In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Vice President Dick Cheney was asked what effect the grim milestone of at least 4,000 U.S. deaths in the five-year Iraq war might have on the nation.
Noting the burden placed on military families, the vice president said the biggest burden is carried by President George W. Bush, who made the decision to commit US troops to war, and reminded the public that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan volunteered for duty.
"I want to start with the milestone today of 4,000 dead in Iraq. Americans. And just what effect do you think it has on the country?" asked ABC News' White House correspondent, Martha Raddatz, who traveled with the vice president on a nine-day overseas trip to Iraq and other countries in the Middle East.
"It obviously brings home I think for a lot of people the cost that's involved in the global war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan," Cheney said in the interview, conducted in Turkey. "It places a special burden obviously on the families, and we recognize, I think — it's a reminder of the extent to which we are blessed with families who've sacrificed as they have."
"The president carries the biggest burden, obviously," Cheney said. "He's the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans, but we are fortunate to have a group of men and women, the all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm's way for the rest of us."
Raddatz noted that some soldiers, Air Force members, and Marines have been on multiple deployments and have been sent back to Iraq because of the stop-loss policy — an involuntary extension of a service member's enlistment contract. The Army alone says 58,000 US soldiers have been redeployed to war because of the stop-loss policy.
"When you talk about an all-volunteer force, some of these soldiers, airmen, Marines have been on two, three, four, some of them more than that, deployments," Raddatz said. "Do you think when they volunteered they had any idea that there would be so many deployments or stop-loss? Some of those who want to get out can't because of stop-loss?"
"A lot of men and women sign up because sometimes they will see developments," Cheney said. "For example, 9/11 stimulated a lot of folks to volunteer for the military because they wanted to be involved in defending the country."
Referring to his talks with US service members in Iraq, the vice president said the men and women he speaks to are committed to the war.
"The thing that comes through loud and clear is how much they are committed to the cause, to doing what needs to be done to defend the nation," Cheney said.
When asked about the toll multiple deployments have taken on U.S. military members, Cheney fired back with a question.
"Of course it is, Martha," Cheney said. "So what would be the solution to that? I mean how would you deal with that?"
Today the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, recommended to Bush a "pause" in the drawdown of U.S. forces after the last surge combat brigade leaves in July. The pause is expected to be four to eight weeks, after which another decision will made on resuming the drawdown.
There are currently more U.S. military members in Iraq than when the United States led the invasion of the country in March 2003.