Sporting 10-gallon hat, Cheney tells Coast Guard grads: War will not drag on indefinitely
(Update at bottom: Spokeswoman explains why Cheney wore cowboy hat)
Vice President Dick Cheney told newly minted Coast Guard officers Wednesday that the war on terror would be won on their watch and dismissed fears that fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan would drag on indefinitely.
Cheney, sporting a 10-gallon hat, said the troop surge in Iraq "has succeeded brilliantly."
"The war on terror is a lengthy enterprise, but it does not have to go on forever," he told more than 200 graduating cadets during the 127th commencement at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
"The only way to lose this fight is to quit. That would be irresponsible," Cheney said. "More than that, quitting would be an act of betrayal and dishonor. And it's not going to happen on our watch."
The commencement address was Cheney's second in four years at the academy. He was joined by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. President Bush addressed graduates last year.
Cheney told graduates that they will lead a branch of service that is more capable and agile than at any time in its 217-year history.
"From this day forward, you will be America's lifesavers and guardians of the seas," Cheney said. "You'll be there to provide security and to defend our American sovereignty and to enforce this nation's laws against drugs and human smuggling."
He told the cadets they have been given "an immense set of duties" that will cover some 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline.
The vice president's visit was both cheered and jeered by demonstrators who arrived early outside the main gates.
Ted Bakacs said he drove down from Boston to join about two dozen war supporters, members of a group dubbed Gathering of Eagles. They waved American flags and toted signs saying "Proud to be an American" and "Support our Troops."
"We're proud of our government," said Bakacs, an Air Force veteran. "We're proud to be American."
Their message was countered by the more than 100 anti-war protesters, who gathered in the center of this waterfront city and marched silently to the sounds of a slow drum beat to the academy gates. They carried placards that said, "War is Death" and "Dick Cheney: War Criminal."
Jason Ortiz, a 24-year-old University of Connecticut student, arrived early dressed as the grim reaper.
"I'm against people getting slaughtered so other people can make this money off of it," Ortiz said.
Media: What's up with the hat?
According to a spokesperson, the vice president had a perfectly legitimate reason for wearing a cowboy hat at the graduation ceremony.
Connecticut reporter Ted Mann asked a "very considerate spokeswoman" for Cheney, "What's up with that hat?"
"Itís to protect his head from the sun," Megan Mitchell, the spokeswoman explained.
Mann writes, "Well. There goes our still-developing theory about the airfoil properties of ten-gallon hat brims. Shoot."
One media outlet noted that the "weather led to something of a fashion statement by Cheney, who looked every bit the man from Wyoming."
However one blogger from the left had a different take.
"Judging from the content of his speech, the hat was not only a Texas-style head accessory, but also a vestiary middle finger to the world," Chris in D.C. writes at Inside-Out the Beltway. "It put an exclamation point on the now-clear fact that Bush and Cheney intend to swagger past their final days in office with every bit as much empty-headed bluster as the first time they recklessly aimed their silver-plated six-shooters at the country and the global community."
(with wire reports)