Remarks by the Vice President to the American Society of News Editors
9:00 A.M. CDT
Good morning. Morning. Thank you. And thank you, Rena, for the introduction. I count many friends among the American Society of Newspaper Editors. And it's good to have the opportunity to join you again. And I look forward to taking your questions in a few minutes.
Three weeks into the war -- which I want to talk about this morning -- I, obviously, cannot begin my remarks without paying tribute to those that we've lost on the field of battle. Our campaign is proceeding with speed and success. But that will not ease the sorrow of the families of American and coalition troops killed in the line of duty. We're thinking of these families now with respect and gratitude. And this nation will always honor the sacrifices made in our defense.
American journalism has also lost two of its finest men over the last several days. I knew Michael Kelly and greatly admired his work. He was a superb writer. And as a reporter and editor, he upheld the highest standards of your profession. David Bloom, of NBC, impressed everyone with his skill, energy and exuberance. Both David and Michael were also very decent men with young families. And many people are feeling their loss today, the same way they feel the loss of the members of our armed forces. I also want to extend America's condolences to the families of all the foreign journalists killed in the war.
These two young reporters were among the 600 American journalists embedded in coalition military units all across Iraq. The embedding of journalists has made for some outstanding reporting. I suspect the arrangement has also led to greater respect all around. For their part, the troops have come to know reporters who are willing to accept the hardships and dangers of war in order to get the story right. And journalists have come to know our military -- not just for the power of its weapons, but by the character of the men and women who serve.
Since the war, our forces have conducted themselves with all of the skill and integrity that President Bush and the American people expected of them. They are in the field at this very hour. Operations continue all across Iraq securing cities, protecting supply lines, delivering tons of humanitarian aid. In downtown Baghdad this morning, we are seeing evidence of the collapse of any central regime authority. The streets are full of people celebrating. While pockets of regime security forces may remain, they appear to be far less effective at putting up any resistance.
In southern Iraq today, British forces are securing the second largest city, in Basra. Across Iraq, we are beginning to see senior religious leaders come forward urging their followers to support our coalition, another sure sign that Saddam Hussein's regime is clearly doomed.
There may well be hard fighting yet ahead. Regime forces are still in control in northern Iraq -- in Mosul and Kirkuk and Tikrit. Yet the conclusion of the war will mark one of the most extraordinary military campaigns ever conducted. It's proceeded according to a carefully drawn plan with fixed objectives and flexibility in meeting them. In the early days of the war, the plan was criticized by some retired military officers embedded in TV studios. (Laughter.) But with every day and every advance by our coalition forces, the wisdom of that plan becomes more apparent. Secretary Rumsfeld, General Franks, General Myers and General Pace at Pentagon -- and their subordinates -- have done a superb job. It's been a most impressive performance. And coming on the heels of the Afghanistan operation last year, it's proof positive of the success of our efforts to transform our military to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Having been involved in planning and waging the Persian Gulf War in 1991 as Secretary of Defense, I think I can say with some authority that this campaign has displayed vastly improved capabilities, far better than we did a dozen years ago. In Desert Storm, only 20 percent of our air-to-ground fighters could guide a laser-guided bomb to target. Today, all of our air-to-ground fighters have that capability. In Desert Storm, it usually took up to two days for target planners to get a photo of a target, confirm its coordinates, plan the mission, and deliver it to the bomber crew. Now we have near real-time imaging of targets with photos and coordinates transmitted by e-mail to aircraft already in flight. In Desert Storm, battalion, brigade and division commanders had to rely on maps, grease pencils and radio reports to track the movements of our forces. Today our commanders have a real-time display of our own forces on their computer screens. In Desert Storm, we did not yet have the B-2. But that aircraft is now critical to our operations. And on a single bombing sortie, a B-2 can hit 16 separate targets, each with a 2,000-pound, precision-guided, satellite-based weapon.
The superior technology we now possess is, perhaps, the most obvious difference between the Gulf War and the present conflict. But there are many others. Desert Storm began with a 38-day air campaign, followed by a brief ground attack. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the ground war began before the air war. In 1991, Saddam Hussein had time to set Kuwait's oil fields ablaze. In the current conflict, forces sent in early protected the 600 oil fields in southern Iraq, prevented an environmental catastrophe, and safeguarded a resource that's vital for the future of the people of Iraq. During Operation Desert Storm, Saddam managed to fire Scud missiles at Israel and Saudi Arabia. This time was different, again, thanks to Special Operations Forces, which seized control of the missile launch baskets in western Iraq, preventing their use by the enemy. Our Special Ops forces -- joined by those of the British, the Australian, and the Polish allies -- have played a vital role in the success of the current campaign.
During Operation Desert Storm, we faced a massive flow of refugees in need of aid and shelter. But so far, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, we've averted a large-scale humanitarian crisis. U.S. and Royal Marines succeeded in taking the Al Faw Peninsula and cleared a path for humanitarian aid. And today, even as fighting continues, coalition forces are bringing food and water and medical supplies to liberated Iraqis.
Looking at the overall effort, Saddam Hussein apparently expected that this war would essentially be a replay of Desert Storm. And although he realized that some 250,000 Americans and coalition forces were stationed in the Gulf on the eve of the war, he seems to have assumed there was ample time to destroy the oil fields he had rigged to explode and the bridges that he had wired. But the tactics employed by General Franks were bold. They made the most of every technological advantage of our military, and they succeeded in taking the enemy by surprise.
Let me quote the military historian Victor Davis Hanson writing several days ago: "By any fair standard of even the most dazzling charges in military history, the Germans in the Ardennes in the Spring of 1940, or Patton's romp in July of 1944, the present race to Baghdad is unprecedented in its speed and daring, and in the lightness of its casualties." Hanson calls the campaign "historically unprecedented" and predicts that its "logistics will be studied for decades". Bottom line, with less than half of the ground forces and two-thirds of the air assets used 12 years ago in Desert Storm, Secretary Rumsfeld and General Franks have achieved a far more difficult objective.
Yet until this war is fully won, we cannot be overconfident in our position, and we must not underestimate the desperation of whatever forces remain loyal to the dictator. We know full well the nature of the enemy we are dealing with. Servants of the regime have used hospitals, schools and mosques for military operations. They have tortured and executed prisoners of war. They have forced women and children to serve as human shields. They have transported death squads in ambulances, fought in civilian clothes, feigned surrender and opened fire on our forces, and shot civilians who welcomed coalition troops.
In dealing with such an enemy, we must expect vicious tactics until the regime's final breath. The hardest combat could still be ahead of us. Only the outcome can be predicted with certainty: Iraq will be disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction; the regime will end; and the Iraqi people will be free.
In removing the terror regime from Iraq, we send a very clear message to all groups that operate by means of terror and violence against the innocent. The United States and our coalition partners are showing that we have the capacity and the will to wage war on terror -- and to win decisively.
When I last spoke to this organization in 1990, the Cold War was ending, and I said then that we were looking at a new era in national security policy. Today, we are not just looking at a new era, we are actually living through it. The exact nature of the new dangers revealed themselves on September 11, 2001, with the murder of 3,000 innocent, unsuspecting men, women and children right here at home. The attack on our country forced us to come to grips with the possibility that the next time terrorists strike, they may well be armed with more than just plane tickets and box cutters. The next time they might direct chemical agents or diseases at our population, or attempt to detonate a nuclear weapon in one of our cities. These are not abstract matters to ponder -- they are real dangers that we must guard against and confront before it's too late. From the training manuals and documents that we've seized in the war on terror, and from the interrogations we've conducted, we know the terrorists are determined to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and to use them against us. With September 11th as a fresh memory, no rational person can doubt that terrorists would use such weapons of mass murder the moment they are able to do so.
The government of the United States has a moral duty to confront those threats, and to do whatever it takes to defeat them. And as the leading power, we have a further responsibility to help keep the peace of the world and to prevent terrorists and their sponsors from plunging the world into horrific violence. President Bush takes that responsibility very seriously, and he is meeting it with great resolve and with clarity of purpose.
If we are to protect the American people and defend civilization against determined enemies, we cannot always rely on the old Cold War remedies of containment and deterrence. Containment does not work against a rogue state that possesses weapons of mass destruction and chooses to secretly deliver them to its terrorist allies. Deterrence does not work when we are dealing with terrorists who have no country to defend, who revel in violence, and who are willing to sacrifice their own lives in order to kill millions of others. To meet the unprecedented dangers posed by rogue states with weapons of mass destruction, and terrorist networks with global reach, our administration has taken urgent and, at times, unprecedented action.
One of these important things we have done is to strengthen the defense of the homeland. As the President requested, Congress created the Department of Homeland Security to mobilize against a wide range of potential threats. We have put more marshals on airplanes; stepped up security at airports, power plants, ports and border crossings. We have inoculated our troops against anthrax and smallpox and made the vaccines available for first responders, who are stockpiling enough smallpox vaccine for every American. We have proposed and urge Congress to pass Project BioShield -- a comprehensive effort to develop and make available modern, effective drugs and treatments to counter a chemical or biological attack. And Project Bioshield is a critical element of defense in this new era.
But we know that playing defense isn't enough -- we have to seize the offense against terrorists. So we are going after the terrorists, hunting them down, freezing their assets, disrupting their chain of command. We've had great successes recently with the capture of two key figures in the September 11th attacks -- Ramzi Bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheik Mohammed. And, of course, we still have forces on the ground in Afghanistan working with that country's government to rid it of the Taliban and al Qaeda elements.
Our war on terror continues on every front, from law enforcement, to intelligence, to military action. The President has made clear from the beginning that this will be a long and a focused effort -- not only because the terrorists operate in the shadows, but also because they enjoy the backing of outlaw states. It is this alliance between terrorist networks seeking weapons of mass destruction and rogue states developing or already possessing these weapons that constitutes the gravest current threat to America's national security.
Therefore, a vital element of our strategy against terror must be to break the alliance between terrorist organizations and terrorist-sponsoring states. The chemical and biological weapons that Saddam Hussein is known to have produced are the very instruments that terrorists are seeking in order to inflict devastating harm on the people of this country, in Europe, and in the Middle East. That's why from the day the Gulf War ended in 1991, the United States has supported the efforts of the U.N. Security Council to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. And that is why the United States today is enforcing that demand.
As we meet this morning, I cannot predict with certainty how soon this war will be over. Although I am pleased, as is everyone else, to see the reports coming out of Baghdad today, I want to caution everybody that we still have a lot of work to do yet. I am certain that when it is successfully concluded, the friends of the United States -- throughout the world and in the Middle East -- will be deeply heartened by this victory and will prove far more willing to stand up to the tyrants and terrorists in their midst.
The end of Saddam's regime will remove a source of violence and instability in a vital part of the world. A new regime in Iraq will also serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom to other nations in the Middle East. As President Bush has said: "The United States, with other countries, will work to advance liberty and peace in that region. Our goal will not be achieved overnight, but it can come over time. The power and the appeal of human liberty is felt in every life and every land. And the greatest power of freedom is to overcome hatred and violence and turn the creative gifts of men and women to the pursuits of peace."
The actions of our coalition now being taken in Iraq today have come at a cost. But the cost of inaction would have been far greater. And they would have been paid, not just by future generations, but very likely by our own, as well. By their skill and courage, the American armed forces joined by the finest of allies are making this nation and the world more secure. They are bringing freedom where there is tyranny, relief where there is suffering. As a former Secretary of Defense, I've never been more proud of those who wear the uniform of the United States military.
Later this morning, here in New Orleans, my wife, Lynne, and I will visit the National D-Day Museum, the museum founded on the initiative of the late Stephen Ambrose, whose writings did so much to acquaint Americans of today with the heroism of the World War II generation. In one of his books, Ambrose related a soldier's memories of that period in our history. "In the spring of 1945," he said, "around the world, the sight of a 12-man squad of teenage boys armed, in uniform, brought terror to people's hearts. But there was an exception: a squad of G.I.'s, a sight that brought the biggest smiles you ever saw to people's lips and joy to their hearts. G.I.'s meant candy, cigarettes, C-rations, and freedom. America had sent the best of her young men around the world, not to conquer, but to liberate; not to terrorize, but to help."
Ladies and gentlemen, in the spring of 2003, the American people and the watching world are seeing another great generation. The citizens of Iraq, like so many oppressed peoples before them, are coming to know the kind of men and women that America sends forth to meet danger and to defend freedom. We can all be thankful that our country still produces such men and women -- this great force of volunteers, placing themselves between our country and our enemies. And when their mission is accomplished, we look forward to welcoming them home with pride and with gratitude.
Thank you. (Applause.)
It's my understanding the drill is, for questions, I think we've got microphones in each aisle, and anybody who wants, step up and I'll be happy to respond as best I can. Yes, sir.
Q: Mr. Vice President, Edward Seaton (ph) from the Manhattan Mercury in Kansas. As you know, 11 journalists have been killed in this war. I think that represents about 9 percent of the total of U.S. and British troops who have been lost. Yesterday was a particularly grueling day for journalists, both U.S. journalists and international journalists. There were three journalists who died yesterday, and there were three strikes that have been questioned, particularly in the Arab world, that have the look of perhaps more than simple military action -- at least that's been the allegation in some quarters. Abudabi TV was hit, was struck by U.S. fire. A missile hit Al Jazeera TV, and the Palestine Hotel was struck by tank rounds. I wonder if you could speak to those allegations that we're hearing from the Arab world, and just generally, the issue of safety, particularly of journalists who are not embedded with U.S. forces or British forces.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate the question. Obviously,, as I mentioned in my remarks, any loss of innocent life in the military action is to be regretted. The suggestion that somehow the United States would have deliberately attacked journalists is obviously totally false. After all of the effort we went to to make the battlefield, so to speak, available to journalists, to embed hundreds of journalists, both Americans and foreigners, with our forces, to be right there on the front lines where they could report in real time what's going on, has been, I think, a very important and positive contribution. But the suggestion that having done that, we would somehow then encourage deliberate attacks on journalists makes no sense at all. You'd have to be an idiot to believe that.
The fact is that our troops have come through three weeks of fighting through southern Iraq into Baghdad. They have, during that period of time, been fired upon from mosques, from schools, from other kinds of civilian facilities. They have seen the enemy take off their uniforms and put on civilian clothes. They've seen civilians used as human shields. They've been fired upon under a white flag of truce. And they are specifically authorized under the rules of engagement, anytime they believe they believe they're fired upon to return fire, to defend themselves. And I have no reason to believe that that wasn't the case here. That is to say that their response was simply the act of troops in a combat zone responding to what they perceived to be threats against them.
It's always unfortunate -- we try to remind people, especially reporters, that when you go into a war zone it is risky. There are great dangers in that kind of a setting, and we cannot guarantee everybody's safety. We do the very best we can, but it's still a war zone. And hopefully, the conflict will end as soon as possible and there won't be any more loss of innocent life, either civilians or reporters. So, we regret that it happened, but unfortunately, it's the kind of thing that happens in modern warfare.
Q: Mr. Vice President, I'm Chris Pack (ph), the editor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal and a Wyoming native.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: -- ranger, I believe.
Q: That's correct.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: A great newspaper. They used to endorse me when I ran for Congress.
Q: Yes, they did. (Laughter.) You talked about the technological advantages we have in the war in Iraq. Could we talk a little bit about the psychological aspects of the war? Do you think, after this war, that we're going to have a difficult time making the case in the Arab world that we are there as liberators and not aggressors? And how do you think we're going to need to deal with the Arab leadership and the tremendous anger that's being portrayed and projected towards America as a result of this war?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think there's no question but there's work to be done in that area. I've always found a little bit frustrating, all the years that I've been dealing with problems in that part of the world, going back now, I suppose, 20-some years, to find this criticism that's sometimes leveled at the United States based on our operations out there when I think the record of the United States over the years may not be perfect, but we have gone to war now on a number of occasions, frankly, to protect Muslims, to role back Saddam Hussein's aggression in Kuwait in 1990 and '91, in the Balkans, in Bosnia, and elsewhere.
In this case, we were, after great provocation and after 12 years of unsuccessful efforts by the U.N., acting to eliminate one of the most brutal dictators of our time. A man who probably was responsible for the death of at least a million Muslims, half of them his own people. A man who ran a horrific police state. And I see that, and I see the outpouring of joy in the streets of Baghdad today by the Iraqi people at their liberation, and still the U.S. is subject to criticism from our friends in the region.
And I think we need to do everything we can, partly to tell our side of the story. I think most people who live in that part of the world don't have access to free media, and I think it would be an improvement if they did. There's clearly more work that needs to be done in that area by us. But I think, in the final analysis, history will judge us, and hopefully, the people of the region will judge us based upon what happens next in Iraq, in how we conduct ourselves going forward, in whether or not we keep the commitment we made -- which we definitely will keep just as quickly as possible, to establish a viable representative, democratic government in Iraq, and to withdraw our forces just as quickly as we can.
We are not there as occupiers. We have no interest in the oil. We have no interest in maintaining forces there a minute longer than is necessary. And I think when they see how we function, how rapidly we move in that direction, whether or not we keep the commitments we made, hopefully they'll come to judge that what we've done here was, in fact, necessary and appropriate to the circumstances, and that the people of Iraq are far better off for our having eliminated this horrific regime than they were if we had not acted.
Q: Mr. Vice President, Clarence Pennington (ph), retired member. We know you have a plan to reorganize and rebuild Iraq. You, along with the President and the coalition. Could we hope that you also have a precise plan to give France and Germany a role in Iraq that is consistent with their pre-war behavior? (Laughter.) -- that will help you avoid the wrath of --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm trying to think if this is an opportunity or if I should be scared here about the answer that I'm about to -- (laughter.)
Q: And I have a follow-up.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay, all right. Let me say a word about the problem we encountered. Obviously, I think we're disappointed, most Americans are, at the fact that nations that have historically been close friends and allies of the United States, in this particular case, did everything they could to stop us from doing what we thought was essential, from the standpoint of our own national security, as well as the -- our friends in the region.
The President made a very deliberate decision last fall to go to the United Nations to sort of give Saddam Hussein one more chance to come clean, but also to try to restore the U.N. Security Council process to a position of competence and integrity at dealing with these kinds of international problems. There are likely to be other problems like this in the future that we'll have to deal with. And if the international community can come together effectively, obviously, that's preferable.
In this particular case, that didn't happen. And the French and the Germans, in particular, did everything they could to prevent us from going forward and enforcing the U.N. Security Council resolutions. They seemed to be less interested in solving the problem than they did in restraining the United States from taking action.
That's history, that's behind us now. It's time for us to get on with business and do what we set out to do in Iraq originally. I think the preeminent effort at this point, obviously, is going to be led by the United States and our coalition partners -- by the Brits, the Australians, the Poles and a great many other nations that have supported this effort. They've already demonstrated their willingness to be part of an effort to deal with this problem and I think we can expect them to step up and conduct themselves in the fashion that is reflective of the commitment they've already made.
With respect to others who didn't support the effort, perhaps time will help in terms of improve their outlook. I think once they see the results of our efforts, that they'll be interested in trying to help at least on the humanitarian side. And that's appropriate.
There's this debate raging over the United Nations, what kind of role should the U.N. have in Iraq. I think the U.N. has a prominent role to play. They do great things with respect to refugee assistance and coordinating the work of the non-governmental organizations and charitable organizations that are very valuable in this kind of setting.
But the key role, going forward, has to be -- especially as long as there's a security threat, which there's likely to be for some considerable period of time -- has to reside with the U.S. government. And our plan that we've talked about and that we will carry through on is just as quickly as possible to stand up an Iraqi interim authority, run by Iraqis, selected by Iraqis, that is both building the government of the future in Iraq, as well as administering the nation today. And we'll pass responsibilities off at -- just as quickly as possible.
We don't believe that the United Nations is equipped to play that central role. They'll play a very important role, but I think the central role needs to still reside with the coalition until such time as we can pass it to the Iraqi people, themselves. And, hopefully, that process will begin within a matter of days.
So we'll continue to work with our friends and allies. I guess I -- I look at Europe, and it's important for us to remember that there are a large number of European nations that stepped up and supported us in this enterprise, and we shouldn't forget that. We appreciate very much the support we got from them. And hopefully, should similar problems arise in the future, maybe our French and German friends will reconsider their position.
Q: Good morning, Mr. Vice President. I'm Deanne Davis (ph) with United Press International. Within the last three weeks, we've seen a number of coalition forces taken prisoner and some gone missing. You mentioned in your remarks this morning about POWs being tortured and killed. Can you add anything this morning to what is known about the POWs or perhaps those who are missing?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I cannot. We have a very carefully developed and elaborate process for notifying next of kin when we do find people or get information about people who are either missing or possibly held as prisoners, and we don't make any announcements, except through the regular orderly process. It would be unwise for me this morning to make any announcements here. I don't have any to make, anyway. Those announcements would come out of the Pentagon, and that's how it should be.
Q: Mr. Vice President, there's a growing perception among librarians, academicians, researchers, historians, reporters, editors, publishers, broadcasters that the Bush administration is a foe of openness in government. Is that an unfair perception? And if it is, what can you do affirmatively to change that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do think it's an unfair perception; that it's not the way I view our approach. I think the -- some people have focused on -- Rena mentioned in her introduction the work of the energy task force that I chaired two years ago. The debate has now been settled, in effect. The court has ruled in favor of the administration that we did handle it in an appropriate way. And the dispute with the GAO and the Congress on that issue has now been resolved in favor of the administration.
The issue that was involved there was simply the question of whether or not a Vice President can sit down and talk with citizens about an issue and gain from them their best advice and counsel on how we might deal with a particular issue. The charge was made that I should have to tell the Congress, specifically a Congressman, Henry Waxman of California, every time I met with somebody, on what it is they told me and what kind of advice they gave me. That was the original request.
I said, no, I didn't think that was reasonable at all. In terms of what our policy recommendations and decisions were, none of that was secret. We published a 120-page brochure, passed out thousands of copies
that laid out all of our policy decisions and recommendations, so everybody knew exactly what we believed and what kinds of policies we felt we ought to pursue. But the Vice President should not have to answer any congressman and say, well, at 2:00 p.m. last Thursday I talked to Joe and here's what he recommended. That would put an absolute chill on our ability to get good advice from private citizens or anybody else. We have to be able to have those kinds of conversation.
Some people may have taken that as a, "chilling" the information process. I don't. I think it restored some of the legitimate authority of the Executive Branch, the President and the Vice President, to be able to conduct their business. And as I say, now the matter has gone to court. The GAO brought suit and the federal district court has now ruled that they were wrong, and supported the administration position.
In other areas, if we talk about openness, I can't think of anything that better demonstrates our commitment to the free flow of information about very important events than this whole exercise we're in the middle of right now, with respect to imbedding the press corps with U.S. military forces.
It's now possible, in part by virtue of technology -- 12 years ago, when we did Desert Storm, we weren't able to do it. We had a very different system for handling it that was frustrating for everybody, with pool coverage on a limited basis. I mean, if we were devoted to secrecy and trying to keep information from the press, we certainly wouldn't have taken 500 or 600 of them and put them out there with the 3rd Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne and the 1st Marine Division to be right there, side-by-side with our troops, all the way into Baghdad. So I don't accept the criticism, or I disagree with it, anyway.
Q: Mr. Vice President, I'm Sandra Kies (ph), the editor of the Honolulu Advertiser, where we tend to look with equal interest on events in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also terrorism in Philippines, Indonesia, and in particular, now what's going on in North Korea, and to wonder whether the administration's focus of diplomatic attention, military strategy and so on, on Iraq now has caused a dilution of energies to confront in particular the situation in North Korea.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't believe it has led to a dilution of effort. I know I just finished, before I came to speak this morning, our morning intelligence brief. We have an arrangement where every morning at 8:00 a.m., Washington time, the CIA comes in and briefs the President, myself, the National Security Advisor on events around the world -- the PDB, the President's daily brief.
That was followed by a National Security Council meeting that focused on Iraq and the Middle East in particular today, Afghanistan, as well. But the PDB, sort of a -- it covers those areas that we're most interested in and following at any moment. And I can assure you that that process gives a lot of attention to other parts of the world than where the public focus might be at any particular point in time.
So we receive regular reporting on the situation in North Korea. There are ongoing diplomatic efforts to try to deal with that. It is a very serious problem, and it has not been ignored, I can assure you that. We may not have anything publicly to announce at this particular moment. The world's attention is focused on what's going on in Baghdad this morning, but that doesn't mean that we can afford to, or that we are in any way ignoring other parts of the world.
The thing that I'm struck by -- this is, I guess, my fourth administration that I've worked in, now going back over 30 years. And to a greater extent than ever before, in my past experience, there are more balls in the air now than previously. Life used to be relatively simple, when I think back to the Cold War days, and sort of gave a structure to your morning when you got up, in terms of what you had to worry about. (Laughter.) And that's no longer the case. It's a big, complicated world out there, and we're having to deal with multiple moving parts on any given day. And we do, in fact, do that.
Q: May I follow? Are you --
Q: -- tension to be at this time?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm reluctant to do that because we are involved diplomatically right now. We've spoken before, we think it's important that there not be the development of nuclear weapons capability on the Korean Peninsula. We think everybody in the region agrees with that. Certainly, in terms of the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Chinese and the Russians, they're all most directly affected by this. And we believe there ought to be a multilateral approach to persuade the North Koreans that it's not in their interest to proceed down the track of developing nuclear weapons.
But I'll just leave it at that, partly because for me to go beyond it might upset ongoing discussions, and I wouldn't want to do that.
Q: Charlotte Hall (ph) from Newsday, New York. Mr. Vice President, you have alluded this morning to the administration's vision of how a civilian authority and an Iraqi government will be established. I'm wondering if you can give us any details about how the administration sees the next six months, in terms of the management of oil resources of Iraq, their production, their sale? And should any of the oil revenue go to defray our costs for the war?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We've spent a fair amount of time thinking about how we manage that resource. We are committed to see to it that it's put to use for the people of Iraq. It's their oil, their resource. One of the real tragedies we're finding is that not only did Saddam Hussein forego over a hundred billion dollars worth of revenue over the last 10 years, because of his refusal to comply with the U.N. resolutions, that kept sanctions on -- he wasn't able to sell over a hundred billion dollars worth of oil. That's revenue that didn't flow to the Iraqi people, obviously. And what oil revenue did come in, he spent on himself, building these magnificent palaces all over the country, and on his programs -- military programs, developing weapons of mass destruction.
So the standard of living in Iraq today is significantly below what it was 10 or 12 years ago. And one of the keys, we believe, to the reconstruction of Iraq and to getting it stood up and back and functioning again, is to get those oil fields up and functioning. And we now control virtually all of the fields in the south. I think this morning there was one well still on fire, the others had all been put out. The fields in the north are still under control of the regime, but hopefully they'll be taken over eventually without having them destroyed.
And once we can get Iraqi oil production back up and functioning, it could generate as much as $20 billion a year for the Iraqi people. That money will go to Iraq. We'll establish, as part of a interim Iraqi authority, an organization to oversee the functioning of their oil ministry. That will be composed primarily of Iraqis. It may have international advisors from outside, as an advisory group, but they, ultimately, are going to have to make the decisions about how much they want to reinvest. And investment is needed in the fields; Saddam let them deteriorate, so they're in bad shape today. But with some investment, we ought to be able to get the production back up on the order of two-and-a-half, three million barrels a day within -- hopefully, by the end of the year. And that revenue will then flow to the Iraqi government and give them a resource base to start to do those things they need to do.
They're still going to need outside help and assistance. And we're prepared to do that. I'm sure that the United Nations is prepared to help. And that other members of the coalition will be willing to stand up and provide some additional resources, as well. But the oil revenue is not to be diverted to any purpose other than specifically to service the immediate and, hopefully, long-term needs of the people of Iraq.
Q: Good morning. My name is Kevin Willey (ph) with The Dallas Morning News. My question has to do with if, in fact, a democracy of some sort is ultimately established in Iraq, how would you describe what you expect to be the response to that in some of the surrounding nations -- Saudi Arabia, Syria, Bahrain, others, both in terms of the royal families that rule those areas today, but also among the populace of those countries? What sort of a reaction do you expect?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, I would hope if we're able to stand up a representative, democratic government in Iraq -- one that has due regard for the human rights of the people of Iraq, preserves its territorial integrity, isn't a threat to its neighbors and so forth -- that they will come to see this as, obviously, a significant improvement over Saddam Hussein, who started two wars, twice invaded neighbors, launched ballistic missiles at neighbors and so forth. So from that perspective, it'll be a plus.
Exactly what it will look like is something the people of Iraq are going to have to determine. I think it would be a mistake for we, as Americans, to say, well, look, here's a cookie mold, this is how we do it, this is, therefore, exactly how you have to do it. I don't think that will work. I don't think that takes into account their unique culture and historical experience and so forth. They're going to have to work it themselves and figure out what makes sense from their standpoint, given the social organization and the way their society has functioned in the past. And it'll be a difficult task. But they've got some very able people already engaged in thinking about those kinds of thoughts and issues.
What that means for the neighboring states, I think it's important for the United States -- the President has made this an important priority for us -- to continue to encourage reform in that part of the world. And reform can take many forms. It can be economic. You've got serious economic problems among many of those nations, in terms of rapidly growing populations and inadequate economies to support them. I think it can mean educational reform, and we want to encourage that so that we end up with young populations that have got useable skills for the marketplace, rather than just -- don't finish their educational systems and don't have opportunities or have skills they can use for that purpose.
There are already growing democracy movements in some of the countries in the region. Places like Bahrain, Qatar, for example, have begun to move in that direction -- Kuwait. So exactly what it'll look like, in terms of being able to say, this is their form of government, I don't want to be prescriptive. I don't think we should be. But I do think once Iraq is given the opportunity, and the people of Iraq given their -- this was historically a sophisticated nation, with a well-educated middle class, a great deal of technical expertise, a significant resource base, second largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia -- that if there's a potential in that part of the world to create a modern state with a good, strong representative government, I think, hopefully, Iraq is it. We have to do our best to get them off and running. And if it works in Iraq, it may encourage positive trends in other parts of the region.
Q: Good morning, Mr. Vice President. Amy Net (ph), the Star Ledger. With postwar reconstruction plans already in the works, I was wondering if you could give any assurances, especially in view of the large role played by foreign countries -- in particular, the British -- that the British will have an opportunity to participate in postwar reconstruction?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, I think they will. But, again, a lot of those decisions are going to have to be made by the new Iraqi interim authority. As they get up and running, they'll have to decide what kinds of long-term relationships they want there. But we're not trying to exclude anybody. We've stood up an organization under Retired Lieutenant General Garner, who's got a great deal of experience in the area; he ran the relief operations for the Kurds 10 years ago in northern Iraq; he's well-known to the people in the region; he's got a very good team drawn from all over the government working with him, specialists in various fields -- the State Department is involved, the Defense Department is involved, a lot of our civilian agencies.
And they'll be making the decisions about what kind of work is needed, as well as getting, as I say, the Iraqi interim administration up and running. And in the final analysis, a lot of those decisions will be made out there in the field by those individuals. And there's no desire on our part to exclude anybody. I think the work will go to whoever is qualified to do it.
Q: Mr. Vice President, Rich Oppel (ph), with the Austin American Statesman. Both the President and you in your remarks this morning have begun to sketch-out a relatively limited role for the United Nations in postwar Iraq. The outline of that role seems pretty vague at this point. You mentioned, for example, working with -- the United Nations working with NGOs, this morning. Does the United States see any role for the United Nations in formation or the development of the Iraqi interim authority? Or in the formation of an oil ministry?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: As I say, the perception we have, the concept is right now General Franks is in charge. We've got troops throughout the country. We're still conducting combat operations, so there is a major military ongoing task that's not yet completed.
At the same time, we've already begun the humanitarian relief operations. We've already got the International Red Cross operating in parts of the country. We're already delivering -- oftentimes with military units -- delivering food and medicine and water, for example, to those areas that have already been liberated. And I think we'll gradually see that humanitarian effort take on greater and greater significance.
At the same time, we're getting up and running with this organization that will be headed up by General Garner. He's already in the theater, he's already got a lot of his people out there with him. And they will get into the business of finding out what's the status of the various ministries, what kind of shape are they in, what kinds of resources they've got; how soon can we get the health ministry up and running; how soon can we get the oil ministry up and running; are there people left in those bureaus and agencies that can be part of the new Iraq, have we gotten rid of all the Baath Party folks in there who were Saddam Hussein cronies. You've got to vet people that are going to come in and be part of that process, but to get those ministries up and going as quickly as possible.
We're going to have a meeting on the 12th, just three days from now, Attalio (ph), outside al Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq, where we will bring together representatives of groups from all over Iraq, to begin to sit down and talk about planning for the future with this Iraqi interim authority and getting it up and running.
Now, what role does the U.N. play in all of that? Well, I think the United Nations, as the President said, has got a major role to play. I would not say their role is insignificant, by any means. They bring a lot of expertise to certain types of activities -- in particular, to a lot of the humanitarian agencies that they have significant influence over, the work of the NGOs and so forth, that I mentioned earlier.
Traditionally, the Secretary General appoints a personal representative. It's what happened in Afghanistan. He sent a very able international civil servant out to represent the U.N. in a lot of the deliberations that took place in Afghanistan. Similar kind of arrangement may be the right way to go here.
But as to the question of whether or not we're going to turn everything over to the United Nations and put them in charge of this process, the President has made it clear we're not going to do that; that we want them to play a major role. Kofi Annan has indicated, frankly, that the vision he has is pretty close to the one we have. So, I think it will work.
I think there's going to be more than enough work there for everybody to do. But our objective, as I say, is to just as quickly as possible get this interim authority up and running that's composed of Iraqis and transfer authority to them; not to the United Nations, not to any other outside group, but specifically to get them in a position to be able to make decisions for themselves -- begin to deliver basic services at the local level, begin to build over time -- because it will probably take time -- begin to put together that political structure that ultimately, hopefully, will result in a new representative government for the people of Iraq.
Q: Will U.N. representatives be at the April 12th meeting?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't know. I don't know. Yes.
Q: Paul Vanslambrick (ph) of The Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Vice President, many people feel the central issue to the U.S. standing in the Arab world is the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. Do you see the conditions now lining up post-Iraq to enable a serious push by the U.S. on that issue? And do you foresee progress on it?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think the potential for progress does exist. I think there's some hopeful signs. The President's made it clear that he will make sure that we make a major effort in this area to try to make progress on the peace process in the months immediately ahead. I go back to the speech the President delivered last June, on June 24th, that laid out a vision with respect to the future, in terms of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. He talked about the establishment of a Palestinian homeland -- the first time an American President ever called for that -- about democracy and democratic reform of the Palestinian Authority.
We made it clear that we've reached the point where we didn't believe Yasser Arafat could any longer be the principal interlocutor for the Palestinians, that that simply hadn't worked. And they now are moving on the creation of a post of prime minister selected by the Palestinian Parliament. And those negotiations within the Palestinian Authority are continuing. Hopefully, if they can, in fact, establish a credible government under a prime minister, we can begin to make some progress.
The problems are horrendous. I don't want to underestimate how difficult it is, but I think there's no doubt we'll continue to push very hard to try to end the violence, to try to re-establish the peace process, and move in the direction laid out by the President in his speech last June 24th. So it will be a priority for us.
I'm going to do one more question, then I've got to go. Yes, sir.
Q: Mr. Vice President, Neil Brawn (ph) of the St. Petersburg Times in St. Petersburg, Florida. If I could shift gears for just a second, I was wondering if you could give us your outlook on the American economy. And as a fiscal conservative who used to argue against deficit spending, are you concerned about the deficits we're running up right now?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: With respect to the economy, it's still soft. I had spent some time on Friday, I guess it was -- sat down with a group of outside economists, which I do periodically. We have a regular practice now in the White House; on Mondays, the economic team gets together. Steve Friedman is the White House Assistant for Economic Policy. Secretary Snow, Secretary Evans, myself, several others review where we are. We do that every week. And I think the general view is that the economy is still pretty soft, that it began to pick up at the early part of this year. But since about February, it's sort of been flat.
There are two views: One is that a lot of that has to do with the uncertainty created by the war - how soon is that going to get resolved, what would be the cost, how long would it last, and so forth. Hopefully, that will now recede as a factor. And if that's the case, then we would expect to see some resumption of a more normal pattern of growth.
We believe it's important now to go forward as quickly as possible with an insurance policy. That's why we recommended to the Congress a stimulus package this year, the tax reform package that we asked Congress for. There's a debate raging now between the House and the Senate -- getting ready to go to conference this week on the budget resolution that will really set the parameters of how big that package can be. And then later this year, we pass the revenue measures to actually implement it. I think that's important to do.
With respect to the deficit, now, I have been a deficit hawk. If you go back and look at my voting record, it was pretty conservative. But those of us, even, who are deficit hawks have always made an exception for war or national emergency. And we found ourselves, I think, with today's deficit resulting from the slowdown in the economy that resulted in lower revenues that really began the first quarter of 2001. That's continued.
Once the bubble burst in the stock market, we're not collecting those capital gains revenues any more -- the way we were for a while. That's had a big impact on revenue. The terrorism attack of 9/11 clearly didn't help. It had a significant impact. You look at industries like the airlines, the travel business, and so forth, they've all been adversely affected by that. And, of course, we've got the ongoing war on terror, and now the operations in Iraq. So, I think it's not surprising that we got a deficit at this stage.
If I look at it in historic terms, the deficit today is not nearly as large as a percentage of our total economic activity of our gross domestic product as it was, say, back in the early '80s. And in terms of our total national debt to the total size of our economy, we're in relatively good shape. We've made significant progress in recent years.
Do we have watch it? Certainly. We need to be restrained going forward with respect to spending. We've got to look especially at our mandatory programs, our entitlement programs, and to make sure that doesn't get out of control. But, today, at this stage, with respect to where we are with the economy, as well as what our needs and requirements are, today's deficit is not as much concern as was the case, say 10 or even 20 years ago. I think we're in much better shape then we were then.
Let me wrap it up. I thank all of you this morning and for listening. These obviously are important and challenging times. But we do appreciate very much the enormously important role the free press plays in America, and all of you represent that. We'll complain from time to time, but that's our right as politicians. And you complain from time to time about us. That's your right as editors. But we really do appreciate the opportunity to spend some time with all of you this morning. So, thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 10:00 A.M. CDT
Richard B. Cheney, Remarks by the Vice President to the American Society of News Editors Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/280739