Cheney Unbound

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was interviewed by John King on CNN this morning. He had some interesting and candid observations on a number of topics. On Iran’s nuclear program:

KING: When he was here, Admiral Mullen also said he agreed with the IAEA report that says Iran now has enough nuclear material, enough fissile material to produce a bomb. He says he agrees with that. What should President Obama do if that’s the case?

CHENEY: Well, you’ve got to find ways, I think, to avoid having Iran develop an inventory of nuclear weapons. We’ve talked about this for years. We worked it aggressively through the international community and with a lot of our friends in Europe…

KING: You were not always happy with that, especially at the end of the administration.

CHENEY: I was not always happy with that.

KING: You think your president invested too much in the European diplomacy?

CHENEY: Well, I can’t say that. It was a choice he made. And…

KING: But it was not your choice? It would not have been your choice?

CHENEY: I supported what he did. I supported his policies. And I got to argue my case with him. The circumstances now, though, are that we still have an Iran that I believe is pursuing nuclear weapons. What they’ve done, I think, as best I can tell — I’m not reading the intelligence reports anymore like I did before January — is they produced a fair amount of low enriched uranium, the kind that you would use for a power plant. That’s the hardest step to get to. Once you have got low enriched uranium, it’s relatively simple to change it to highly enriched uranium, and that’s the last step that’s needed before you have got fissile material for a weapon. So I’m not sure exactly where they are at this point, but I am confident of what their objective is, and I don’t think that’s changed.

On North Korea and Ambassador Chris Hill:

KING: Before we get to another break, let me follow up on that point. You disagree with the overreliance, I think is a good term, a fair term, tell me if I’m wrong, on the diplomacy with the Europeans when it came to Iran. You also disagreed with the approach in the end to North Korea and taking them off the list of state sponsors of terrorism in exchange for, I believe your view is, for nothing, or for just false promises.
The man who led that effort, Chris Hill, the diplomat in charge then is now President Obama’s choice to be the ambassador in Iraq. That’s a tough job. Do you think Chris Hill is up to that job based on what he did in North Korea?

CHENEY: He’s not the man I would have picked for that post. He doesn’t have any experience in the region. He’s never served in that part of the world before. He doesn’t speak the language. He’s got none of the skills and talents that Ryan Crocker had, who was our last ambassador, who did a superb job, deserves as much credit as Dave Petraeus in terms of how that process worked during the surge that led to the success we’ve seen now in Iraq.

So I think it’s a choice that — a choice I wouldn’t have made. I did not support the work that Chris Hill did with respect to North Korea.

KING: Why didn’t the president listen to you?

CHENEY: Well, he gets to listen to whoever he wants to listen to, and I had my say. I got my chance to voice my views and my objections. I didn’t [think] the North Koreans were going to keep their end of the bargain in terms of what they agreed to, and they didn’t.

On Osama bin Laden:

KING: What’s the closest you ever got?

CHENEY: Well, of course, we don’t know for certain. We were fairly confident where he was located. We also believed, though, that he is buried so deep that it’s very rare that he is able to communicate with his associates. We also had a very great effect upon the number three in Al Qaida. That was the most dangerous job in the world for a long time was to become the number three, because that was the one that sort of interacted between bin Laden and Zawahiri and the rest of the organization, and we were often able to capture or kill him.

On the Obama administration’s retreat from some of the Bush administration’s security policies:

KING: I’d like to just simply ask you, yes or no, by taking those steps, do you believe the president of the United States has made Americans less safe?

CHENEY: I do. I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11. I think that’s a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles.

President Obama campaigned against it all across the country. And now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.

KING: That’s a pretty serious thing to say about the president of the United States…

CHENEY: Well…

KING: … and commander in chief of the military. So I want to give you a chance, because many people will say, Vice President Cheney just said Barack Obama, President Obama is making us less safe, more at risk, which you just said. I want to give you a chance — and take as much time as you want — to prove it. Because you put that list up there, and I know you say there have been three cases, I believe, of waterboarding in the past, and you say that specific things have been prevented. I know some of this is classified intelligence, but now that you’re out of government, to the degree that you can, tell the American people, because of those tactics, because of those, yes, sometimes extreme tactics, we stopped this.

CHENEY: Well, I would say that the key to what we did was to collect intelligence against the enemy. That’s what the terrorist surveillance program was all about, that’s what the enhanced interrogation program was all about.

KING: But another 9/11, because of a tactic like waterboarding or a black site, can you say with certainty you stopped another attempt to do something on that level?

CHENEY: John, I’ve seen a report that was written based upon the intelligence that we collected then that itemizes the specific attacks that were stopped by virtue of what we learned through those programs. It’s still classified. I can’t give you the details of it without violating classification, but I can say there were a great many of them. The one that has been public was the potential attack coming out of Heathrow, when they were going to have several American planes with terrorists on board, with liquid explosives, and they were going to blow those planes up over the United States.

Now, that was intercepted and stopped, partly because of those programs that we put in place.

Now, I think part of the difficulty here as I look at what the Obama administration is doing, we made a decision after 9/11 that I think was crucial. We said this is a war. It’s not a law enforcement problem. Up until 9/11, it was treated as a law enforcement problem. You go find the bad guy, put him on trial, put him in jail. The FBI would go to Oklahoma City and find the identification tag off the truck and go find the guy that rented the truck and put him in jail.

Once you go into a wartime situation and it’s a strategic threat, then you use all of your assets to go after the enemy. You go after the state sponsors of terror, places where they’ve got sanctuary. You use your intelligence resources, your military resources, your financial resources, everything you can in order to shut down that terrorist threat against you.

When you go back to the law enforcement mode, which I sense is what they’re doing, closing Guantanamo and so forth, that they are very much giving up that center of attention and focus that’s required, and that concept of military threat that is essential if you’re going to successfully defend the nation against further attacks.

On Scooter Libby:

KING: I am told by people close to you and close to the former president that the most tense moment came late, when you wanted the president to pardon your friend and your former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, and the president said no. How tense did that get?

CHENEY: Well, it was — it was one of the moments that occurred in the administration where we had fundamental difference of opinion. I believe firmly that Scooter was unjustly accused and prosecuted and deserved a pardon, and the president disagreed with that.

KING: Angry? Tense? Shouting?

CHENEY: Those kinds of details, I think, are best left to history. Maybe I’ll write about it in my book. …

I was clearly not happy that we, in effect, left Scooter sort of hanging in the wind, which I didn’t think was appropriate. I think he’s an innocent man who deserves a pardon.

On Rush Limbaugh:

KING: What next for your party? There has been a big dust-up in recent days, in parts stoked by the White House, about Rush Limbaugh making some comments. David Frum, a conservative who worked in your administration, says that Rush Limbaugh is kryptonite, because he drives away the voters the Republicans need to build the road to discovery. Is Rush Limbaugh kryptonite?

CHENEY: No, Rush is a good friend. I love him. I think he does great work and has for years. He’s now offered to debate President Obama on his radio show. Hell, I’d pay to see that! It would be interesting to have developed.

I think Rush is a good man and serves a very important purpose.

The contrast between Cheney’s lucidity and the babbling brook who now serves as Vice President is painful.

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