Dick Cheney, Lynne Cheney, Margaret Thatcher
Ron Edmonds  /  AP
Vice President Dick Cheney, center, his wife Lynne Cheney, right, and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, left, take part in 9/11 moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House.
updated 9/11/2006 3:50:34 PM ET 2006-09-11T19:50:34

Vice President Dick Cheney says the fact that there has not been another attack on U.S. soil shows "we've done a pretty good job" of protecting the country against terrorists.

"I don't know how much better you can do than no, no attacks for the past five years," said Cheney, dismissing Democratic charges that serious security gaps remain.

On Monday, as the country marked the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Cheney attended a service of remembrance across the street from the White House at St. John's Episcopal Church, where former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was among those at the service.

Cheney then presided at a moment of silence on the South Lawn, where the Marine Band played "Amazing Grace," "America the Beautiful" and "Taps" as Cheney and his wife, Lynne, stood solemnly with Mrs. Thatcher, Cabinet members and White House staffers.

Later, at a memorial observance near the site where an American Airlines plane slammed into the Pentagon five years ago, Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld walked side-by-side to the speaker's platform as somber music played. Rumsfeld's arm was in a sling; he is recovering from shoulder surgery.

A moment of silence was observed at 9:37 a.m. EDT, the exact time the plane struck, killing 184 people.

Also in attendance was retired Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, who was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the day of the attack.

'In its last throes'
The Bush administration has been on the defensive over its policies in Iraq, where insurgents have been escalating their attacks.

Cheney, in an hour-long interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," acknowledged the Iraqi insurgency was underestimated and that he was wrong when in May, 2005 he declared the insurgency "in its last throes."

"I think there is no question but that we did not anticipate an insurgency that would last this long," the vice president said, adding that "major, major work ... is ahead of us."

"But the fact is, the world is better off today with Saddam Hussein out of power. Think where we'd be if he was still there," Cheney said.

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Democrats countered that the country is now less safe.

"Vice President Cheney's influence over our nation's foreign policy has made America less safe," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "Vice President Cheney's appearance (Sunday) proves that he just doesn't get it."

Cheney refused to separate Iraq from the overall terrorist threat, although a Senate Intelligence Committee report last week said there's no evidence Saddam Hussein had ties with al-Qaida. He said the war in Iraq is now the central front in the fight against terrorism.

Cheney defended his role as a leading advocate for invading Iraq, for a warrantless surveillance program and for harsh treatment of suspected terrorists.

Cheney's 'dark side'
"Part of my job is to think about the unthinkable, to focus upon what in fact the terrorists may have in store for us," Cheney said when asked about his "dark side."

Cheney shrugged off news reports that his influence was waning, partly as a result of foreign policy miscalculations and partly as other advisers, especially Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, were getting more attention from President Bush.

The vice president said the reports were about as valid "as the ones that said I was in charge of everything."

Rice told "Fox News Sunday" that "these stories float around Washington _ who's up, who's down. The vice president remains a crucial adviser to the president. His role is different than my role. ... These stories are simply ridiculous."

Asked if the United States still would have invaded Iraq had the CIA told Bush and him that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction in 2003, Cheney answered yes. He said Iraq had the capability of obtaining such weapons and would have done so once U.N. penalties were eased.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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