend at least 12 months at home between deployments.
Murtha has said that his ultimate goal is to stop the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq.
Pelosi has opposed the administration's plan to increase troop numbers in Iraq and spearheaded a bid to oppose the Bush plan with a nonbinding congressional resolution. She is expected to back Murtha's plan.
Cheney also responded to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who said in a recent interview with the Politico newspaper that, "The president listened too much to the vice president. ... Of course, the president bears the ultimate responsibility, but he was very badly served by both the vice president and, most of all, the secretary of defense."
"I just fundamentally disagree with John," Cheney told ABC News. "John said some nasty things about me the other day, and then next time he saw me ran over to me and apologized. Maybe he'll apologize to [former Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld."
Cheney strongly disagreed with McCain's recent statement that Rumsfeld was "one of the worst defense secretaries ever."
"I think he did a superb job in terms of managing the Pentagon under extraordinarily difficult circumstance," Cheney said. "He and John had a number of dust-ups over policy -- didn't have anything to do with Iraq. John is entitled to his opinion. I just think he is wrong."
Before his interview with ABC News, Cheney addressed an enthusiastic crowd U.S. troops.
"Every member of our military can be certain that America will stay on the offensive in the war on terror," Cheney told the troops. "And I want you to know that the American people will not support a policy of retreat. We want to complete the mission. We want to get it done right, and we want to return with honor."
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