Remarks by the Vice President and Mrs. Cheney at a Town Hall Meeting
Alex Menzek Field House
Minnesota State University, Moorhead
11:06 A.M. CDT
MRS. CHENEY: Thank you so much. Now, please have a seat. Boy, is it going to be here in Minnesota on a beautiful day like this? What a gorgeous day. (Applause.) Looks like Bush-Cheney country to me. (Applause.)
Well, I know you've all been looking at the poll data and you know it's close, but we're ahead. (Applause.) Going to count -- going to count on every one of you getting out there, getting all your friends, all your families, those of you have haven't voted, be sure to get to the polls. But I want to tell you about one other poll. I have four grandchildren, and my oldest granddaughter sent me an email this morning telling me that the Weekly Reader Poll, which has been correct every presidential election since 1956 shows a landslide for President Bush. (Applause.)
Well, you are a great crowd. And I'm just so pleased to get the assignment that I've had all year here in Minnesota -- I get to introduce Dick. And it is my assignment because I've known him for so long. (Laughter.) I have known Dick since he was 14 years old and his job that summer was sweeping out the Ben Franklin store in Casper, Wyoming. (Laughter.) And I've known him since he was digging ditches at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo Grounds, and I've known him since he was building power line all across the West to pay his way through school. And I like to talk about all those jobs because you know when you grow up working hard, you learn some really important lessons. And one is that the men and women of this country, the hard working people of this country ought to get to keep as much of their paychecks as possible. (Applause.)
Well, again, it's a great day to be here in Minnesota. It has been such an honor for me these last four years. I've had really what I think of as a front row seat on history. I guess, in a way, we all have. We watched our great nation rise up after 9/11, comfort those whose lives have been altered forever by that event, watched our President move us ahead, go on the offense, go after the terrorists who had harmed us on that day -- it's the kind of thing we never want to see happen again. But all of us know the terrorists will try. We know they'll try. And I ask myself when I think about this election -- and I'm a mother, I'm a grandmother -- I don't see too many grandmothers here today. (Applause.) Oh, grandmother power. That's good. I think of my children, I think of my grandchildren, and I ask myself who is it that I want to have standing the doorway when those terrorists try again, who is that I want in charge of our security. And, oh, absolutely it is George Bush. It is. (Applause.) It is for sure not John Kerry and not John Edwards.
MRS. CHENEY: It is George Bush, and, ladies and gentlemen, it is my husband, Dick Cheney, the Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you all very much. Well, thank you, that's a great welcome. And it's true Lynne has known me since I was 14, but she wouldn't go out with me until I was 17. (Laughter.) I tell people that we got married because Dwight Eisenhower got elected President of the United States. In those days, I was a youngster living in Nebraska with my folks. Dad worked for the Soil Conservation Service. Eisenhower got elected; he reorganized the government; Dad got transferred to Casper, Wyoming. And that's where I met Lynne, and we grew up together, went to high school together and recently celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. (Applause.) But I explained to a group the other night that if it hadn't been for Eisenhower's election victory, Lynne would have married somebody else. And she said, right, and now he'd be Vice President of the United States. (Laughter and applause.) No doubt in my mind.
Well, we're delighted to be here today. I know we got some North Dakota folks here, as well. (Applause.) I guess, we're in the Red River Valley. I see Governor Hoeven here. It's great to see you, Governor, as well as Norm Coleman. (Applause.)
But it's a pleasure to be back in this part of the country. And what we do at these town hall meetings usually is I'll talk for a little bit. I promise not to go on too long. I try to zero in on one issue, and when we open it up to questions so you can have an opportunity to get a few questions in that you can -- if you want to make comments, or offer up advice, I can take it straight to the top. (Laughter.) Whatever is on your mind this morning.
But what I'd like to do is spend a few minutes talking about what I think is sort of front and center, as least for me and for my perspective in this campaign, and that's the question of the war on terror, national security. The decision we're going to make a week from tomorrow will be to select a Commander-in-Chief, in terms of who is going to be in charge of safeguarding the nation, guaranteeing the safety an security of our kids and grandkids for a good long time to come. And while that's just a four-year term, obviously, I think we're at one of those points in our history that comes up periodically where we're faced with a new threat and we have to devise a new strategy to deal with that threat, and we put in place -- as we did, for example, right after World War II, after we'd won the tremendous victories in the Pacific and Europe; then all of a sudden we found ourselves faced with the Cold War -- with a Soviet Union that was armed with nuclear weapons and that occupied half of Europe, that constituted a significant threat to the United States. And we had to put together a whole strategy to deal with that. And we did successfully, and it was then supported by Republican and Democratic administrations alike for the next 40 years, until the end of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and of course the rest is history.
I think we're at again one of those sort of break points if you will in American history where we're putting in place a strategy, institutions, alliances, a way of thinking about and dealing with the threat that we now face that may well be the foundation, if you will, of our national security for the next 30 or 40 years. And that's what I want to talk about today. Because I think that goes to the heart of the issue in this campaign, and the one that, above all others, is vital.
I don't mean by saying that to in any way take anything away from the other important issues on the economy, health care, education -- so many of the other issues we're discussing out there. And I'm happy to talk about those, but I wanted to focus in on my opening remarks this morning on that question of our national security going forward.
9/11, it's important to remember, was the worst attack ever on American soil. We lost more people that morning than we lost at Pearl Harbor. And it forced us to come to grips as a nation with the fact that we're faced there with an adversary, an enemy motivated by an extreme ideology that's on the far fringes of radical Islamic view, if you will, that is by no means representative of Islam in general -- extremist jihadists who want to kill infidels. And we're the infidel, and they're prepared to die in the process. It's a different kind of threat than we ever had to deal with before.
We also learned that morning that it was possible for a group of individuals to come into our country with relative ease, to equip themselves -- in this case with boarding passes and box cutters -- and 19 men in a matter of about an hour and a half, two hours then do great devastation in New York and Washington, and, of course, Pennsylvania.
Coming out of that is the more disturbing proposition that we now know to be the case that our adversaries are trying to acquire deadlier weapons to use against us. We know from people we've interrogated that we captured that have been part of the al Qaeda organization, we know from training manuals we've found in Afghanistan that they're trying to get their hands on deadlier weapons, on a chemical or biological agent, or even a nuclear weapon if they can. The biggest threat we face today is the possibility that at some point we'll see a group of these terrorists in the midst of one of our own cities with that kind of deadly capability. And we need to get our minds around that proposition and that threat if we're going to devise a strategy that is adequate to the task of defeating it. And that's partly what this campaign is all about because I think at bottom is the President does have such a strategy. We've been pursuing such a strategy. And frankly, I have serious doubts about whether or not John Kerry, based on his record, would pursue that same kind of aggressive strategy that I think is essential to keep America safe.
What is the strategy? Well, first of all, of course, we moved aggressively to strengthen our defenses here at home, created the Department of Homeland Security, biggest reorganization of the federal government since the Defense Department was created back in 1947. We passed the Patriot Act to give law enforcement better tools, tools that are already available to prosecute organized crime and drug trafficking, lets us use those same tools now against terrorists. We passed Project BioShield. This gives the federal government the authority and the funding to be able to develop defenses against potential biological attack. Obviously, we've tightened up on airline travel and at our ports and harbors, and the inspection of ships coming into the United States and our borders, and so forth. All of that is defensive in nature.
The President looked at all that, and then looked at the nature of the threat, and we concluded that there's no such thing as a perfect defense, that you can be right 999 times out of 1000, and given the nature of the threat we face, the possibility of terrorists with weapons of mass destruction in one of our cities, we can't afford to give them even that 1/1000 of a chance. We have to do everything we can to deny them even that possibility.
You can't do that just on defense. You've also got to go on offense. We've got to go after the terrorists wherever they plot and plan and train, or organize. And we've obviously done that. But the further step, the third step that the President decided on has been vital, and that is that we would go after those states that sponsor terror, those who provide support and sustenance and sanctuary for terror, that provide funding or training, or weapons for terrorist organizations. That was new. We had not done that before.
So if you look at that basis proposition and see how we executed, obviously, first, we went into Afghanistan, and we took down the Taliban. And we closed the training camps where some 20,000 terrorists -- we estimate -- had trained in the last '90s, including some of those who attacked us on 9/11. We captured and killed hundreds of al Qaeda. And we're now in the business in Afghanistan of sort of the fourth step of the strategy, if you will, of standing up a democratically elected government to replace the Taliban regime that we took down. Why did we do that?
Well, you don't want to go in and take down the old regime and wrap up the terrorists and then turn around and walk away. What you'll have left behind is another failed state. And it will once again become a breeding ground for terrorists, as it did after 1996, when Osama bin Laden moved in to set up shop in Afghanistan. To do that, we've been working very hard to get a democratically elected government in place. The Afghans registered 10 million people to vote, and two weeks ago, about oh, better than 40 percent of those registered to vote now are women -- a unique departure in Afghanistan, given their history. And a little over two weeks ago they had the first election in the 5,000-year history of Afghanistan. (Applause.)
So that effort is well underway. That new government will be in place by the end of the year. The other piece of the equation, if you will, is we need to stand up and train an Afghan army, security force capable of defending Afghanistan both internally and externally. And that process is well underway, as well, too. Once we've done that, once we've been able to turn over to them responsibility for governance and for their own security, then there will be no need for us to stay. We've got to stay long enough to make sure we get the job done. That's where we are in Afghanistan today. I think it's a major success story.
We look at Iraq -- somewhat different circumstances. There you had in Saddam Hussein a regime that had been in business for about 30 years, obviously, a brutal dictatorship. It violated the U.N. Security Council resolutions for 12 years. This was a regime that had started two wars, that had produced and used weapons of mass destruction previously against both the Iranians and against the Kurds, and a regime that was carried on the state sponsor of terror list of the State Department for the last 15 years, provided a home to Abu Nidal, to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, was making $25,000 payments to the families of suicide bombers in Israel, and had a relationship with al Qaeda. That's what we had in Iraq.
And what was of special concern -- again, remember the threat I talked about at the outset, terrorists equipped with WMD, that Iraq, in our minds, represented the greatest likelihood of a nexus, if you will, between on the hand terrorists and on the other hand, that deadly technology that had been developed over the years by Saddam Hussein. And so we moved in Iraq. We took down the old regime. And of course, Saddam Hussein today is in jail and the world is a lot safer for it. (Applause.)
Now, we're also now in the next step in Iraq a little farther behind than with respect to Afghanistan. But there we're in the business of standing up an Iraqi government. There have been Iraqis -- an interim government that's been in place now since June. They now run all the ministries. They've got a Prime Minister and a President. They're in the business of getting ready for elections come January. That will -- the election will elect a constitutional assembly to write a constitution for Iraq, and by the end of next year, they should have final elections that will put in place a democratically elected government there.
Now, I don't want to underestimate for anybody how hard this is. It is very difficult. This is not easy to do, to go to a part of the world that doesn't have much experience with self-governance, or democracy, the kinds of values that we're trying to instill there. And you've got adversaries actively and aggressively trying to thwart that process. We've got elements of the old regime. We got a guy named Zarqawi, who is an al Qaeda affiliate, a terrorist. He used to run one of the training camps in Afghanistan before he fled to Iraq. The fact is, they'll do everything they can between now and January to try to disrupt that political process that's moving forward. We can't let them do it. We're also working very hard there to stand up and train Iraqi forces. There will be about 125,000 trained and equipped by the end of this year. And we'll keep doing that right on through next year, as well. And once we've got a government in place, a democratically elected government in place and they're able to provide for their own security, then obviously, our chore will be completed, our mission will be completed there, as well, too.
I think it's absolutely essential that we complete those missions. I think it's far better that we're taking on the terrorists and the adversaries and those who have supported terror over there, rather than have to face them here at home in the streets of our own cities. (Applause.)
It's important for us, as well, to recognize that this is a global problem. This is not something that affects only the United States. Since we were struck a little over three years ago, you've been attacks in Madrid, and Casablanca, in Mombassa in East Africa, in Istanbul, in Baghdad, in Jakarta, in Bali, in Beslan in Russia, back in Jakarta again. This is a global, worldwide problem. There's a network out there, some of them trained in those camps in Afghanistan in the '90s. They -- it's a loose affiliation. It's not a hierarchical kind of structure, more like a franchise. But it's deadly, and they are committed to do everything they can, obviously, to defeat the United States and what we believe in and what we stand for. So we can do it. I'm absolutely convinced we can prevail in this conflict. But it takes strong leadership to make it happen. (Applause.)
Now, you know what George Bush will do. He's the guy who came up with the strategy. He's been running the show for the last three-and-a-half years. I think the record is there for anybody who cares to look at it, but the President, obviously, is the architect of the strategy. He's the one who has been executing on it, and he's done a superb job.
I might add, by the way, there's one other debt of gratitude that is owed out there, and that's to the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States. They're doing a fantastic job. (Applause.)
Now, the question before the house is, what does John Kerry bring to this equation. And of course, he has got -- he's properly -- it's his prerogative to run for President. And he's been doing it now for a couple of years. So there's the record there during the course of the campaign. But he also has a record that stretches back 20 years in the United States Senate, and even before that when he was a candidate for Congress, for example, back in the '70s. You can go back and look at John Kerry's record and see how he has dealt with national security issues over the course of that period of time. Has he demonstrated the kind of commitment and determination and beliefs that would indicate that he would be effective as Commander-in-Chief now aggressively pursuing the war on terror? And, frankly, I don't think his record demonstrates that kind of commitment. And let me just run over some of the key points. In the '70s when he ran for Congress the first time, he ran on a platform that we should never commit U.S. troops without U.N. authorization. You have to ask the United Nations before you could deploy U.S. forces. In 1984, when he ran for the Senate the first time, he had a platform of cutting or eliminating a great many of the weapons systems that Ronald Reagan used to keep the peace and win the Cold War, and that we use today in the global war on terror. Wrong side of those issues. In 1991, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and stood poised to dominate the Persian Gulf, John Kerry voted no against using U.S. force to be part of an international coalition that had, in fact, been blessed by the U.N. Security Council at that point, that met all the tests he could conceivably ever want, and he still voted no. In 1993, right after the World Trade Center attacks, he was a member of the Senate intelligence committee -- as best we can tell didn't attend a single meeting of the -- public meeting of the Senate intel committee for the year after the attack, and advocated, supported, and at one point introduced an amendment to cut billions of dollars out of our national intelligence budget -- a series of positions that he's taken over the years that strikes me as demonstrating pretty conclusively that this is not a man who would pursue the kind of strategy that I believe is necessary if we're going to win and prevail in the global war on terror.
Most recently, he was interviewed in The New York Times, and this was a couple of weeks ago. It ran in the Sunday magazine. He was asked about his aspirations with respect to war on terror -- how did he perceive it, how did he look at it. What he said at the time was, it was his hope that you could get terror back to the point where it was just a nuisance -- once again. And he compared it and said like illegal gambling or prostitution. Those were his words. That was his comparison.
And I asked myself when I read that, I said, well, when was terrorism ever just a nuisance? How about four years ago when the USS Cole was attacked off Yemen and lost 17 sailors and nearly lost the ship? Was that a nuisance? Or six years ago when they simultaneously blew up two of our embassies in East Africa and killed hundreds of people including a number of Americans? Was that a nuisance? Or maybe 1993, the first attack on the World Trade Center? Or 1988 when they took Pan Am 103 out of the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland? Or maybe 1983, 21 years ago when a suicide bomber driving a truck loaded with explosives took it into the ground floor of a building in Beirut and took down a building that killed 241 Marines? When was terrorism ever just a nuisance?
And if you're mind set says you can get terrorism back to where it can managed to some acceptable level, then it strikes me that you're not -- you haven't really come to grips with the nature of the adversary we're dealing with here. You've still got a pre-9/11 mind set, instead of a post-9/11 mind set. The President and I know our job isn't to reduce terror to some acceptable level; our job is to defeat it. And that's what we're going to do with George Bush. (Applause.)
Now, I was interested yesterday -- it was last night, I saw something that I wanted to -- since I was going to be here, a little bit more on John Kerry's record. (Laughter.) He doesn't like to talk about it so we're going to have to. (Applause.)
Just two more quick points here, he likes to talk about -- and he did, he actually brought this up last night, sort of burnishing his credentials in the counterterrorism area, talked about a book he'd written 10 years ago. It's a book called The New War. Anybody here read the books? Well, not very many people have, I guess. (Laughter.) But in it he talks about Yasser Arafat as a statesman and a role model. Now, I've never looked on Yasser Arafat quite in that light. He talks about the primary answer to terrorism being law enforcement. Now, law enforcement is a part of the answer. But if you think only law enforcement is the way to respond to terror, you've got a pre-9/11 mind set -- go arrest the guy that set off the bomb, but don't go after those who sponsored him in the first place. That's a mistake, not the right way to go.
There's no mention, for example, in the book of al Qaeda; no mention in the book of Osama bin Laden. It's a book about terrorism, but it doesn't obviously sit very well with the problems we're faced with today.
In the second presidential debate, Senator Kerry also tried to, I think, demonstrate his expertise in how committed he is to working with other nations and said that when the question of whether or not we ought to authorize the use of U.S. military force was pending before the Senate, this is in Iraq, to use force in Iraq, he went to New York and met with the members of the U.N. Security Council. And he said, quote, "I talked to all of them." He's made the same claim before, saying he met with the entire Security Council and we spent a couple of hours talking about how to deal with Saddam Hussein. That's John Kerry's verbatim record on the subject. A reporter for The Washington Times in a story published just this morning decided to check on Senator Kerry's meeting with the U.N. Security Council. He got hold of five ambassadors on the Security Council, and four of them said, they'd never met Senator Kerry. (Laughter.) So he apparently talked to a few individuals up at the Security Council, but there was never a meeting with all of them. And an official at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. remarked, we were as surprised as anyone when Senator Kerry starting talking about meeting with the Security Council. It didn't happen.
So the problem here, I think is --
AUDIENCE: (Inaudible.) (Laughter and applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Now, the press is going to attribute that to me. (Laughter.) It was that guy back there from North Dakota. (Laughter and applause.)
But this is -- this the challenge of our times from a security standpoint. It is very important. I think you have to talk about the threat in order to understand what it is we're attempting to deal with here. It's not an effort to scare anybody. It's just realistic. We used to talk about the Soviet threat during the days of the Cold War and we had to do to defeat that, and we did -- very successfully. And we'll beat this one, too.
But it's important for us to make the right decisions and the right judgments going forward. And as I say, I think on November 2nd, that goes to the heart of what is at stake in terms of the choice we're going to make when we pick the President for the next four years. I think George Bush is the man to do that. He's got a strategy for victory. He'll execute on it. John Kerry doesn't. (Applause.)
Now, with that what I'd like to do now is open it up to questions. We've got some folks out here in these attractive orange jerseys. (Laughter.) I better take back the attractive part. But they're volunteers. They've got microphones. And if you've got a comment you want to make or a question you'd like to ask -- and feel free to direct questions to Lynne, too -- we'd be happy to try to respond. And just get their attention, then I'll call on the numbers as they indicate. Somebody over here, number two.
Q: Welcome to Minnesota, Mr. and Mrs. Cheney. Senator Edwards when he was in Minnesota last week made some interesting remarks about snowmobiles. He says that he would ensure that we could go into national parks and national forests and ride on snowmobiles, yet the Edwards and Kerry website indicates just the opposite to that statement. Is this credible at all, what they say on this issue?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't believe it is credible at all. It sounds like one of those issues he discussed with the U.N. Security Council in the meeting they had. (Applause.)
I know a little bit about the snowmobile issue. I'm from Wyoming. (Applause.) One of the memorable trips, when our oldest got married, was we took the entire wedding party through a complete tour through of the whole circuit of Yellowstone, those of you who have ridden through there, in January. It was cold, but it was a fantastic trip that still is one of the highlights of the family.
And we've been fighting hard in the Bush administration to get snowmobiles back in, because of course, you know the Clinton administration tried to ban them. And we're making significant progress. And snowmobiles will be operating in Yellowstone this year. (Applause.) But you're absolutely right, their website indicates that, in fact, they don't support that. They support the ban, and that has traditionally been Senator Kerry's position. He doesn't like snowmobiles. Anybody who grew up in Wyoming, or North Dakota, or Minnesota understands a snowmobile is a pretty important piece of equipment, as well as a recreational vehicle.
Yes, number three.
Q: I'm from Crookston, Minnesota. I'm a farmer from up there, and a sugar producer, as well. And first of all, I would just like to thank you for your support on the agriculture issues these last four years -- tax cuts, disaster packages. We really appreciate the things that you've done for us. (Applause.)
My question comes along the lines, of course, of sugar and how important sugar is to the seventh district up here. And when you were in East Grand Forks, you spoke about the importance of sugar to this region. And in a question on trade, you've mentioned that it was your administration's preference to deal with sugar within the realm of the WTO versus bilateral and regional trade agreements. Would you reaffirm that for the sugar growers here today, and tell us exactly what your stance is on that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure. Yes, our preference is to deal with sugar through the WTO, at the WTO-level, I guess, would be the right way to describe it. I think those are the words I used the other day. That's not always possible, obviously. In some cases, we've done bilateral trade agreements. We just did the Australian free-trade agreement, which is a bilateral agreement. Their sugar is totally excluded. It's not part of the agreement. (Applause.)
Working through the WTO, we got a commitment this past summer from the Europeans to end their subsidy that they provide to sugar exports from Europe, which we think is a significant step forward, and also -- as I say, that was done within the context of the WTO Round.
The biggest issue -- the one that comes up, I think, probably most significantly now is CAFTA, dealing with the Caribbean agreement that is now pending -- has not been approved yet, probably will be considered next year by the Congress. And basically what has been done there is to work out an arrangement with those five Central American countries, I think it's El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, I believe -- I think it's those five -- and to work out an agreement that does affect, does allow some sugar imports into the United States under the agreement. It's the equivalent of roughly one day's production. It's about a hundred thousand tons a year. The trigger in the Farm Bill for imports has been at 1.4 million tons. Now, last year in '93 [sic], we imported about 1.1 million tons. So there's about a 300,000-ton cushion there. As I say, 100,000 tons of that would be affected by this agreement. The agreement does not change or alter in any way, for example, the duty on above-quota imports. That's protected. In agreements that have been negotiated recently with respect to Chile, Morocco -- one other country that I can't recall right now, we've made provisions so that there will not be any sugar imports coming in there. There shouldn't be any coming in through those arrangements. So we've very sensitive on the sugar issue.
The broader context, I think, it's very important for everybody to understand how important exports are to agriculture across the board, that one out of every three acres in production in America today is for the export market, that we produce so much, we're so prolific in terms of agriculture that in virtually every sector our economy -- soy beans, corn, wheat, beef cattle, dairy -- we need access to export markets. And the trading operations, the negotiations -- negotiating those agreements is crucial. But our preference is to work through WTO whenever we can. We think that's the best way to go. The heart of that strategy, the target has been to go after the European agriculture subsidies, which we think are fundamentally unfair to our producers, and that have been sort of left aside, if you will. The Europeans have resisted making any change to those for years now. And the President has put that front and center, that we want a fair, level playing field, if you will, for our producers. We're convinced if we got that, we can out-compete anybody in the world. And we
are very sensitive on the sugar front. On agriculture in general, we think it's very important for us to pursue sound a policy there, but we don't want anybody left hanging out, having to pay the price for the successes we enjoy in terms of negotiating those agreements. So we'll do our best to keep it a level playing field and make certain we take care of sugar. (Applause.)
I might -- I might add, contrary to what you're going to hear from the opposition, Senator Kerry has historically year after year after year, been an opponent of the sugar program, and in the 1990s introduced a bill to get rid of sugar subsidies. And so he is not -- he's a Johnny Come Lately, just like snowmobiles. (Laughter.)
Q: Hi, I'm a 22-year-old college student. Recently, John Kerry seems to be using scare tactics to persuade about a possible draft, to frighten young voters such as myself, about -- to support him. What is this administration's plans to make sure there's enough soldiers abroad to ensure our safety at home?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay. Yes, this question on the draft is -- well, where is that guy from North Dakota? (Laughter.) It's hogwash is the best way I can think of to describe it. Anybody who has been associated with the all-volunteer military in recent years, whether you served in it, senior leadership of it, or civilians -- I was Secretary of Defense for four years back in '89 to '93 -- that all-volunteer force has given us the most magnificent military in the world today. It's superb. (Applause.)
And what happened -- the benefits of it, initially, of course, we got -- made the transition from the draft to the all-volunteer force back in the '70s in order to avoid some of the problems that had arisen in connection with the Vietnam conflict, and the belief that the draft was somehow unfair and inequitable. But it had far-reaching ramifications inside the military itself. You take an organization and they all of a sudden have to compete for personnel, they've got to be able to attract good people to come be a part of the organization, people who have got the right skills, or can acquire the right skills in order to be effective, functioning members of the organization, the organization thinks about how it's organized and incentives that are out there, and initiative, and how they treat people. The military didn't use to be that way. In a sense, the personnel was a free good when you had a draft. You didn't have to attract anybody. In effect, you could compel service. And there has been a qualitative, I think, change in the whole culture, if you will, of the military. And it is all due to the fact that we've gone to the all-volunteer force.
Now, this notion that somehow if we have to increase the size of the force, we'll have to go back to the draft -- not true. Today, the U.S. active duty military is 1.4 million personnel. That's active duty. We've got about another million Reserve and Guard -- National Guard. When I was Secretary, we had 2.1 million. We had 700,000 more people on active duty than we do today. And we did it with the all-volunteer force. It's perfectly and entirely possible to do that. So don't let anybody run around and tell you there's a quote "secret plan" here to resume the draft. There isn't. The only two people I know who have supported it legislatively were Charlie Rangel, a Democratic congressman from New York, and Fritz Hollings from South Carolina, also a Democrat.
The other day, the House of Representatives sort of wanted to test everybody on it -- there was a lot of talk about the draft -- said, okay, let's bring it up. Who wants to vote for the draft? Two people did -- both of the other persuasion. The fact of the matter is, there's no interest in returning to the draft. It doesn't make any sense at all. We can meet whatever requirements we have to meet with the all-volunteer force. And any suggestion to the contrary by John Kerry or anybody else is hogwash, just not true. (Applause.)
We have anybody back here.
Q: Mr. Vice President, welcome to Moorhead, Minnesota. I have a question about Iran and their nuclear capabilities. They're still developing quote, unquote "peaceful nuclear capabilities" but yet we think otherwise. President Bush was asked in the second debate what he was going to do about it, and he said they would not get nuclear weapons, period. Senator Flip-flop -- I mean, Kerry -- would like to supply them with nuclear fuel to help their program along. What is the Bush-Cheney policy on this?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's a good question. The question is on Iran and Iran's nuclear aspirations. They have been trying to develop nuclear technology now for some time. They claim they need it for peaceful purposes to generate power. They're already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear, as well, too, to generate energy.
The concern is that what they really are trying to do is establish the enrichment process. But they won't stop at the level you enrich to for a civilian reactor. They'll take it all the way up to 85 percent, 90 percent -- the enrichment level that you need for nuclear weapon. And they are subject right now to the Nonproliferation Treaty, which means they're subject to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. They have been asked to basically come clean and give up their nuclear aspirations, that is they'd be allowed to go forward with their civilian program, but there would be enough transparency so we'd know that they weren't pursuing the military option, as well. The British, the Germans, and the French have been negotiating on behalf of the Europeans with the Iranians directly on this issue. Periodically, it comes before the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. It was up there in September -- there was a meeting on the subject. If they don't come into compliance, and they're not in compliance now, then the next step is a meeting, I believe, in November, where the Board of Governors will then consider a resolution to take the whole matter before the U.N. Security Council. That's the next step. And the U.N. Security Council at that point would then decide whether or not to impose economic sanctions. We've already imposed unilateral economic sanctions ourselves. But the next step, in effect, cutting off trade for them with the outside world would be, obviously, a pretty heavy blow. And we'd like to try to resolve it peacefully, diplomatically if we can. We think that's preferable. But nobody is very interested in having an Iran sitting in its location where it does under this government equipped with nuclear weapons. So it's a priority for us. I say, we're trying to work it diplomatically. And that obviously would be a priority for us in the second term. (Applause.)
Q: Greetings and welcome. Would you please discuss with us the administration's thoughts on school vouchers and the progress of that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm going to ask my schoolteacher wife to talk about that.
MRS. CHENEY: To me -- for a second. It's always seemed really important to have choice for parents when they are thinking about schools. And the President when he put No Child Left Behind into place has a provision in there when schools don't improve and don't improve and don't improve, the parents have the choice to send their child to another public school. And the interest in having private choice is alive and well, too. The administration has been behind an experimental program in the District of Columbia, which I was happy to see the support for, and to see it get through Congress. The District of Columbia spends $13,000 a year now per pupil. Can you imagine that? It's just an enormous amount of money. It's the highest in the country, and the schools perform almost always at the lowest level. If you rank all the states and the District, they're down at the bottom. This is a clear indication of a place where we'll get a chance to see how well public and private choice works.
The experiment in Cincinnati has also been worth watching. There has been some great data out of Harvard University, a man named Paul Peterson, studying it, showing that parents are much more satisfied when they're actually able to control where their children go to school. So it's something we're working on. Dick and I have supported it privately, too. There has been for years a program in Washington to provide private scholarships to children who are needy to go to private schools. So it's moving along. It's slow moving, but I'm really happy to see that we've got public choice in No Child Left Behind, and to see this experiment in the District of Columbia.
MODERATOR: Mr. Vice President, we have time for -- we have time for one more question, Mr. Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay. Right down front here.
Q: You're both great Americans. (Applause.) You have a longstanding record as a public servant. Can you compare this administration with President Bush to past ones in which you've served?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's a tough question. (Laughter.) It's interesting -- I never started out with the idea of a career in politics. I went to Washington originally as a student. I was a PhD candidate. I was trying to write a dissertation because I wanted to become a professor. So we went to stay 12 months in 1968 -- we stayed 36 years or thereabouts. It has been a very special privilege.
When I think about administrations, now, I've worked I guess, for four different Presidents, and watched a couple of others up close from the perspective of the Congress. I was -- of course, Gerry Ford's Chief of Staff. I was in the House for 10 years from Wyoming; Secretary of Defense, and now as Vice President. Each one is unique in many, many respects. Your academic background -- you're a political scientist, you're trying to figure out ways to generalize across administrations, what things can you say that apply to the entire run of presidencies over -- throughout our history. And what I'm struck by more than anything else is how different each one of them is, how much they're affected by the times in which you govern. Stuff happens, and all of a sudden -- you run a campaign in 2000 and talk about a range of issues, and get sworn in, and go to work and make some progress. We got No Child Left Behind passed. We got a tax bill through that first spring, and then all of a sudden, bang, 9/11. And there's a great big chunk of resources -- time and energy -- that has to go to dealing with the aftermath of that, and the global war on terror which wasn't really on the horizon when we ran.
I think back to Gerry Ford, a man I have enormous regard for, who took over at a very, very difficult time in our history, the aftermath of the worst constitutional crisis we'd had since the Civil War. The President had to resign -- Nixon did. And Gerry Ford never planned to run for President. He got named to be Vice President, served nine months and all of a sudden, he's President of the United States. But he had the skills and the confidence, and the good judgment, and I think great credibility with the American people. He was the right guy at the right time to take on that task. The personality stands out so much for me when I think back to those days in the mid '70s when I was working for him, that the personality of the man in the Oval Office, or the woman, is the other thing that dominates each presidency. And each one is unique, and each one is different. They get there with a whole different set of experiences. They are shaped by those experiences, but also obviously very much by the way in which they came to the office, by the kinds of problems they're asked to deal with once they get there. And I guess I look on it as part of the blessings we enjoy as Americans that we have the unique and distinguishing feature of our civilization, and that's the way we select our leaders and hold them accountable. And there are other democracies in the world, but we're the first. And I think we do it better than anybody else. It's hard to tell sometimes in the middle of a campaign when there's a lot of fur flying. But it's, I consider, just a very, very special privilege to have had the opportunity over the years to work for men like President Bush, and the first President Bush, and Gerry Ford. I watched Ronald Reagan up close for eight years from the perspective of the Congress. It has been a tremendous experience. And I think as a nation, we've been privileged to have some great individuals step up and take on the world's toughest job. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all very much. We really appreciate your being here this morning. And we look forward to having North Dakota and Minnesota in the winning Bush-Cheney column on November 2nd. (Applause.)
END 12:50 P.M. CDT
Richard B. Cheney, Remarks by the Vice President and Mrs. Cheney at a Town Hall Meeting Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/281006