Interview of the Vice President by Jonathan Karl, ABC News
1:36 P.M. (Local)
Q: Mr. Vice President, Iran has again defied the United Nations and has accelerated their nuclear program. What should be done about this?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, Nick Burns is off to London to meet with his counterparts to look at the next step in the process, focusing I think on a prospective further U.N. Security Council resolution. We've seen the reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency that indicates they are going forward with their program. That's what they've announced. They've, in effect, defied the United Nations. And now we'll have to see whether or not the international community is really serious about insisting on them giving up their nuclear aspirations.
Q: And what are the stakes here? The diplomatic effort has been going on for a long time and it has not worked. In fact, Iran has gone in the other direction. So what are the stakes here?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, remember where Iran sits. It's important to backup I think for a minute and set aside the nuclear question, just look at what Iran represents in terms of their physical location. They occupy one whole side of the Persian Gulf, clearly have the capacity to influence the world's supply of oil, about 20 percent of the daily production comes out through the Straits of Hormuz. They are the prime sponsor of Hezbollah, one of the world's worst terrorist organizations. They've been actively involved through Syria and Hezbollah in trying to topple the government of Lebanon. They've got a long track record of being a difficult customer. And they're now governed by Ahmadinejad, who has, in fact, made threats about Israel, the destruction of Israel and about the United States. And they're now also pursuing nuclear weapons.
A nuclear-armed Iran is not a very pleasant prospect for anybody to think about. It clearly could do significant damage. And so I think we need to continue to do everything we can to make certain they don't achieve that objective.
Q: But Tony Blair recently said that the only sensible solution to this crisis is diplomacy. Do you agree with that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We hope that we can solve the problem diplomatically. The President has indicated he wants to do everything he can to resolve it diplomatically. That's why we've been working with the EU and going through the United Nations with sanctions. But the President has also made it clear that we haven't taken any options off the table.
Q: Now, Tony Blair seemed to be suggesting that military action really isn't an option by saying the only sensible solution here is diplomacy. Is there realistically a military solution to this?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm not going to go beyond where I am, Jonathan. As we've said, we're doing everything we can to resolve it diplomatically, but we haven't taken any options off the table.
Q: And that includes, obviously, the military option.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We haven't taken any options off the table.
Q: Now, moving to North Korea, you've heard your friend John Bolton has said that this deal is a huge mistake and rewards bad behavior. Do you think that John Bolton has a point?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think the decision that we made to try this approach is the right one. It's different than what happened in '94 in the sense it's not just a bilateral deal, but rather it involves China, as well as Japan, South Korea and Russia. China is the main trading partner, if you will, with North Korea. If you're going to be able to squeeze North Korea effectively to get them to change policy, China is in the best position to do it. And China is a part of this agreement. Now, can I guarantee it's going to work? Of course, not.
But it is an initial first step. The benefits that flow to North Korea don't flow until they fulfill their obligations and commitments. We think it's worth a try.
Q: But they are going to begin to get some oil assistance before they dismantle their nuclear weapons, before they give up their nuclear weapons?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: They do. As I recall, it provides for about a million tons, but they only get 50,000 of that up front.
Q: So do you think that Ambassador Bolton is simply off base when he says that this --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: John's a good friend of mine, and he's entitled to his opinion. I think that it's worth the effort. The President believes it's worth the effort, and we've been working to try to get the six-party talks to produce results, especially working with China, Japan and South Korea. And we'll see.
Q: Do you trust Kim Jong-il to meet an agreement?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Based on his past track record, he's not very good at keeping his international commitments. But again, we want to try to see if we can achieve results through diplomatic means. And as the President said, we think this is worth the effort. It's an initial first step.
Q: You've seen some of the commentary in Washington that points to this deal as a sign that your influence is waning in the administration. What do you make of that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't pay any attention to it.
Q: Is your influence where it was? You've been portrayed at various times as being the all-powerful Vice President and now you've been portrayed as being a Vice President that is somewhat on the outs.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And probably both of them are inaccurate.
Q: Both of them are inaccurate?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir.
Q: Has there -- people are kind of fascinated to try to understand what you are all about and what role you really play in this administration.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: My perspective, Jonathan, is that we get these thumb-suckers, if you will, stories where people speculate who's up, who's down. It's like covering a horse race or a campaign; it's easy. It doesn't require much analysis. It doesn't require serious consideration of policy issues and options. And I think people fall into the trap of focusing on that and talking about it and reporters writing about it, but it rarely reflects reality. So I don't worry about those stories.
Q: Has your relationship with the President evolved over these six-plus years that you've been Vice President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, sure, yes.
Q: Can you give me a sense, a hint as in what way?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's a very good relationship. He's been absolutely true to his word. He said when he persuaded me to take this job that he wanted me to sign on to be an integral part of his administration, an important member of the team. And he's kept that word in every respect. We work closely together. I get to give him my advice, and sometimes he takes it, sometimes he doesn't. That's always been the deal.
Q: You're a student of history. How is history going to look at you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, I don't have any idea. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about that. That history will get written after I'm gone from this job and I can't spend a lot of time worrying about it.
Q: If you believe the public opinion polls, you are a deeply divisive figure, right now not a particularly popular figure in the United States. What do you make of that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Jonathan, I'm not running for office. I'm not worrying about what the folks in Iowa are going to say in the caucuses in January of next year. I'm there to do a job, and that's to call them as I seem, to help the President to the best of my ability be the best President he can to address the issues of the day. We have tough issues. It's a tough job. And his job is tougher than my job. If you worried about the polls, you'd be absolutely traumatized and unable to get anything done.
And I also -- we've had a lot of recent evidence of how history regards a President 30 years after he's left office is a lot different than what it is on the day he walks out. Harry Truman was I think 23 points in the polls when he left office. It turns out he was a pretty good President. Same for Jerry Ford. One of the pleasing aspects of the last few weeks was in the services for Jerry Ford after he passed away to see the country give him the recognition that he'd earned and that he was due. They treated him with much greater respect then than they had when he was in office.
Q: So you think this will happen with you and President Bush?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think what we're doing is exactly what needs to be done for the country. I believe very deeply in what we're doing in the global war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think history will regard us has having made good, sound solid decisions. I think we will have influenced the course of history in significant ways. And so I'm very comfortable with where we're at, and we'll let the historians argue about who got it right.
Q: Are you worried, though -- you could argue that the Republicans lost control of Congress because of Iraq. Are you worried that the unpopularity of this war right now will also cost your party the White House, as well?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm not spending any time. You can't -- I come back again to the proposition, do we get paid to be popular? Do we get paid to have a nice standing in the polls? Or do we get paid to do what we think is right for the country to make those tough calls. And we've done it consistently. We've made tough decisions and we've done things that we thought needed to be done. We've succeeded I think in many respects. I think we've been very successful in Afghanistan and Iraq. I also think we've been very successful in defending the nation at home. We've gone more than five years without another 9/11. That's not an accident, but it's because we've done some very controversial things.
We've aggressively gone after the terrorists overseas -- wherever they might be. We've put in place the Terrorist Surveillance Program that has led to a lot of criticism in certain quarters, but it's been vital to intercepting communications of our enemies. We have had a high value detainee program that's produced valuable intelligence for the country. We've set up a financial tracking program that's let us go after terrorist finances. And we've had to do these things in order to achieve our objectives and carry out our responsibilities. You can worry about the polls; I don't have time for them.
Q: Well, let me ask you about something you said when we last spoke, you said that the course that Nancy Pelosi has proposed on Iraq would validate al Qaeda's strategy. She has come out with a pretty strong response saying that those remarks were "beneath the dignity of the debate, a disservice to our men and women in uniform." She's even said that she's going to call the President to express her disapproval. What's your reaction?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: She did call him. She got Josh Bolten. The President wasn't in right then. But I'm not sure what part of it is that Nancy disagreed with. She accused me of questioning her patriotism. I didn't question her patriotism. I questioned her judgment. If you're going to advocate a course of action that basically is withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, then you don't get to just do the fun part of that, that says, we'll we're going to get out and appeal to your constituents on that basis.
You also have to be accountable for the results. What are the consequences of that? What happens if we withdraw from Iraq? And the point I made and I'll make it again is that al Qaeda functions on the basis that they think they can break our will. That's their fundamental underlying strategy, that if they can kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in Iraq, then we'll quit and go home. And my statement was that if we adopt the Pelosi policy, that then we will validate the strategy of al Qaeda. I said it and I meant it.
Q: And you're not backing down?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm not backing down.
Q: What do you say to those who look at some of your recent comments on Iraq of signs of significant progress, and they look and they see the violence. The last four months have been the deadliest on record for U.S. troops. Sectarian violence has obviously been rising steadily. People look at that. They look at your comments, and they say that you're out of touch. You don't understand how bad it is in Iraq.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think we have made significant progress in Iraq. I look at what's happened politically. I look at the size of the Iraqi forces that we've got trained now. I think the President made a good decision in terms of surging additional forces into Baghdad. I think the key to the issue right now is the security situation in Baghdad. I think the Maliki government is off to a pretty good start. Only time will tell. I'm fairly optimistic that going forward with this strategy will, in fact, work.
You don't get to quit just because it's hard. This is important work. It's very important that we get it right in Iraq.
Q: You're fairly optimistic. What do we do if it doesn't work?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we keep trying until we get it right. I don't think we can afford to lose in Iraq. Think of what that would mean. Think about all the people out there in that part of the world from Presidents like Karzai in Afghanistan and Musharraf in Pakistan, down to the guy who is toting a rifle in the Afghan Security Forces. They have signed on in this global conflict against the extremist element of Islam, signed on with the United States.
Karzai and Musharraf every day they go to work put their lives on the line. There have been assassination attempts against both of them. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed to the security forces to fight alongside Americans. Millions have gone to the polls and voted because they believe in freedom and democracy and what it offers.
And then the United States suddenly decides, okay, this is too tough. We're going to go home from Iraq. We're not going to stick it out and get the job done. What happens to somebody like President Musharraf in Pakistan? Or to all those people in the streets out there who've been willing to bet on the United States? We don't get to quit just because it's tough.
And we learned on 9/11 that we can't retreat behind our oceans, not worry about what's going on in that part of the globe and be safe and secure here at home. We lost 3,000 people that morning to 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters. And the next time we end up with a group of them in one of our cities, they may have a far deadlier weapon -- a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind. So what goes on in that part of the globe is absolutely vital for our security. Getting it right in Iraq is absolutely vital. The best thing we can do in terms of enhancing our security in the long term and dealing with the problem out there is to see that the Iraqis succeed in terms of getting a viable, self-governing democracy that they're equipped and trained with the forces they need to be able to deal with their own security situation. We don't want to stay there a day longer than necessary. But we can do it. I think we have the capacity to do it. I think we've got the right strategy. We've got a good commander in Dave Petraeus who is in charge now in Iraq. And I think we need to do whatever it takes to prevail. You don't just get to quit.
Q: Back in 1991, you talked about how military action in Iraq would be the classic definition of a quagmire. Have you been disturbed to see how right you were? Or people certainly said that you were exactly on target in your analysis back in 1991 of what would happen if the U.S. tried to go in --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I stand by what I said in '91. But look what's happened since then -- we had 9/11. We've found ourselves in a situation where what was going on in that part of the globe and the growth and development of the extremists, the al Qaeda types that are prepared to strike the United States demonstrated that we weren't safe and secure behind our own borders. We weren't in Iraq when we got hit on 9/11. But we got hit in '93 at the World Trade Center, in '96 at Khobar Towers, or '98 in the East Africa embassy bombings, 2000, the USS Cole. And of course, finally 9/11 right here at home. They continued to hit us because we didn't respond effectively, because they believed we were weak. They believed if they killed enough Americans, they could change our policy because they did on a number of occasions. That day has passed. That all ended with 9/11.
In Iraq, what we've done now is we've taken down Saddam Hussein. He's dead. His sons are dead. His government is gone. There's a democratically elected government in place. We've had three national elections in Iraq with higher turnout that we have in the United States. They've got a good constitution. They've got a couple hundred thousand men in arms now, trained and equipped to fight the good fight. They're now fighting alongside Americans in Baghdad and elsewhere. There are -- lots of the country that are in pretty good shape. We've got to get right in Baghdad. That's the task at hand. I think we can do it.
Q: But hasn't our strategy been failing? Isn't that why the President has had to come out with a new strategy?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: A failed strategy? Let's see, we didn't fail when we got rid of Saddam. We didn't fail when we held elections. We didn't fail when we got a constitution written. Those are all success stories.
Q: But didn't we fail when 3,000 American soldiers are killed?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You wish there was never a single --
Q: When a virtual civil war is --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You wish there was never a casualty, Jonathan. Always regret when you have casualties, but we are at war. And we have to succeed where we've begun this venture. And we can. There's no reason in the world why the United States of America, along with our allies cannot get it right in Iraq. I think we will.
Q: You seem to be one of the most optimistic people that I have spoken to about Iraq. Do you not see people who say look at that and you don't see the downside, you don't see the violence, you don't see the way things are falling apart?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: If you look at our history -- and crucial moments in history, whether you look at the Civil War, World War II or other conflicts we've been engaged in, there were many, many times when we could have quit, when we could have said, gee, that's just too tough. We're not going to go there. We're not going to make it.
This is obviously a different kind of conflict, but it requires the same kind of commitment from the United States, from U.S. leadership, and unfortunately the same kind of sacrifice on the part of America's armed forces. We are enormously blessed to have the men and women we have in uniform willing to go into harm's way on a volunteer basis to do what needs to be done for the country.
Q: Is it getting harder for them, though? You see the latest spate of helicopter downings, the military says this seems to be a new strategy to take down helicopters. We've seen the use apparently of chemical bombs now in the last week in Iraq. Is it getting harder?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's just the terrorists doing what terrorists always do, adjusting and adapting their strategies. We can do the same obviously, adjust and adapt. The chemical weapons they're using aren't very sophisticated at this point. What they've done is apparently put some tanks with chlorine in them together with conventional explosives, but we have to adapt and adjust as we go forward. But we can do that.
Q: I want to ask you about another issue that's been a subject of controversy here in Australia, global warming. Did you get a chance to see Al Gore's movie?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I have not seen Al Gore's movie.
Q: Doesn't surprise me.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: He didn't invite me to the showing.
Q: The premier, huh?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Not that I wanted to go anyway.
Q: But what's your sense, where is the science on this? Is global warming a fact? And is it human activity that is causing global warming?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Those are the two key questions. I think there's an emerging consensus that we do have global warming. You can look at the data on that, and I think clearly we're in a period of warming. Where there does not appear to be a consensus, where it begins to break down, is the extent to which that's part of a normal cycle versus the extent to which it's caused by man, greenhouse gases, et cetera.
But I think we're going to see a big debate on it going forward. But it's not enough just to sort of run out and try to slap together some policy that's going to "solve" the problem. Kyoto I think was not a good idea -- not adequate to task. It didn't cover nations like China or India. It would have done serious damage to our economy. We decided not to go down that road. The Senate had rejected it overwhelmingly anyway.
But what we're doing with research, we're spending more money on research than anybody else, probably the rest of the world combined in this area. We've set targets for ourselves in terms of increasing energy efficiency, that is reducing the amount of energy per unit of output. And we're doing better at meeting those targets than I think virtually anybody who signed up with Kyoto. Most of the folks who signed up with Kyoto aren't going to meet the targets.
But going forward, if we are going to have a policy, we've got to find ways to do that, that are not inconsistent with economic growth. You can't shut down the world economy in the name of trying to eliminate greenhouse gases. But there are some answers out there -- nuclear power, for example, is one of them. And getting the United States back into the nuclear power game I think would be a significant benefit -- both in terms of producing the energy we need, but at the same time not contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
Q: So you think the jury is still out about whether or not this warming we're seeing has been caused by human activity?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Some of it has, I think. But exactly where you draw the line? I don't know. I'm not a scientist. I talk with people who supposedly know something about it. You get conflicting viewpoints. But I do think it is an important subject, and it will be addressed in the Congress. I think there will be a big debate on it in the next couple of years.
Q: Now let me ask you about something that I know you don't like to talk about, but the Scooter Libby trial, the CIA leak trial.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You got to ask. I'm going to give you the same answer I always give: I'm not going to comment on it.
Q: But there was an extraordinary statement that was made by the prosecutor --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm not going to comment on it, Jonathan.
Q: The prosecutor said, "there is a cloud over the Vice President." So don't comment on the case, but do you think that there is a cloud over --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Jonathan, the matter is still before the jury. I'm not going to discuss it.
Q: Okay, well, Mr. Vice President, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's good to have you on the trip.
END 1:58 P.M. (Local)
Richard B. Cheney, Interview of the Vice President by Jonathan Karl, ABC News Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/285938