Guest: Vice President Dick Cheney
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MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, March 16, 2003
GUEST: Vice President DICK CHENEY
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the president leaves this morning for a final summit meeting on Iraq. What does he hope to achieve? How close are we to war? We know things are very serious when we hear from this man. In a rare Sunday morning interviewwith us for the full hour, the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney.
Mr. Vice President, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.
VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: Good morning, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: How close are we to war?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think we are still in the final stages of diplomacy, obviously. Thats one of the main reasons for the presidents meeting today with the British and Spanish prime ministers in the Azores. But theres no question but what were close to the end, if you will, of the diplomatic efforts. We have done virtually everything we can with respect to trying to organize a second resolution in the U.N. Security Council. And, clearly, the president is going to have to make a very, very difficult and important decision here in the next few days.
MR. RUSSERT: What could Saddam Hussein do to stop war?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, the difficulty here is itshes clearly
rejected, up till now, all efforts, time after time after time. And we have
had 12 years and some 17 resolutions now. Each step along the way he had the
opportunity to do what he was called upon to do by the U.N. Security Council.
Each time he has rejected it. Im not sure now, no matter what he said,
that anyone would believe him. We have, Tim, been down this effort now for six
months at the U.N. with the enactment of 1441. We asked for a declaration of
all of his WMD come clean. He refused to do that. Hes, again, continued
to do everything he could to thwart the inspectors.
Im hard-put to specify what it is he could do with credibility at this stage that would alter the outcome.
Hes always had the option of coming clean, of complying with the resolution, of giving up all of his weapons of mass destruction, of making his scientists available without fear of retribution, turning over the anthrax, and the VX nerve agent, and the sarin, and of the other capabilities he has developed, and he has consistently refused. And if he were to sit here today and say, OK, now Ill do it, Im not sure anybody would think that had credibility.
MR. RUSSERT: If he did come forward and say, you know, The British laid out six benchmarks. I have decided to turn a new leaf. Heres the VX, heres the mustard gas, heres the anthrax, heres all the records. I will go on television, denounce weapons of mass destruction, you can take any scientists you want out of Iraq, all I ask is that I can stay here in power.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think we are at the point whereits hard for me to conceive of him doing that. And pure speculation that he might do such a thing. And, of course, the problem we have is what we have seen in the past is that even on those occasions after the 91 Gulf War when we did strip him of certain capabilities, when the inspectors were able to go in through the work of defectors, for example, and destroy significant capabilities that he had acquired, and that as soon as they were gone, he was right back in business again.
And I think that would be the fear here, that even if he were tomorrow to give everything up, if he stays in power, we have to assume that as soon as the world is looking the other way and preoccupied with other issues, he will be back again rebuilding his BW and CW capabilities, and once again reconstituting his nuclear program. He has pursued nuclear weapons for over 20 years. Done absolutely everything he could to try to acquire that capability and if he were to cough up whatever he has in that regard now, even if it was complete and total, we have to assume tomorrow he would be right back in business again.
MR. RUSSERT: So bottom line, he would have to disarm completely and leave the country?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think that would be the only acceptable outcome I can think of at this point, but obviously, we can continue to try to work through the United Nations and work diplomacy to try to arrive at an acceptable outcome. To date, we havent been successful.
MR. RUSSERT: Many Americans and many people around the world are asking one question: Why is it acceptable for the United States to lead a military attack against a nation that has not attacked the United States? Whats your answer?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Tim, we have, I think admittedly, a new and unique set of circumstances were trying to deal with here. If you think back to the way we were organized in the last century, the 20th century, to deal with threats to the United States, or to our friends and allies, we had to deal with large states, significant military forces, intercontinental ballistic missiles, the kinds of threats we dealt with throughout the period of the Cold War, all of that changed on September 11 of a year and a half ago. Since that time, weve had to deal with the proposition that truly deadly weapons could be delivered to the United States by a handful of terrorists. We saw on 9/11 19 men hijack aircraft with airline tickets and box cutters, kill 3,000 Americans in a couple of hours. That attack would pale into insignificance compared to what could happen, for example, if they had a nuclear weapon and detonated it in the middle of one of our cities, or if they had unleashed weapons of mass destruction, biological weapons of some kind, smallpox or anthrax, on a major attack on the United States. Thats a whole different proposition for us to think about, how we deal with that.
And at the front of our concerns as we try the deal with these issues is the proposition that the al-Qaeda organization is absolutely determined to do everything they can to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. We found ample evidence of that in the camps and the tunnels and the caves in Afghanistan. We see evidence of it in the interrogations that we have been able to do now on many of the al-Qaeda members that have been captured. We know that they have done everything they could to acquire those capabilities over the years, and we also are confident that if they ever do acquire that kind of capability, theres no doubt theyll use it. Theres absolutely nothing to restrain them from doing that.
If you look back at our strategies that we used in the 20th century, specifically, say vis-a-vis the Soviet Union during the Cold War, we had a policy of containment, alliances, NATO in particular very successful at containing the Soviet Union, a policy of deterrence we could hold at risk, those things that they valued with our ballistic missiles and we were able to forestall a conflict throughout that whole period of time; enormously successful policy.
Then you look at the proposition of a handful of terrorists operating in a part of the world where they find sanctuary and safe haven in a rogue state or in an area thats not even really governed by anybody, developing these capabilities to use against the United States. And how do you apply containment to that situation? How do you deter a terrorist when theres nothing they value that theyre prepared to defend, when theyre prepared even to sacrifice their own lives in the effort to kill Americans and theres no piece of real estate that they value highly enough so that a concept of deterrence works.
We have to think new thoughts about how we deal with that threat, and so when we look at the kind of strategy we want to pursue, we do a number of things. We, obviously, want to defend the homeland, so we spend an enormous amount of time and effort trying to make it a tougher target, but we know defense isnt enough. Youve got to have good offense, and weve gone aggressively after the terrorists wherever we can find them. We worked the financial circuits and the intelligence and law enforcement efforts. Weve had great success there recently; Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and others.
But we also have to address the question of where might these terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, biological weapons, nuclear weapons? And Saddam Hussein becomes a prime suspect in that regard because of his past track record and because we know he has, in fact, developed these kinds of capabilities, chemical and biological weapons. We know hes used chemical weapons. We know hes reconstituted these programs since the Gulf War. We know hes out trying once again to produce nuclear weapons and we know that he has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al-Qaeda organization.
Now, if we simply sit back and operate by 20th century standards with respect to national security strategy, in terms of how were going to deal with this, we say wait until we are hit by an identifiable attack from Iraq, the consequences could be devastating for the United States. We have to be prepared to prevent that from happening. I have argued in the past, and would again, if we had been able to pre-empt the attacks of 9/11 would we have done it? And I think absolutely. I think the American people would have supported it. We have to be prepared now to take the kind of bold action thats being contemplated with respect to Iraq in order to ensure that we dont get hit with a devastating attack when the terrorists organization gets married up with a rogue state thats willing to provide it with the kinds of deadly capabilities that Saddam Hussein has developed and used over the years.
MR. RUSSERT: French President Jacques Chirac said this morning that perhaps there could be a deadline of 30 days or 60 days and he may be able to buy into that. What would be wrong for the United States to say to the world, OK. Were going to give Saddam 30 days or 60 days and put some pressure on the French to step up and have a united front against Saddam Hussein?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, thats exactly what weve been doing for 12 years, Tim. And thats what 1441 was all about, the U.N. Security Council resolution that was passed last fall. We negotiated that with the French and with the other members of the U.N. Security Council. We got a 15-to-nothing vote on it. It said that unless he came into compliance, serious consequences would follow. He clearly is not in compliance. He continues to be in material breach. Weve now gone through the process that was envisioned in 1441 of extensive consultation with the other members of the U.N. Security Council, and were approaching the point where further delay helps no one but Saddam Hussein.
The more time passes, the more time hes got to work on developing new capabilitiesexcuse me-the more time hes got to position his forces to attack or to try to mount and support terrorists operations against our forces in the region or elsewhere. Weve run out this string for 12 years and 17 resolutions in the U.N. Security Council. Now, with all due respect to the French, if you look back at their track record, they have consistently opposed efforts to hold Saddam Hussein accountable for his actions.
MR. RUSSERT: Is it because of their financial dealings?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I cant say that. I dont know. Excuse me. I know, for example, in 95, when there was an effort to pass a resolution, the Security Council finding him in material breach, France opposed it. In 96, when there was an effort to pass a resolution condemning Saddam Hussein for his slaughter of the Kurds, France opposed it. In 97, when there was an effort to block travel by his intelligence and military officials, France opposed it. In 98, France announced he was free of all weapons of mass destructionsomething nobody believed. And in 99, of course, they opposed the creation UNMOVIC, the existing inspection regime, that they now want to place their total faith in with respect to trying to disarm Saddam Hussein. Given that pattern of behavior, its difficult for us to believe that 30 days or 60 more days are going to change anything.
MR. RUSSERT: Thats a non-starter?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think it is.
MR. RUSSERT: The Los Angeles Times wrote an editorial about the administration and its rationale for war. And let me read it to you and give you a chance to respond: The Bush administrations months of attempts to justify quick military action against Iraq have been confusing and unfocused. It kept giving different reasons for invasion. First, it was to disarm Hussein and get him out. Then, as allies got nervous about outside nations deciding regime change, the administration for a while rightly stressed disarmament only. Next, the administration was talking about nation-building and using Iraq as the cornerstone of creating democracy in the Arab/Muslim world. And that would probably mean U.S. occupation of Iraq for some unspecified time, at open-ended cost. Then, another tactic: The administration tried mightily, and failed, to show a connection between Hussein and the 9/11 perpetrators, Al Qaeda. Had there been real evidence that Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, Americans would have lined up in support of retaliation.
What do you think is the most important rationale for going to war with Iraq?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think Ive just given it, Tim, in terms of the combination of his development and use of chemical weapons, his development of biological weapons, his pursuit of nuclear weapons.
MR. RUSSERT: And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I disagree, yes. And youll find the CIA, for example, and other key parts of our intelligence community disagree. Lets talk about the nuclear proposition for a minute. Weve got, again, a long record here. Its not as though this is a fresh issue. In the late 70s, Saddam Hussein acquired nuclear reactors from the French. 1981, the Israelis took out the Osirak reactor and stopped his nuclear weapons development at the time. Throughout the 80s, he mounted a new effort. I was told when I was defense secretary before the Gulf War that he was eight to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon. And we found out after the Gulf War that he was within one or two years of having a nuclear weapon because he had a massive effort under way that involved four or five different technologies for enriching uranium to produce fissile material.
We know that based on intelligence that he has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. Hes had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency and this kind of issue, especially where Iraqs concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I dont have any reason to believe theyre any more valid this time than theyve been in the past.
MR. RUSSERT: During the 2000 campaign you were on the program when we were talking about the Persian Gulf War and looking back and I asked whether you had any regrets about taking Saddam out at that time. And you said no. And then you added this, and I want to talk about it. Lets watch:
(Videotape, August 27, 2000):
MR. CHENEY: Conversations I had with leaders in the region afterwards, they all supported the decision that was made not to go to Baghdad. They were concerned that we not get into a position where we shifted, instead of being the leader of an international coalition to roll back Iraqi aggression, to one in which we were an imperialist power willy-nilly moving into capitals in that part of the world taking down governments.
MR. RUSSERT: Imperialist power, moving willy-nilly, taking down governments. Is that how were going to be perceived this time?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I hope not, Tim. Of course, in 91, there was a general consensus that wed gone as far as we should. Wed achieved our objectives when we liberated Kuwait and that we shouldnt go on to Baghdad. But there were several assumptions that was based on. One that all those U.N. Security Council resolutions would be enforced. None of them has been. Thats the major difference. And it was based on the proposition that Saddam Hussein probably wouldnt survive. Most of the experts believed based upon the severe drubbing we administered to his forces in Kuwait that he was likely to be overthrown or ousted. Of course, that didnt happen. Hes proven to be a much tougher customer than anybody expected.
Were now faced with a situation, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, where the threat to the United States is increasing. And over time, given Saddams posture there, given the fact that he has a significant flow of cash as a result of the oil production of Iraq, its only a matter of time until he acquires nuclear weapons. And in light of that, we have to be prepared, I think, to take the action that is being contemplated. Doesnt insist that he be disarmed and if the U.N. wont do it, then the United States and other partners of the coalition will have to do that.
Now, I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. And the presidents made it very clear that our purpose there is, if we are forced to do this, will in fact be to stand up a government thats representative of the Iraqi people, hopefully democratic due respect for human rights, and it, obviously, involves a major commitment by the United States, but we think its a commitment worth making. And we dont have the option anymore of simply laying back and hoping that events in Iraq will not constitute a threat to the U.S. Clearly, 12 years after the Gulf War, were back in a situation where he does constitute a threat.
MR. RUSSERT: If we do in fact go into Iraq, would a military operation be successful without the apprehension or death of Saddam Hussein?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Our objective will be, if we go in, to defeat whatever forces oppose us, to take down the government of Saddam Hussein, and then to follow on with a series of actions such as eliminating all the weapons of mass destruction, finding where they are and destroying them, preserving the territorial integrity of Turkey. As I say, standing up a broadly representative government thats preserving the territorial integrity of Iraq and standing up a broadly representative government of the Iraqi people. Those will be our objectives.
Now, what happens to Saddam Hussein, obviously, is of great interest. My guess is under those circumstances, hes likely to be captured if hes not first killed, perhaps by his own people. But the objective isnt necessarily him per se, but it clearly is to get rid of his government and to put a new one in its place. And thats what we think is required in order to achieve the objectives of eliminating his WMD, etc.
But I dont want to say, you knowI cant predict whats going to happen to Saddam Hussein, in particular. Conceivably, he could be captured and ultimately held for trial by the Iraqi government, maybe treated as a war criminal. There are lots of possibilities. He might flee, which, obviously, would be an improvement over the current situation.
MR. RUSSERT: But no Iraqi would step forward as an alternative as long as Saddam Hussein is hovering out there not captured?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Thats possible. But Im not sure where he would go. I mean, the fact of the matter is this is not a man who is an aesthetic like Osama bin Laden who is willing to go live in a cave for a long period of time and be cut off from the outside world. This is a man whos used to his palaces and his luxuries. I think he would find it very difficult. I also think that the hatred and animosity of the Iraqi people towards Saddam Hussein, based on the fact that he has been responsibleHuman Rights Watch estimates hes been responsible for the death of as many as a million Iraqi citizens over the course of his tenure. And given his track record of absolute brutality, with respect to his opponents, I think the people in Iraq today, whatever group they are affiliated with, whatever part of the country they live in, the vast majority of them would turn him in in a minute if, in fact, they thought they could do so safely.
MR. RUSSERT: If your analysis is not correct, and were not treated as liberators, but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I dont think its likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. Ive talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House. The president and I have met with them, various groups and individuals, people who have devoted their lives from the outside to trying to change things inside Iraq. And like Kanan Makiya whos a professor at Brandeis, but an Iraqi, hes written great books about the subject, knows the country intimately, and is a part of the democratic opposition and resistance. The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.
Now, if we get into a significant battle in Baghdad, I think it would be under circumstances in which the security forces around Saddam Hussein, the special Republican Guard, and the special security organization, several thousand strong, that in effect are the close-in defenders of the regime, they might, in fact, try to put up such a struggle. I think the regular army will not. My guess is even significant elements of the Republican Guard are likely as well to want to avoid conflict with the U.S. forces, and are likely to step aside.
Now, I cant say with certainty that there will be no battle for Baghdad. We have to be prepared for that possibility. But, again, I dont want to convey to the American people the idea that this is a cost-free operation. Nobody can say that. I do think theres no doubt about the outcome. Theres no question about who is going to prevail if there is military action. And theres no question but what it is going to be cheaper and less costly to do it now than it will be to wait a year or two years or three years until hes developed even more deadly weapons, perhaps nuclear weapons. And the consequences then of having to deal with him would be far more costly than will be the circumstances today. Delay does not help.
MR. RUSSERT: The armys top general said that we would have to have several hundred thousand troops there for several years in order to maintain stability.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I disagree. We need, obviously, a large force and weve deployed a large force. To prevail, from a military standpoint, to achieve our objectives, we will need a significant presence there until such time as we can turn things over to the Iraqis themselves. But to suggest that we need several hundred thousand troops there after military operations cease, after the conflict ends, I dont think is accurate. I think thats an overstatement.
MR. RUSSERT: We have had 50,000 troops in Kosovo for several years, a country of just five million people. This is a country of 23 million people. It will take a lot in order to secure it.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, but weve significantly drawn down our forces in Kosovo and in the Balkans. Theres no question but what well have to have a presence there for a period of time. It is difficult now to specify how long. We will clearly want to take on responsibilities in addition to conducting military operations and eliminating Saddam Husseins regime. We need to be prepared to provide humanitarian assistance, medical care, food, all of those other things that are required to have Iraq up and running again. And we are well-equipped to do that. We have got a lot of effort thats gone into that.
But theagain, I come back to this propositionIs it cost-free? Absolutely not. But the cost is far less than it will be if we get hit, for example, with a weapon that Saddam Hussein might provide to al-Qaeda, the cost to the United States of what happened on 9/11 with billions and billions of dollars and 3,000 lives. And the cost will be much greater in a future attack if the terrorists have access to the kinds of capabilities that Saddam Hussein has developed.
MR. RUSSERT: Every analysis said this war itself would cost about $80 billion, recovery of Baghdad, perhaps of Iraq, about $10 billion per year. We should expect as American citizens that this would cost at least $100 billion for a two-year involvement.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I cant say that, Tim. There are estimates out there. Its important, though, to recognize that weve got a different set of circumstances than weve had in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan youve got a nation without significant resources. In Iraq youve got a nation thats got the second-largest oil reserves in the world, second only to Saudi Arabia. It will generate billions of dollars a year in cash flow if they get back to their production of roughly three million barrels of oil a day, in the relatively near future. And that flow of resources, obviously, belongs to the Iraqi people, needs to be put to use by the Iraqi people for the Iraqi people and that will be one of our major objectives.
But the point is this is not a nation without resources, and when it comes time to rebuild and to make the kinds of investments that are going to be required to give them a shot at achieving a truly representative government, a successful government, a government that can defend itself and protect its territorial integrity and look to the interests of its people, Iraq starts with significant advantages. Its got a well- trained middle class, a highly literate work force, a high degree of technical sophistication. This is a country that I think, but for the rule of Saddam Hussein and his brutality and his diversion of the nations resources and his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, can be one of the leading, perhaps the leading state in that part of the world in terms of developing a modern state and the kind of lifestyle that its people are entitled to.
MR. RUSSERT: And you are convinced the Kurds, the Sunnis, the Shiites will come together in a democracy?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: They have so far. One of the things that many people forget is that the Kurds in the north have been operating now for over 10 years under a sort of U.S.-provided umbrella with respect to the no-fly zone, and they have established a very strong, viable society with elements of democracy an important part of it. Theyve had significant successes in that regard and theyre eager to work with the rest of Iraq, that portion of it that still governs Saddam Hussein. And if you look at the opposition, theyve come together, I think, very effectively, with representatives from Shia, Sunni and Kurdish elements in the population. They understand the importance of preserving and building on an Iraqi national identity. They dont like to have the U.S., for example, come in and insist on dealing with people sort of on a hyphenated basisthe Iraqi-Shia, Iraqi-Sunnibut rather to focus on Iraq as a nation and all that it can accomplish as a nation, and we try to be sensible to those concerns. I think the prospects of being able to achieve this kind of success, if you will, from a political standpoint, are probably better than they would be for virtually any other country and under similar circumstances in that part of the world.
MR. RUSSERT: Ten days ago, the president had a news conference and said this, and let me show you:
(Videotape, March 6, 2003):
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: No matter what the whip count is, were calling for the vote. We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council, and so you bet. Its time for people to show their cards, let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam.
MR. RUSSERT: Are we going to demand a second vote in the United Nations to show their cards?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, it has a certain appeal, Tim. The president will address that issue today when he meets in the Azores with Prime Minister Aznar from Spain and Prime Minster Blair from Great Britain. The decision has to be made about whether or not we call for a vote and thats something theyll address. Within a few hours, youll be able to ask the president that directly. Hell hold a press conference, Im sure, when he finishes meeting with his colleagues.
MR. RUSSERT: Brent Scowcroft, a man you know well, the national security adviser to former President Bush, when you were secretary of defense, talked to the National Journal and said this, and let me lay it out: Im puzzled as to where President Bush stands on the issue of our traditional alliances such as NATO, because during the campaign he made some strong statements about putting more stock in them. Clearly, that hasnt happened. Part of the Bush administration clearly believes that as a uperpower, we must take advantage of this opportunity to change the world for the better, and we dont need to go out of our way to accommodate alliances, partnerships or friends in the process, because that would too constraining.
[This doctrine of continually letting each mission to define the coalition and relying almost solely on ad hoc] coalitions of the willing is fundamentally fatally flawed. As weve seen in the debate about Iraq, its already given us an image of arrogance and unilateralism, and were paying a very high price for that image. If we get to the point where everyone secretly hopes the United States gets a black eye because were so obnoxious, then well be totally hamstrung in the war on terror. Well be like Gulliver with the Lilliputians.
Brent Scowcroft, arrogance, black eye. Eighty-five percent of Spain, 86 percent of Germans, 91 percent of Russians, all against this war. What happened? How did we lose a PR battle against Saddam Hussein in the world, and why would Brent Scowcroft say those kinds of things?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I have great affection for Brent. Weve been
friends for a long time. He is occasionally wrong, and this is one of those
I think its importantI dont want to underestimate the extent of which there are differences here between the United States and our allies on these issues, but it helps to understand that, Tim, I think if we backoff and try to put this in historical perspective. I do think that 9/11 is maybe a historic watershed, that the world is fundamentally different on the front side of that than it was on the backside, on the 21st century side, if you will, than it was on the 20th century side, that the United States and the president have been forced to come to grips with issues that are allies to date have not yet had to come to grips with, that the problem, once you look at 9/11and, again, think back to the pastwe had certain strategies and policies and institutions that were built to deal with the conflicts of the 20th century. They may not be the right strategies and policies and institutions to deal with the kind of threat we face now from a nuclear armed al-Qaeda organization, for example, should that development, and we have to find new ways to deal with those threats.
Weve been forced, partly because we were hit on 9/11, to come to grips with that very real possibility that the next attack could involve far deadlier weapons than anything the world had ever seen. And then it wont come from a major state such as would have been true during the Cold War, if the Soviet Union had ever launched at the United States. It will come from a handful of terrorists on jihad, committed to die, and then the effort to kill millions of Americans. The rest of the world hasnt really had to come to grips with that yet. Theyre still, I think, thinking very much in terms of the last century, if you will, in terms of policies and strategies and institutions, and part of the difficulty were faced with here is we do have, I think, a different perception of the world today, and whats going to be required to secure the United States, than they do. And that, in part, accounts for the current debate and difference of perception, if you will, between Americans and Europeans.
There are other things at work here, too. Clearly, the demise of the Soviet Union. That means that a consensus that existed with respect to what the major threats are disappeared with the end of the Cold War. I think the Europeans tend to look at what theyve accomplished within Europe, which is truly remarkablethe integration of Europe, the increasing reduction in the significance of national boundaries, political and economic coming together of those systems, finding ways peacefully to deal with their differences so they didnt repeat what happened in the first half of the 20th century when two world wars started in Europe, and they tend to think that the world operates the way Europe does. We look at that, and I think we have to give them enormous credit for what theyve accomplished, but its also true that they accomplished it in part because we provided them the security umbrella for the last 50 years. It was U.S. military capability that held the Soviet Union in check, that formed the backbone for NATO.
And, now, as we go forward and look at the threat of rogue states and terrorists equipped with deadly weapons in the future, the only nation that really has the capability to deal effectively with those threats is the United States. The Brits have got some capability, and theyre great allies, and we badly want them on board in any venture we undertake, but the fact of the matter is for most of the others who are engaged in this debate, they dont have the capability to do anything about it anyway.
The suggestion that somehow the war on terror has suffered as a result of the differences over Iraq I dont think is valid. I think what we found is that the cooperation and the intelligence area and the law enforcement area, financial area has been enormously successful, continues to be effective and weve seen it in the arrest in recent weeks of very significant figures in the al-Qaeda organization, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed just a short time ago.
MR. RUSSERT: There is a perception, however, if you read any of the papers
in Europe and around the world, the constant description of the president as
a cowboy, that he wants to go it alone, that the president and you and the administration
that was perceived as extremely confident on foreign policy has been stumbling
and hasnt reached out and nurtured alliances, that if you mention the
presidents name-a friend of mine wrote me a letter and said, Its
like a blast furnace. They just respond, saying, He just wants to lead
the world into war. Every other German says that in the poll. Forty-five
percent of Brits
say that President Bush is a higher risk to world peace than Saddam Hussein. How did we get to this point? And is the competence of the foreign policy of the Bush administration being seriously questioned?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I start with the terms of responding to that, Tim, with the explanation that I just gave. I think, you know, were on one side of the divide, if you will, and theyre on the other, at this point. I think eventually there will be a coming together in terms of an understanding, if you will and the development...
MR. RUSSERT: No long-term damage to the United Nations?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I cant say that. I dont think we damaged the United Nations. I think the United Nations up until now has proven incapable of dealing with the threat that Saddam Hussein represents, incapable of enforcing its own resolutions, incapable of meeting the challenge we face in the 21st century of rogue states armed with deadly weapons, possibly sharing them was terrorists.
With respect to the charge about the president, I just think its dead wrong. Ive gotten to know this man very well. I work side-by-side with him every day, seven days a week, you know, 24/7, as they say. He has a great capability that I think is absolutely essential in an effective leader, and thats the ability to cut to the heart of the issue. If Im looking for analogies, I think Ronald Reagan, and I think of it as Reaganesque in the sense that President Reagan understood, for example, some very basic fundamental facts. He went out at one point and referred to the Soviet Union as empire of evil. Created consternation on both sides of the Atlantic. A lot of hammering, How could you possibly say the Soviet Union was the empire of evil? Well, that was, in fact, true. It guided his policy judgments. He, in turn, ultimately led the alliance in the right direction and we ultimately prevailed on the Cold War.
I look at President Bush and I see, for example, his setting a whole new standard about how were going to deal with terrorist-sponsoring states. In the past, many of our friends in Europe and elsewhere around the world, when they see a state thats sponsored terror, frankly was willing to look the other way, not to hold them accountable for the fact that they were providing sanctuary for people who were out there in the world doing evil things.
After we got hit on 9/11 the president said no more and enunciated the Bush doctrine that we will hold states that sponsor terror, that provide sanctuary for terrorists to account, that they will be treated as guilty as the terrorists themselves of whatever acts are committed from bases on that soil. Thats a brand- new departure. Weve never done that before. It makes some people very uncomfortable, but its absolutely essential as part of our strategy for taking down the al-Qaeda organization and for ending the terrorist threat that the United States has been forced to deal with over the years. So the notion that the president is a cowboyI dont know, is a Westerner, I think thats not necessarily a bad idea. I think the fact of the matter is he cuts to the chase. He is very direct and I find that very refreshing.
Oftentimes, you can get so tangled up in the nuance and the fine points of diplomacy of dealing with these kind of issues, engage in a large debate but the people who make things happen, the leaders who set the world, if you will, on a new course, deal effectively with these kinds of threats that weve never been faced with before, will be somebody exactly like President Bush. I think hes exactly what the circumstances require.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe Saddam Hussein will use chemical weapons against U.S. troops?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I dont know. I assume he may try. Of course as soon as he does it will be clear to the world we were absolutely right, that he does, in fact, have chemical weapons.
MR. RUSSERT: How will you respond?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Weve got, I think, a military force that is the best equipped in history to deal with this kind of threat. Our troops are well trained. Theyve got a lot of equipment thats designed specifically to permit them to operate in that kind of an environment. The other thing we have is just overwhelming capabilities in terms of going after an opposing force, the ability to move very fast, combined arms of air, for example, helicopters, artillery, and armor formations. Its going to take a very brave individual to get close enough to our forces to strike at them with a chemical weapon.
MR. RUSSERT: If he did a widespread chemical attack, would we consider responding with nuclear?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I cant say how we would respond under the circumstances, Tim. Weve always adopted the policy that if someone were to use a weapon of mass destructionchemical, biological or nuclearagainst the United States or U.S. forces, we reserve the right to use any means at our disposal to respond. And Im sure thatll continue to be our policy here. We would not want to telegraph what we might or might not do under those circumstances.
MR. RUSSERT: We have to take a quick break. Well be right back with more of our conversation with the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: More with Vice President Dick Cheney after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back with the vice president. Front page in The New York Times: Anger On Iraq Seen As New Al-Qaeda Recruiting Tool. The Arab street will rise up, recruit more people. The president has embraced a new road map of the Middle East. Some say that was a political calculation to help with the war in Iraq. What will happen in the Arab street? And will more young Arabs, Muslims sign up to attack the United States?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I cant predict that, Tim. Its possible. Theres
another point of view, though, that I think is very valid here, important not
to lose sight of, and to some extent the United States has established over
the last several years, going back at least to the 80s, an unfortunate
practice that weve often failed to respond effectively to attacks on the
United States. And I think the impression has grown in that part of the worldI
think Osama bin Laden believes this and I think Saddam Hussein did, at least
up until 9/11that they could strike the U.S. with impunity, and we had
situations in 83 when the Marine barracks was blown up in Beirut. There
was no effective U.S. response. In 93 the World Trade Center in New York
hit; no effective response. In 96, Khobar Towers, in 98 the east
Africa embassy bombings, in 2000, the USS Cole was hit, and each time there
was almost no credible response from the United States to those attacks.
Everything changed on 9/11 when we got hit here at home and we had a different president in place, who was bound and determined to go forward. And I firmly believe, along with, you know, men like Bernard Lewis, whos one of the great, I think, students of that part of the world, that strong, firm U.S. response to terror and to threats to the United States would go a long way, frankly, towards calming things in that part of the world. People who are moderate, people who want to believe in the United States, and want to support us will be willing to stand up because the United States is going to stand with them and not pull back and disappear when the going gets tough.
One of the keys, for example, with respect to Iraq is our friends in the region have been willing to step up now and be supportive of what we need to do from a military standpoint because they believe this president will do exactly what he says he will do. They dont want to stand up and stick their necks out if the U.S. is then going to fade as we have so often in the past, so...
MR. RUSSERT: But a lot of countries, Mr. Vice President, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the neighbors of Saddam, other than Kuwait, are not supportive.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think we will find, Tim, that if in fact we have to do this with military force that there will be sighs of relief in many quarters in the Middle East that the United States finally followed through and deal effectively with what they all perceive to be a major threat, but theyre all reluctant to stand up if Saddams still in power and if theres a possibility he will survive once again to threaten them and to threaten their region. So for the United States to follow through here, be determined, be decisive, do exactly what we said we were going to do, I think well find weve got far more friends out there than many people think.
MR. RUSSERT: And Jordan and Pakistan and countries like that will be stable?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think so. I think weakness, vacillation, and unwillingness of the United States to stand with our friends, that is provocative. Its encouraged people like Osama bin Laden, as I say, to launch repeated strikes against the United States, and our people overseas and here at home, with the view that he could, in fact, do so with impunity and now he knows different.
MR. RUSSERT: North Korea an imminent threat; they have a nuclear bomb, perhaps on line to build six more by June. Why not have a pre-emptive military strike against North Korea or at least sit down with them, one-on-one, and try to resolve that crisis?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: The situation in North Korea is very serious. We recognize that. We are thoroughly engaged diplomatically in an effort to deal with it. Each set of circumstances were faced with around the world is different. It doesnt automatically mean an approach that makes sense in Iraq is necessarily an approach that would make sense in North Korea. North Korea, we think the key is a multilateral approach. Everybody always wants us to be multilateral and we think its appropriate here.
The matter has been referred to the U.N. Security Council now from the International Atomic Energy Agency when North Korea violated their existing safeguards agreements. Thats been now referred to the U.N. The U.N.s going to have to come to grips with it.
But it also is important that our friends in the region deal effectively with it. Though, theyre far more directly affected than we areJapan, South Korea and especially Chinathe idea of a nuclear-armed North Korea with ballistic missiles to deliver those will, I think, probably set off an arms race in that part of the world, and others, perhaps Japan, for example, may be forced to consider whether or not they want to readdress the nuclear question. Thats not in Chinas interest, and weve been working with China, with Japan and KoreaIm going to be out there next month; Colin Powell was recently there to try to put together effective international approach to North Korea to make it clear to them that it is not in their interest to proceed with building more nuclear weapons.
MR. RUSSERT: Whats after Iraq? Will we consider military action to pre-empt the nuclear program of North Korea, of Iran?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Tim, I didnt come this morning to announce any new military ventures or, frankly, to take any off the table. We havent thought in those terms. The fact of the matter is we hope we can deal with those issues by peaceful means wherever that kind of problem arises. Its one of the reasons the president tried so hard to have the U.N. Security Council be effective with respect to the Iraq question is because there are these other issues out there. They are best addressed if possible through the U.N. Security Council. But itll only work if the council is going to be a meaningful organization that is prepared to enforce its own resolutions. Up till now they havent been willing to do that. We hope they will do it. And Im sure well continue to take an international approach to address this proliferation question.
But it is a major issue and youve touched on it this morning, that I think back on the discussions weve had in years past, weve worried about the possibility of proliferation. But it is now here. Its a real threat, and its growing. There are increasing number of nations out there that are looking to acquire these capabilities and the world would be radically different if some of these rogue regimes do, in fact, acquire that capability.
MR. RUSSERT: A front page all across the world, this mystery illness, this flu-type illness from Asia that antibiotics do not seem to be able to treat. Do you know anything about that?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No more than what Ive seen in the press. The information thats available to us is public. The World Health Organization has put out a worldwide alert, which is unique. It doesnt happen very often. Our folks down at the CDC, the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, are actively engaged in it. We dont know what it is. We dont know the cause of it at this point. It is very worrisome because it appears to spread from whoever has got it to the health-care workers caring for them. It appears to be moving fairly rapidly starting in Asia. Were, obviously, working very hard to try to identify it as soon as possible and figure out how to deal with it.
MR. RUSSERT: Any suggestion its terrorism?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Theres none to date.
MR. RUSSERT: Hows your health?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Good. No complaints.
MR. RUSSERT: Hows your diet?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: My diet is good. Im watched over very carefully by my wife and by doctors and Ive got...
MR. RUSSERT: Do you prefer french fries or freedom fries?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I dont eat them whatever theyre called. I used to love them, but, no, I stay away from french fries. Theyre not on my diet.
MR. RUSSERT: In order to pay for this war, would the president consider suspending his proposed tax cut?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We dont believe thats the right course of action, Tim. This is one of those times when as important as the war on terror is and as important as the problem of Iraq is, weve also got a lot of other balls in the air. And an American president these days doesnt have the choice of focusing on only one thing. Weve also got to deal with the Middle East peace process, with Israelis and Palestinians which we did this week. Weve got to deal with the domestic economy. Its very important to get the economy growing again. And one of the reasons weve had a fall-off in revenue, obviously, is a slow economy and we need to get growth started again. We cant wait until after weve dealt with our military problems to get the economy growing again. So we believe the tax cut is good, long-term growth policy for our economy. And thats the best way for us to be able to afford the kind of things were going to have to do internationally.
MR. RUSSERT: I hope some day we can come back and have a full discussion on the economy.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I hope so, too, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Vice President, thank you very much for sharing your views.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: And well be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: If its Sunday, its MEET THE PRESS. Happy birthday, Daniel Patrick. Hang in there.
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