Washington Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday accused critics of "corrupt and shameless" revisionism in suggesting the White House misled the nation in a rush to war, the latest salvo in an increasingly acrimonious debate over prewar intelligence.
Cheney also denounced proposals for a quick U.S. withdrawal from Iraq as "a dangerous illusion" and shrugged off the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.
"We never had the burden of proof," he said, adding that it had been up to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to prove to the world that he didn't have such weapons.
Following President Bush's lead, Cheney praised the character of Rep. John Murtha even as he voiced strong disagreement with the Pennsylvania Democrat's proposal last week to pull out all U.S. troops.
"He's a good man, a Marine, a patriot - and he's taking a clear stand in an entirely legitimate discussion," Cheney told the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Cheney, who represented Wyoming in the House of Representatives in the 1980s, called Murtha "my friend and former colleague."
A key Democrat on military issues with close ties to the Pentagon, Murtha set off a firestorm last week when he proposed all of the some 160,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq be pulled out over the next six months.
Congressional Republicans denounced him and White House spokesman Scott McClellan, traveling with the president in Asia, branded him as an ultraliberal comparable to activist filmmaker Michael Moore.
Later, Bush and other administration officials toned down their criticism, fearful of a backlash in support of Murtha. Bush on Sunday called Murtha "a fine man" and longtime supporter of the military.
However, Cheney said, "It is a dangerous illusion to suppose that another retreat by the civilized world would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone."
"Those who advocate a sudden withdrawal from Iraq should answer a few simple questions," Cheney said, such as whether the United States would be "better off or worse off" with terror leaders such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri in control of Iraq.
Murtha told CNN, "I'm trying to prevent another Vietnam" and predicted Cheney would eventually see it that way, too.
"This war cannot be won militarily, ... cannot be won on the ground," Murtha said.
Earlier Monday, in his hometown of Johnstown, Pa., Murtha defended his call for a pullout, suggesting he was only following shifting American sentiment as reflected in polls and phone calls and e-mails to his office.
"The public turned against this war before I said it," Murtha told reporters after a speech at a civic center. Murtha, 73, is a decorated Vietnam veteran, has served in Congress for three decades and is the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called Cheney's speech "yet another missed opportunity by the vice president to come clean with the American people and lay out a strategy for success in Iraq."
Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he wouldn't go as far as Murtha but would like to see a gradual transition out of Iraq over the next two years. "That will require the administration not to stay the course, but to change course," Biden told the private, nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., told reporters in Boston that Bush and Cheney have "misled America and they're still misleading America."
As to suggestions that Bush, Cheney and others in the administration manipulated intelligence to make a stronger case for invading Iraq, "this is revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety," Cheney said.
"The flaws in the intelligence are plain enough in hindsight. But any suggestion that prewar information was distorted, hyped or fabricated by the leader of the nation is utterly false," Cheney added.