Interview of the Vice President by ABC News
3:18 P.M. MST
Q: Let me begin with Iraq. You said this week that it's your belief that the insurgents are trying to influence the election. Does that mean that a Democratic victory is a victory for the insurgents?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, I think what they're trying to do, obviously, is execute on their strategy. And if you think about their strategy, it isn't to defeat us militarily. They can't do that. But what they're betting on -- Osama bin Laden talks about it -- is that they can, in fact, ultimately break the will of the American people, that they can persuade enough Americans, that we'll ultimately leave. And then they cite Beirut in 1983, and Mogadishu in 1993, as examples where the U.S. took casualties and then departed. So that's their basic fundamental underlying --
Q: What are they trying to get voters to do?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I think when they see something happens that just happened in Connecticut this year, where the Democratic party, in effect, purged Joe Lieberman, primarily over his support for the President and the war -- that says to them that their strategy is working.
Q: But you've had a lot of Republican defections on Iraq, as well. Just today, just a few minutes ago, Vanity Fair magazine reported that Richard Perle and Ken Adelman, two of the strongest early supporters of the war, say that now they would not have supported the invasion if they knew how incompetent the administration would be in handling it.
Listen to Ken Adelman. He called your administration "among the most incompetent administrations in the post-war era. Individually, each team member has serious flaws. Together they were deadly dysfunctional."
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, I haven't seen the piece. I'm not going to comment on it, George.
Q: But Richard Perle and Ken Adelman were two of the strongest supporters in the administration.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, I think there's no question but what it's a tough war, but it's also the right thing to do. And it's very important we complete the mission. I just fundamentally disagree.
Q: You also have a lot of Republican candidates for Senate out there right now; six, by my count, who are calling either for a change of course in the war, or a change of leadership.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: George, the primary opposition to the war is coming from the Democratic Party. They haven't offered up a plan, but they've got several different positions: withdraw, withdraw at some future date, cut off funding -- there's been legislation introduced in the House now by House Democrats to do that.
The fact of the matter is, this is the right thing for us to be doing. We need to succeed here. It has a direct bearing on how we do around the world in the global war on terror. If, in fact, Karzai in Afghanistan, and Musharraf in Pakistan, who've been great allies in the war on terror where we've had major success, were to see us suddenly decide we're going to depart from Iraq and decide that it's gotten too tough, it would seriously undermine our efforts in all those other places.
So to suggest that somehow there's a solution here to walk away from Iraq and still aggressively pursue the global war on terror, is just wrong. It's just not --
Q: Yet you're seeing that come from your own candidates right now.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: George, it's tough. This is hard to do, no question about it. But it's the right thing to do, and that's why the President is out there, as aggressively as he is, and so am I. We don't make decisions based on the polls. We don't make decisions based on pundits on television or whether or not it's popular. It's the right thing to do and that's why we're doing it.
Q: So will the vote on Tuesday have any affect on the President's Iraq policy?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I think it will have some effect, perhaps, in the Congress, but the President has made clear what his objective is, it's victory in Iraq. And full speed ahead on that basis, and that's exactly what we're going to do.
Q: So even those Republican candidates calling for a change of course are not going to get that on Wednesday?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: No, you can't make policy -- national security policy on the basis of that. These are people running for Congress, they're entitled to their own views, on both sides of the aisle. But I think there's no question but what when we get into the global war on terror, when we get into the measures that are needed to go on offense and take the fight to the enemy, if you will, that the support that we've had and continue to have is primarily on the Republican side, and I think the Democrats have come up weak on it.
Q: Paul Harvey this week said that Iraq had gone sour. And he made the observation of what he calls a "mishandled war in Iraq" has gone on almost as long as World War II right now. Do you think if it hadn't been mishandled, if there hadn't been mistakes, more American troops would be home right now?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, George, I think the analogy to World War II is just not a valid analogy. It's just a totally different set of circumstances. What we're trying to do in Iraq is to stand up a government that is capable of governing the country, and we are making progress. We've had three national elections. We've got a good constitution. The government now in power has been there six months. It's a little early to write them off. The other thing that we have to do is to get the Iraqis into the fight themselves, so they take on the responsibility for security. That's the effort. That's the basic broad overall strategy.
And on that basis, there's no way to short-circuit that process. We can maybe accelerate it in terms of training, and those kind of things. But in terms of the basic fundamental overall strategy, it's not likely to change.
Q: There seemed to be a setback in the strategy this week. The U.S. military announced it's cordoning off Sadr City to look for the kidnaped American soldier. The Prime Minister says, lift it, it's lifted, and it appears, at least, that the U.S. military abandoned its effort to go after its own soldier.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, that's not strategy, George. Those are tactics used on the ground to try to deal with a particular situation. We're still very interested, obviously, in getting our soldier back. We'll continue to push it very aggressively.
Q: But not pushing forward militarily anymore, not searching.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We are working very closely with the people we need to be working with in order to try to achieve that objective.
Q: You mentioned World War II. You're a student of history. We've gone back and looked, and since 1860, there have been five congressional elections like this one that are held during wartime. Every single one, the President's party takes a beating. Is that just a price that wartime Presidents have to pay?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It may be, but I think you have to be very careful not to generalize from individual races; or to look at it, and say, well, this is what happened in 1942, and that's therefore what's going to happen --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: 1996, 2004. I just -- I'm reluctant, you guys have to come up with some kind of rationale to try to explain what's happening out there, I understand that. But I think you have to look at each one of those individuals.
Q: What's happening now?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think what we're having now, obviously, is a very hard-fought election. I think there is great concern over the situation in Iraq. I don't deny that; none of us do. It is very tough going. But it is, in fact, the right thing to do. Now you don't get to choose the issue you're going to deal with when you have something like 9/11 and the aftermath of 9/11. That's something the President and I were handed with when we arrived, shortly after we arrived. It, obviously, has shaped everything we've done as an administration. And we're bound to see judgments made now on the basis of this year's election.
Over the long haul what counts is what it looks like 20 years from now, and how people will judge the effort we made to deal with a very, very tough situation. But it's very important we get it right. If the United States bails out on Iraq now, if we pack it in and leave now, we'll put at risk all the progress we've made, and the hundreds of thousands, indeed, millions of people in that part of that world who have signed on to be part of the effort; the millions of Iraqis and Afghans who voted; the hundreds of thousands who have signed on to be part of the security forces; men like Musharraf and Karzai, who risk their life every day just going to work. There have been three attempts on Musharraf's life.
So for the United States now, because it's tough, and because it's hard going, to say, well, gee, we're going to pack it in and go home, is exactly the wrong thing to do.
Q: You mention the perspective of 20 years. None of us know what it's going to look like in 20 years.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But it will probably look different than it does in today's headlines.
Q: No question about that. From today, though, a lot of people look back at the experience of the last three years, and look at a series of mistakes, some that have been conceded by the administration -- disbanding the Iraqi army, not doing --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The Iraqi army melted away; it wasn't there by the time we got to Baghdad.
Q: Point taken. Both you and Secretary Rumsfeld have such deep experience in the government, in the House, as White House Chiefs of Staff, as Pentagon Secretaries, now you as Vice President, how do you explain the failure to anticipate more of these problems, the failure to prepare for them?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: George, I don't buy the analysis, basically. I think, clearly, there have been problems, there always are, in any war. Change always begins immediately, as soon as you launch into conflict. And this one is clearly no different than that. But I think, again, I come back to the basic proposition. I think we've got the basic strategy right, that is, the Iraqis have to ultimately take responsibility for their own fate, both militarily, as well as from a political standpoint. That's the strategy. Our objective is victory, and that's the road we're walking down.
They have, in fact, made significant progress. And again, I come back to the notion it would be a terrible shame if after only six months with this government everybody said, well, gee, we'd better quit. Twenty years from now, what's that going to look like, what will that part of the world look like? Will the others, who have signed on to be part of this global war on terror on our side, decide if the Americans bail out on this one, they can't be trusted, they're likely to bail out on them, and it will have a ripple affect in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, and do serious damage to our long-term efforts there.
Q: You've been talking a lot about the consequences --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The press may not like it, it may be controversial, there will be politicians who want to argue against it, and it may not be popular --
Q: It seems like the public has turned against it right now.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It may not be popular with the public. It doesn't matter, in the sense that we have to continue the mission and do what we think is right. And that's exactly what we're doing. We're not running for office, we're doing what we think is right.
Q: You've talked a lot about the consequences of the Democrats taking over Congress in the last week. Nancy Pelosi said this: "We win," speaking of the Democrats, "we get subpoena power." If you're subpoenaed by the Democrats, would you go?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I have no idea that I'm going to be subpoenaed. And, obviously, we'd sit down and look at it at the time. But probably not, in the sense that the President and the Vice President are constitutional officers and don't appear before the Congress.
Q: So that's just your view of executive power; you're not going to go up and testify?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think that's been a tradition. I can't think of the last time a President did appear before the Congress or a Vice President.
Q: Gerald Ford, I think.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: He did. That's right, but not under subpoena, he did it on his own hook; he wanted to explain the pardon.
Q: And in your view, the most serious consequence of the Democrats taking over would be their effect on Iraq policy?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, it's not the only effect. First of all, a lot of what happens in that area, obviously, is up to the President. He's the Commander-in-Chief.
Secondly, there are other issues, like tax policy and the economy. The economy is going gangbusters. It's doing very, very well primarily because of the tax cuts we put in place in 2001 and 2003. Democrats overwhelmingly opposed those. Those cuts have to be extended if they're going to stay in place, otherwise the old rates come back.
Q: Not until 2010, though.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, but if the Democrats were in charge in the Congress, if Charlie Rangel were chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, all he has to do is block legislation to get a big tax increase. They don't have to pass a tax increase to get one. They just have to not act, and then when those old rates came back in, you'd have a big tax increase on the American family, on the economy. And I think it would do very serious damage. I think it's one of the big issues in the campaign.
Q: Democrats say that's what happened in the Republican Congress this year, a student loan tax cut was not extended by the Republican Congress. That's been a tax increase for those who want student loans.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We're talking about what we did on the marriage penalty. We're talking about child credit. We're talking about death taxes. We're talking about tax on capital gains and dividends. We're talking about the breaks for small businesses to encourage investment and expansion and job creation, all of those things that's now provided about 6.8 million new jobs since August of '03; unemployment rate today down to 4.4 percent. We're doing very, very well. But it all goes back to those taxes that we put in place -- the tax cuts, and the fact is the Democrats overwhelmingly opposed them. They opposed them then, they oppose the now.
Charlie Rangel said there's not a single Bush tax cut that he thinks ought to be extended. Now, that's a pretty fundamental difference between the parties. If in fact, the Democrats were to take control of the Congress, Charlie Rangel takes over tax policy, I think, in fact, you would see a major tax increase.
Q: In 2011.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, sooner than that for some of them. They're phased in at different times.
Q: You mention the unemployment rate today; 4.4 percent unemployment, exceptionally low. Why don't you think the President is getting more credit for that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, you guys don't help. The fact, of course, is what's news is if there's bad news. And that gets coverage. But the good news that's out there day after day after day doesn't get as much attention.
Q: The President has been speaking about this New Jersey decision on gay marriage, every stump speech in the last 10 days. You haven't mentioned it once. Why not?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think my views are well known on the subject.
Q: You believe the states ought to decide?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I've always felt that the states were the prime place to resolve that. States historically have been the authority, regulating authority with respect to marriage. The President believes that we ought to have a constitutional amendment. He's the President, and he makes policy for the administration. I support the President.
Q: But you have no problem with the New Jersey decision personally?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think we do have a problem in terms of courts trying to move in, if you will, and substitute their judgment for the voters. I think that's --
Q: Legislatures is where you think -- the state legislature --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: State legislatures decide it. I think the states ought to handle it. But again, the President makes policy for this administration. I support the President.
Q: You've got two years left about in office. What's the single most important thing you want to accomplish?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it's going to continue to be a focus on the global war on terror. It's going to continue to emphasize what we're doing overseas in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the other places we're operating. It will be our continued efforts to protect the nation from another attack. We've gone over five years now without another attack on the U.S. That's a major success story. It didn't happen by accident. It happened because we did, in fact, aggressively pursue things like the Terrorist Surveillance Program, like questioning of detainees and the military commissions that we got through the Congress just recently. All of those measures need to be continued and will be continued with this President and offer us the best opportunity to be able to defend the country against further attack.
Q: And after that for you, private life?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: After that, for me, private life.
Q: Mr. Vice President, thank you very much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, George.
* * * * *
Q: This is your last week of your last campaign as a professional politician -- no surprise, you're going back to Wyoming in this last campaign --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Last stop.
Q: That is not exactly poaching on your opponent's turf?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But it's also -- to some extent it's traditional. We always have -- small towns can't do more than one event in a cycle, so everybody has to get -- and the last couple of weeks, you travel together. And the last stop in the campaign, will be Saturday in Laramie.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sort of homecoming in effect.
Q: But you and the President both are really defending some rock solid Republican seats in these last few days.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's true.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I think it's a blend. A lot places where we've got open seats, where there were tough primaries, and they're still trying to heal the wounds of the primaries.
Q: Like here.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: There are other cases where there has been local controversy. Here, of course, there has been -- Colorado Springs -- years ago. But you got to go where the targeted races are. That's where -- easy stuff.
Q: But the big news here this morning is Ted Haggard resigning his position as the head of the National Association of Evangelicals. I don't want to ask you -- because none of us know exactly what happened, but about the political impact. Are you worried --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: First of all, I don't know anything about the case, so I don't have any way to evaluate it. I don't see it as having --
Q: No, you don't think it's going to hold down turn-out. Are you worried about conservative turn-out? You worried about it crumbling?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You always worry about turn-out. You always focus on it. And the key to our success, I think, both in 2000 and 2004 has been we had a first class turn-out operation. That's always been part of politics.
Q: This time?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think so. I'm optimistic. I think Ken Mehlman and Karl Rove, we've got two of the absolute best in the business. I think -- my sense of it is that things have been coming our way these last couple of weeks, and so I feel pretty good about it.
Q: I was interested -- you were doing a little handicapping of '08, said Hillary would be a formidable candidate.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I was asked about Hillary specifically, and I gave a response.
Q: And Barack Obama, not sure he's ready.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I was asked about those two candidates.
Q: My question this week is do you think John Kerry crippled his chances for 2008 this week?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, what happened to Senator Kerry did -- all those questions that people had about him after the last campaign. It resurfaced doubts about him and about the way he's dealt with some very tough issues. Of course, in 2004, the line was he voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it.
Q: You having fun with that one --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it still is great with the crowds. But, yes, I think it's going to create some problems for him he's going to have to overcome -- public officials, candidates to go home.
Q: And do you think it's going to make any difference in this race?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think it may have some impact in terms of generating enthusiasm and reminding people what's at stake, the fundamental differences between the parties on major national -- Democrats were opposed on all those. Republicans supported them overwhelmingly. There are fundamental differences in terms of how the parties approach these things. And what John Kerry represents -- the best thing they've had because he was the presidential nominee just two years --
END 3:40 P.M. MST
Richard B. Cheney, Interview of the Vice President by ABC News Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/283308