Interview of the Vice President by Scott Hennen, WDAY at Radio Day at the White House
The Vice President's Office
Q: I've had the honor of introducing our next guest at Cabela's in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. I've interviewed him just off the MSUM Dragon gym floor in Moorehead, even at his hotel suite in St. Paul one Saturday morning a few years ago, but today is a WDAY Hot Talk first, direct from his West Wing office, the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney.
Thank you for having us, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's good to see you again, Scott.
Q: Good to catch up. As I reflect on our previous conversations, much of the focus has been on the enemies we face in this war on terror. And in the five years since 9/11, I'd like you to reflect for a moment and rate the performance of the administration.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the basic proposition is, of course, that we've gone more than five years now without another attack inside the homeland. On the day after that attack back in '01, if somebody had put that proposition to you, I don't think anybody would have been willing to bet we could go five years without an attack.
There have been attacks around the world since then from Madrid to Jakarta, in Indonesia. There have been several attempts, obviously, to try and launch attacks here in the United States. The ones launched against us have all been intercepted, disrupted. They've all failed. And that's not an accident. It's because the President made some sound decisions, and we put in place some very important programs that let us collect intelligence against the enemy, to find out what they're up to, and then use that intelligence to defend the nation, so it has been -- I think that piece of it has been a great success.
Q: So with those accomplishments, why is there a debate as we head two weeks into an election about whether or not we're safer?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the -- a lot of folks, obviously, don't want to focus on the threat. To spend all your days worrying about that next attack is something that's difficult for people to adjust to. And I think there are some folks out there who say, well, it was just a one-off affair. It will never happen again.
Those of us who bear some responsibility for the security of the nation, on the other hand, look at it and say, next time, they could, in fact, have far deadlier weapons that they did last time, that the ultimate threat is a group of terrorists in one of our cities with a nuclear weapon, and that would cause more casualties that we lost in all the wars we've fought in the 230-year history of the Republic. So it is a huge problem, and periodically, I think people are reminded of it.
But as long as things are going along swimmingly, and there hasn't been another attack, it's hard, I suppose, for us to get credit for what hasn't happened in a sense.
Q: Are the terrorists trying to influence our election in your view?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think they're very much aware of our political calendar here, I really do. And when you see the kinds of things that happened this year, for example, when the Democratic Party in Connecticut purged Joe Lieberman, in effect, drummed him out of the party on the grounds that he had supported the President in the global war on terror, that sends a message to the terrorists overseas that their basic strategy of trying to break the will of the American people may, in fact, work.
Osama bin Laden has talked about it. He believes firmly that we don't have the stomach for the fight long-term, that if you kill enough Americans you can change American policy. And he cites what happened in Beirut in 1983, when we lost 241 Marines, and within months, we'd withdrawn from Lebanon; or Mogadishu in 1993, when we lost people in the battle in Mogadishu, and within weeks had pulled our troops out of Somalia. So I think they are very conscious of the electoral timetable in the United States.
I can't say that they make a specific decision for a particular act, but there's no doubt in my mind that it's a factor that enters into their thinking.
Q: I have a Pentagon source that tells me there are websites out there that they've just recently translated that actually refer to the election and ask for an up-tick in violence to try and influence the election, is that accurate?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I wouldn't be surprised. It sounds right to me.
Q: I've heard from a lot of listeners -- that's what we do for a living, talk to good folks in the Heartland every day -- and I've talked to as many who want an increased military presence in Iraq as want us out, which seems to be the larger debate, at least coming from the left -- cut and run, get out of there. One fax said, when you talk to the Vice President, ask him when shock and awe is coming back to Iraq. Let's finish the job once and for all.
And terrorist interrogations and that debate is another example. And I've had people call and say, please, let the Vice President know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we're all for it, if it saves American lives. Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do agree. And I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that's been a very important tool that we've had to be able to secure the nation. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed provided us with enormously valuable information about how many there are, about how they plan, what their training processes are and so forth, we've learned a lot. We need to be able to continue that.
The Congress recently voted on this question of military commissions and our authority to continue the interrogation program. It passed both Houses, fortunately. The President signed it into law, but the fact is 177 Democrats in the House -- or excuse me, 162 Democrats in the House voted against it, and 32 out of 44 senators -- Democratic senators voted against it. We wouldn't have that authority today if they were in charge. That's a very important issue in this campaign.
Are we going to allow the executive branch to have the authority granted and authorized by the Congress to be able to continue to collect the intelligence we need to defend the nation.
Q: Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the Vice President "for torture." We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we're party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that.
And thanks to the leadership of the President now, and the action of the Congress, we have that authority, and we are able to continue to program.
Q: There's a firestorm going on right now in the media. Our callers today are very upset about it. CNN elected to air a video they received from an insurgent group in Iraq, and it is essentially a propaganda piece where they have followed around a sniper who ultimately ends up killing a member of our U.S. armed forces. Should CNN have aired that video?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't think so. I think all it does is encourage them to do more. The media has an obligation I think to conduct themselves in a way that doesn't make the situation worse, obviously. Now, we have a free press, and that's an important value in our society, and we care very deeply about it. And I don't want to suggest anything other than a free press. But there's a question of responsibility, too, if in fact, they allow themselves to be manipulated, as I think in this particular case, it would look as though a terrorist organization did, in fact, try to manipulate CNN.
Q: I wanted to ask you a little bit about the election coming up. And Minnesota is an example. We got a great governor in Tim Pawlenty who I know -- you know well is in a dogfight. Congressman Mark Kennedy served well in the House, in that Senate race, tough battle -- both down in the polls. Some suggest despite their accomplishments on the economy, that the administration or the war in Iraq are bringing these two down and other Republicans. Do you reject that premise?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I do. We've got a timetable for elections out there. We have one every two years. You don't in the meantime always have the opportunity to say what issues are going to come up. When we ran in 2000, the President and I did not expect to spend most of our time in office dealing with the global war on terror, and the aftermath of 9/11.
The economy is in great shape. The economy is kicking along, doing very, very well. So we do the best we can, and the elections come along, and then we've all got to stand; and those of us whose names are on the ballot -- ours isn't this time, obviously, since it's an off-year election -- but that's the way our system is supposed to work. It's an opportunity for people to vote.
There are a lot of tough contests around the country, and that's altogether fitting and proper that there should be. I'm fairly optimistic about the outcome. I think we're going to do well in the House and Senate.
Q: You're pretty good at election predictions. I think I've caught up with you before the '04 election and in previous midterms, so I give you full credit in Washington, you've watched a lot of them. We'll take that advice as one that's important.
I want to ask you about after the election, lastly. David Limbaugh has written a devastating book on today's Democratic Party that depicts them as partisans that are essentially bent on undermining our national interest in the war on terror. And given that record, and a potential change in congressional control, his view -- and he argues in this book -- is that you'd have a disastrous situation that would tie your hands, the President's hands, the administration's hands in the critical prosecution of this war.
Do you agree with that premise, that's what would happen if the election changes congressional control? And how do we change that tone, change that debate from this awful -- the people in the Heartland just do not like the tone in politics today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm on the receiving end of a lot of that, and so you'd like to see the tone improved a bit, too.
But I think this question of national security and how we defend the nation, we made a fundamental choice after 9/11 that we were going to go on offense, that we had to treat this as a war, that 9/11 wasn't a criminal act or a law enforcement problem, it was a war. And we were going to use all the tools at our command to defend the nation, but also to carry the fight to the enemy. I think it's worked. I think it's worked very successfully in terms of our having been able to liberate 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq, take down terrible regimes, successfully defend the nation here at home.
I think the Democrats would have a different approach. The basis for that? Well, I look, for example, at the three critical programs that we've had to defend the nation here, the Patriot Act, which Congress supported overwhelmingly when we first passed it, but when it came up for renewal, the Democrats tried to kill it. Harry Reid actually boasted about filibustering to death the Patriot Act. He was wrong. We beat him. But they opposed it.
Then we mention the Terrorist Surveillance Program that lets us intercept international communications, one end of which is related to al Qaeda. That's been up for a vote in the House. It was opposed by 177 members of the Democratic Party in the House. And then we talked about the interrogation program for high value detainees, again, where an overwhelming majority of Democrats -- House and Senate -- opposed it.
I think there are fundamental differences. I think the record reveals that. I think the way we maintain the safety and security of the nation and fight the terrorists overseas, instead of here at home is to follow the aggressive policies the President has put in place. I don't think the Democrats as represented by a majority in the Congress would support that strategy.
Q: Mr. Vice President, always an honor. And lastly, I should again extend my invite as I have many times before. I know you're fond of pheasant hunting in South Dakota, but there's some great bird hunting in North Dakota. Is this going to be the year you come up and do a little bird hunting in North Dakota?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know. I don't want to tell where I'm going to be going, but I am going to do a little pheasant hunting this year.
Q: All right, we'll hope -- let's hope just a little bit north, about an hour. I know it's an important national security secret, so we'll honor that. Thank you, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right, thank you, Scott, good to see you again.
Richard B. Cheney, Interview of the Vice President by Scott Hennen, WDAY at Radio Day at the White House Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/285920