Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's Remarks and Q&A at a Town Hall Meeting in Duluth, Minnesota
Cirrus Design Corporation
10:55 A.M. CDT
MRS. CHENEY: Well, thank you so much that great welcome. It is a beautiful day here in Duluth, and we are so happy to be here.
It has been a privilege for Dick and me to travel all across this wonderful country. And I can't tell you how many times when we're going through the many, many beautiful places that America has, we say to ourselves how lucky we are to be American. And when I try to make a list of all the things that I feel fortunate about, all the things that I feel proud about -- proud about, especially, -- right at the top of that list is our President, George W. Bush. (Applause.)
He has been a magnificent leader over these past four years. And if you don't mind my saying so, the Vice President is no slouch either. (Laughter and applause.)
Well, I get the job of introducing Dick because I have known him for so long. I have known him since he was 14 years old, and his job that summer, that school year when I first knew him, his job was sweeping out the Ben Franklin store in Casper, Wyoming, our hometown. And I have known him through many jobs since. I've known him since he was digging ditches at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo Grounds, outside our hometown of Casper. And I've known him since he was loading bentonite --hundred-pound sacks of bentonite into railroad cars. And I've known him since he was building power line all across the West to help pay his way through school. And I mention all those things because I think that when you grow up working hard, you learn some really important lessons. And one of those lessons is how important it is for the hard working men and women of this country to get to keep as much of their paychecks as possible. (Applause.)
So it has been a great honor and privilege for us to be involved in this presidential campaign, a distinguishing mark of our civilization, our country is getting to choose our leaders. And it is a great source of pride and honor to me to get to introduce to you my husband, Dick Cheney, the Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you all very much. And, Lynne, thank you for the fine introduction. She wouldn't go out with me until I was 17. (Laughter.)
But I often tell people we have a marriage that came about because Dwight Eisenhower got elected President of the United States. Because in 1952, when Eisenhower ran for President, I was a youngster living in Lincoln, Nebraska with my folks. Dad worked for the Soil Conservation Service. Eisenhower got elected, reorganized the government, Dad got transferred to Casper, Wyoming, which is where I met Lynn. And we grew up together, went to high school together, and a few of weeks ago celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. (Applause.) 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. (Laughter.) And she said, right, and now he'd be Vice President of the United States. (Laughter and applause.)
Well, we're delighted to be here today in Duluth. I want to thank the Klapmeiers for allowing us to come here and spend some time at Cirrus. This is a great company. They've got a great track record and have done some superb work building quality products. One of the great American success stories that you find as you travel all across the country. And we're delighted to be here today. And I want to thank all of you at Cirrus for allowing us to come by and for being part of the effort here this morning.
We're obviously embarked upon the final weeks of the campaign. And we're doing a number of these events across the country. Of course, the President is getting ready for his debate tomorrow night. And mine will be next Tuesday with my opponent, John Edwards.
John, of course -- Senator Edwards -- I shouldn't call him John. I don't know him that well. But Senator Edwards, of course, it is alleged got his job because he's charming, sexy, good looking and has great hair. I said, how do you think I got the job? (Laughter.) Why do they laugh?
But this is an important campaign this year. And you need to have a sense of humor in this business, so we need to have a few laughs along the way. But it's also very serious business. The decision we're going to make on November 2nd is one of great significance for the nation, and may indeed be the most important election at least that I can recall in my lifetime in terms of the decisions we're going to make about absolutely vital issues and the course we're going to set for this nation in the years ahead.
And what I'd like to do this morning is take a few minutes, share some thoughts with you about a part of that decision that we're going to make on November 2nd, why I think it's so important. And then we'll throw it open to questions and allow you to ask questions or make comments, have a bit of an exchange or dialogue. These sessions are a lot better if you don't have to just listen to me ramble on endlessly, but rather get a chance for a good exchange. So we'll do that this morning.
But I want to begin, first of all, by talking about what I think is at the heart of the election, the significance of this election this year, and that's the basic fundamental question about what the national security strategy and policy will be for the United States in the years ahead. The most significant set of developments I think that the President had I have had to deal with since we were sworn in, that were not anticipated when we were elected four years ago, of course, are all of those events that began with 9/11 and all that that's entailed for the country. So that's what I really want to focus on this morning.
If you think about it, there have been times in our history when we come to sort of watershed moments. Something happens that constitutes a new threat to the United States, or a fundamentally altered international situation and we have to think new thoughts about our strategy, about how we conduct ourselves in the world, what kind of military forces we need, what the threats are, and I think we've gone through one of those periods.
I think back to the time right after World War II, for example, after we'd won the war against Germany and Japan, our troops came home. And then within a matter of a few years, all of a sudden we were faced with the Cold War, a Soviet Union that had occupied half of Europe, that was acquiring nuclear weapons, and we had to put together an entirely new national security strategy for the United States, a policy of deterrence to deter the Soviets from launching an attack against the U.S., of containment -- established NATO, a series of alliances around the world to protect us against the Soviet threat, created the Department of Defense, in 1947 -- the Central Intelligence Agency, reconfigured our military forces and so forth. Those policies we put in place then lasted for about the next 40 years, and were supported by Republican and Democratic administrations alike -- the basic, fundamental foundation of national security for the United States really until the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended in the 1989-90 time frame.
And I think we're again at one of those moments, in connection with the war on terror, the nature of the threat we face today, and what has emerged if you will for us since 9/11 that we now have to deal with
And of course, 9/11 was significant because it brought home, I think, to everybody the fact that there was, indeed, an organization out there -- in this case, we called them the al Qaeda -- that had designs on the United States, that had managed to organize an attack against us that killed 3,000 of our people in less than two hours on the morning of 9/11, more folks than we lost at Pearl Harbor, the worst attack ever on American soil by a foreign power.
And when that occurred, of course, we had to come to grips with that threat and to recognize that the biggest threat we face today would be a group of terrorists in the middle of one of our own cities with a weapon of mass destruction, with a biological or a chemical agent, or conceivably, even a nuclear weapon, and that that kind of threat, if it were to occur could conceivably result in the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans in a few hours, not just 3,000. And so the scale of the threat is very different than what we've dealt with before, and the nature of the defenses we need to mount against it, obviously, are fundamentally altered, too.
In response to 9/11, we did several things. The President, of course, insisted on doing everything we could to harden the target here at home, to make the U.S. a tougher target for our adversaries, created the Department of Homeland Security, passed the Patriot Act that gave law enforcement the tools they need to be able to prosecute terrorists, strengthened our intelligence agencies, got a better mechanism in place to coordinate between the CIA and the FBI, beefed up our Border Patrol, passed Project BioShield, which provides funds and authority to research and develop defenses against biological weapons and so forth.
All of that is very good. But the President also made a decision that I think is absolutely essential, and that is that there's no such thing as a perfect defense, that if we're successful 99 percent of the time against our adversaries, the 1 percent that gets through given the nature of the threat could be devastating. So you cannot accept a situation where even a 1 percent possibility of success on the part of our adversaries. And therefore, it was essential that we also go on offense. And that has been the biggest departure, if you will, from the past in terms of what George Bush and those of us who work for him have done since 9/11. By go on offense, we mean that we would use our military force as well as our intelligence services and so forth to aggressively go after the terrorists wherever they reside, wherever they train, wherever we find them. And secondly, that we would confront those who support terror -- those states that sponsor terror, who've provided safe harbor and sanctuary for terrorists, who conceivably have provided financial assistance or arms, or could eventually share that deadly technology with the terrorists also become a target of our interest.
And based on that fundamental strategic decision, we then clearly went into Afghanistan, took down the Taliban regime, captured and killed hundreds of al Qaeda, closed the training camps in Afghanistan where the terrorists had trained to kill Americans on 9/11, and where some 20,000 terrorists were trained in the late 1990s. And in the aftermath of that, then, we also took one additional step, and that is to establish a democratically elected government in Afghanistan. It's not enough for us to go and simply kill terrorists, or to topple governments that have supported terror and thereby threaten the United States, you also have to put something in its place. You can't simply do the first two steps and walk away and leave a failed state behind where it will revert back to what it was before, a breeding ground for terror, or conceivably become a dictatorship of some kind.
And so what we've done in Afghanistan, we've stood up an interim government. They've written a constitution. They've registered 10 million voters, first time in history, over 40 percent of them, women. And on October 9th, there will be free elections in Afghanistan. And by the end of the year, there will be a democratically elected government in Afghanistan where they used to train terrorists. (Applause.)
On Iraq, slightly different situation -- but in Iraq, we had in Saddam Hussein a man who had started two wars, who had traditionally been a state sponsor of terror, always carried by our State Department as a sponsor of terror, the home to the Abu Nidal organization, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a man who paid $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers who would kill Israelis, had a relationship with al Qaeda, a man who had previously produced and used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and against the Iranians, and who had defied the international community for 12 years. We went in and took down the regime of Saddam Hussein. Today, he's in jail -- which is exactly where he belongs. (Applause.) And we're now actively and aggressively working to stand up a new democratic government in Iraq.
This is hard work. This is not an easy task. You're going to find people who say, oh, my gosh, you can't do it. It's too hard. There will be a civil war, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You can always find somebody who can argue against what needs to be done here. But it needs to be done. And having -- (Applause.) And having gone this far, it can be done. And again, think about where we are in Iraq. We've got an interim government stood up composed of Iraqis, headed up by a man named Ayad Allawi. He is the Prime Minister. He has now appointed a Cabinet. The Iraqis control all the government ministries now, have since the end of June. They've been in business 90 days -- probably a little soon to make a final judgment about how they're going to do. They're just getting started. We've got a lot of people out there who want say, oh, it's a failure. They don't have any idea whether it's a failure or not. These folks have just barely gotten started, gotten their feet on the ground and they're doing a good job.
Allawi is a very tough man. He fled Iraq many, many years ago during Saddam's rule, went to London and was living in London. And one night when he was in bed, in London, woke up to find assassins in his room sent by Saddam Hussein armed with axes. They tried to hack him to death -- he and his wife. He survived, but he spent nearly a year in the hospital recovering from his wounds. And his wife never really recovered psychologically from the event. She died a few years later. Very tough customer, Ayad Allawi -- he's willing to go back to Iraq, and knows he's the target of the terrorists and the former regime elements who'd like nothing better than to do him in. And he's back there putting his life on the line to create a democracy in Iraq and to give the people of Iraq a chance to live in freedom under a democratic form of government.
Now, it is in our interest that that happen. We don't want to see Iraq revert back to what it was before. And the Iraqis have got a good start. They've not -- we were told we couldn't stand up an interim government, that they couldn't. Well, they've done that. We were told, you'll never transfer power to them on June 30th. Well, we've done that. We were told, you can't hold a national assembly of Iraq. Well, they've done that. They will have elections in January. That group that is elected then will write a constitution, and by the end of next year, they'll have new elections under an Iraqi-drafted constitution, and you'll have a democratically elected government in place in Iraq. (Applause.)
Now, the challenge for us going forward here is to make certain we get it right. We have to continue to do whatever is necessary for as long as necessary to get these people back on their feet. And there are two major tasks they have to accomplish. They've got to take on responsibility for their own governance. And they've got to take on responsibility for their own security. So both in Afghanistan and Iraq, we're spending a lot of time and effort, standing up and training Afghan and Iraqi security forces that can take over basic fundamental responsibilities for their security. And that's a major task for us. We want to get it done just as quickly as we can. We don't want to stay a day long than we have to, but we want to stay as long as necessary. You'll find some people -- I heard John Kerry this morning on Good Morning America for example, say his objective is to get the American troops home. We clearly want them home, but that's not the way to state the objective. The objective is to finish the mission, to get the job done, to do it right. (Applause.)
Now, the biggest cost of all, the burden for this situation, prosecuting the war on terror and doing what needs to be done in Afghanistan and Iraq falls first and foremost on the armed services, on the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States military, and on their families. And we all owe them an enormous debt of gratitude for what they've done for all of us. (Applause.)
The -- some have suggested that we need to pursue a different policy. I think, frankly, there are still a lot of folks out there that have not made the transition to the post-9/11 perspective, if you will. They still have what I call a pre-9/11 mind set. They still think it's an option for us to pull back, sort of retreat behind our oceans, that we can live comfortably here at home. We don't have to be engaged out there around the world. We don't have to be prosecuting the war on terror in the far corners of the globe. I think they're wrong. I think that mind set, that attitude is flawed because all it does is postpone the ultimate day of reckoning. The United States of America cannot fail to be engaged in the world. We're the world's leading trading nation, the most powerful nation on Earth. We do business all over the world. Our ideas, our culture, our beliefs, our economic products and services and so forth, we are the dominant power on the face of the Earth today. And you can't allow a bunch of terrorists to force the United States to retreat behind its oceans and sit here and act as though we're safe and maybe they'll hit us last.
The fact is what we're engaged in here is a global conflict. Remember, since 9/11, since they hit New York and Washington, they hit Madrid, and Casablanca, and Mombassa, and Riyadh, and Jakarta, and Istanbul, and Bali, and Baghdad, and Beslan -- most recently -- in Russia, where they killed approximately 350 people one morning, most of them school children. That's the nature of the enemy and the adversary we face. The kinds of people who will go on television and make a tape of themselves beheading an individual and then broadcast it because they want to -- through fear and intimidation -- they want force us to change our policies and withdraw, if you will, from the outside world and retreat, in effect, behind our own boundaries.
That won't work. And as I say, all it will do is increase the ultimate cost of coming to grips with this problem because sooner or later you do have to face it. And it's better for us to face it today and to deal with it today when we've got friends and allies all over the world out there who are willing to work with us on it than it would be to postpone action and to wait.
And the other thing, obviously, that's at stake here is to understand that if we don't take them on over there, we may well end up having to fight with them here in the streets of our own cities, as we did on 9/11. And that's not an acceptable outcome. Ultimately, of course, what is at risk here, what is at stake are the safety and security of our kids and grandkids for generations to come. And the United States can win this battle. There is no doubt in my mind. It's absolutely the right thing to do, and we're on the right course. And that's the course we need to stay on.
Now, when we make a decision on November 2nd, we'll be choosing between that policy and that strategy that I believe is working, that the President laid out for us in the aftermath of 9/11, or we're going to shift gears and pick somebody else as our Commander-in-Chief.
Now, I've looked carefully at John Kerry's record and let me say today, as I've said -- I said it in my speech at the convention in New York a few weeks ago -- that we respect John Kerry's military service, as we do for all of our veterans, appreciate very much his service in Vietnam. Nobody in connection with this campaign has ever challenged his patriotism or his service to the nation. What we challenge is his judgment and what he operated, did, votes he cast, how he functioned for the 20 years he was in the United States Senate, where he had an opportunity time after time to vote on issues that deal directly with national security -- on weapons systems, on strategy, on the commitment of forces, on when the United States ought to be aggressively involved and so forth. And if you look at that record, what it shows is during those years in the Senate, back in the '80s, most of the time, he opposed the major weapons systems and programs that Ronald Reagan recommended and put forth that were instrumental to our being able to succeed in the Cold War. Many of those systems that we're using today he opposed when we were starting up.
In 1991, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the question before the Congress was whether or not we would use military force to liberate Kuwait and send Saddam packing, Desert Storm, John Kerry voted no. In the two years that he's been campaigning for President, I think everybody knows he's been all over the lot in terms of whether or not he's for or against what we've been doing in the war on terror. He voted to authorize the use of force, and then later on announced he was an anti-war candidate, and then voted against funding for the troops once we committed them to combat, and then when asked knowing everything he knows now, would he have voted the way he did then, and he said yes. And this morning, Diane Sawyer interviewed him on Good Morning America and asked him the same question, knowing everything you know now, would you have voted that way, and he said, no. (Laughter.) He's changed his mind on many occasion. I think what's required in a President is the ability to make a decision, to take a position, and to convey to the American people and to the troops who are the ones who have to put their lives on the line to carry out the policy, and to our adversaries what the position of the United States is. That's exactly what we've got in George Bush, a man who means what he says and says what he means. (Applause.)
I don't see those same qualities in John Kerry. And I think when it comes time to pick a Commander-in-Chief for the next four years, who's going to basically set strategy and a policy that may, in fact, be the key to defending the nation for the next 30 or 40 or 50 years, that we've got a pretty clear choice on November 2nd. In my mind, given my priorities, what I worry about, that is an absolutely crucial part of the decision that we, as Americans, are going to make.
I think it's very, very important that we get it right. I think we will. I feel very good about the state of the race. I tell people that things look good. As Lynne and I travel the country -- we've been in some 48 states now, in this campaign -- and things look very good not only here in Minnesota, but even in Massachusetts. (Laughter and applause.)
There was this news account a few weeks ago, as the Democratic Convention ended in Boston, as the delegates were leaving the hall, they stopped a Boston policeman and asked for directions. And he said, "Leave here and go vote Republican." (Laughter and applause.) True story. (Applause.) So we're eager to have the support of that policeman, as well as Republicans, Democrats and independents from all across America.
But it is an important decision that we get to make. We're enormously privileged to be Americans, to live in the country we do and to have the opportunity and the responsibility to participate in this process. Don't let anybody tell you what a handful of people does doesn't matter -- remember the last election? Five hundred and thirty-seven votes in Florida determined the outcome of who was going to be President of the United States for the next four years. Every hour of volunteer time, every dollar contributed, every vote, everything matters. And it's our privilege to live in a country where we can exercise that responsibility. It's a gift from the generations that have gone before, and it's one we need to exercise and nurture if we're going to make certain that it's in as good of shape for our kids and grandkids as it's been for us.
So with that, let me stop and we'll go to a Q&A session. We've got proctors in the audience with microphones -- you'll note they're the people in the orange shirts.
MRS. CHENEY: Dick, what do those orange shirts remind you of? (Laughter.) I'll say it. (Laughter.) How about John Kerry's suntan? (Laughter and applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, I may have to disassociate myself from -- (laughter.) We're trying to bring her along -- she's doing good, that was a good line; it was a good line.
But what we'll do, if you've got a question, I'm going to ask just grab the attention of a proctor and I'll call on you and we'll get a chance to do some questions. Yes.
Q: Vice President Cheney and Mrs. Cheney, welcome to Duluth, God's country -- a fact, not an opinion. (Laughter.) Mrs. Cheney, what is the status of the women in Afghanistan now?
MRS. CHENEY: Well, as Dick mentioned, and it's just so thrilling to hear those numbers, that 40 percent of the 10 million people registered are women. And, you know, they've done this with great bravery. There was one incident where women were pulled off a bus and killed because they were trying to register to vote.
But the status of women in Afghanistan, what the United States and our allies have done has really transformed their lives. Little girls are going to school now. I mean, for years they weren't. Women under the Taliban were stopped on the street, they were whipped if their ankles were showing; there were accounts of their fingers being amputated if they were wearing nail polish. I mean, it is impossible to imagine the brutality and repression of life under the Taliban. And to see women re-entering their professions -- doctors, teachers, engineers -- to see those little girls going to school, I have to tell you, just makes my heart glad. We've done a very good thing there. (Applause.)
Q: Mr. Vice President, the national news media is always concentrating on the less than productive relationships that we have with certain Arab and Muslim nations around the world. Would you comment on the positive relationship that we have with Arab and Muslim nations and just exactly what they're doing to help us fight the war on terror?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure. I guess the way I would describe it is our relationships have improved significantly since 9/11. When you look at the reality of what's happening in various places out there, that part of it was the exercise of firm leadership and the demonstration of the President's determination and the ability of the American military to do what we said we were going to do. And then let me give you a couple of examples.
If you think about Libya, for example. We went into Afghanistan and then we went into Iraq, took down those regimes. Moammar Ghadafi had for years invested millions in trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability. He had acquired the centrifuges to enrich uranium. He had the uranium feed stock. And he had a design for a weapon that he had acquired from a black market network that was providing these materials not only to him, but also to North Korea and Iran.
The day that we launched into Iraq, he contacted President Bush and Prime Minister Blair -- he didn't contact Kofi Annan and the United Nations -- and he basically said he wanted to enter into negotiations about ending his program. Then some nine months later -- we went into the negotiations, some nine months later, five days after Saddam was dug out of his hole in Northern Iraq, Colonel Ghadafi went public and said he was going to give up all of his WMD materials. He has. We've rounded all that up. And all that nuclear material that was being developed for weapons now resides under lock and key down at Oak Ridge, in Tennessee.
A classic example of how the behavior of a government in the region saw what the United States did, saw we meant business and fundamentally altered the course of action. And relationships are improving now between the U.S. and Libya.
Other examples. Pakistan, President Musharraf has been one of our key allies in this effort. We have captured and killed hundreds of al Qaeda -- a lot of them in Pakistan. We captured, in Pakistan, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, the man who was the mastermind of the 9/11 attack. He's now in custody because of the help and cooperation we got from President Musharraf. Musharraf is -- now recognizes that he's on the target list for al Qaeda, too, there have been two or three assassination attempts on him in the last year.
Saudi Arabia, after they got hit in Riyadh, back in May of '03, they've been allies in the past, but they work very closely with us now, a coordinated effort because they, too, are targets for the al Qaeda organization.
So we have made progress. We've got a closer working relationship with many intelligence services and law enforcement agencies in that part of the globe. And many of the nations out there have provided basing, access and so forth for the United States, for our operation. So I would say overall the degree of cooperation we're getting from governments out there has, for the most part, improved over the course of the last three-plus years now, since 9/11.
Q: Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, thank you for your service and welcome to Duluth. Being a military father -- I have two sons in the military -- I'd like to hear your comment about how we sustain perhaps four or five -- who knows how many years -- of the kind of pace that we're keeping currently with active duty military, without jeopardizing troop strength. And I'd also like to hear Mrs. Cheney comment -- for the benefit of my wife and the other moms -- what will this administration do to assure that we continue to support the troops that are going to be there for, undoubtedly, some period of time?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I -- without question, the level of activity has been pretty intense in the last three years, since 9/11. I've spent a fair amount of time with the troops; I've been out into the region and visited with various unites that are there; I've talked with folks back, who've been deployed; I've recently been at Camp Pendleton with Marines; a couple of weeks ago down at Fort Benning, Georgia, with the 3rd Battalion of the Ranger Regiment, the 75th Ranger Regiment, who've been deployed repeatedly over the course of that three year period of time; I meet with National Guard units, I got off the airplane yesterday in -- I guess it was in Minneapolis -- and visited the commanders of the Air Guard wing down there, they've been deployed regularly, too.
So the pace, the ops tempo has been higher than normal, without question. That places an extra burden on us, in terms of making sure that they've got all the support they need, that we take care of their families back here at home, that we provide as much information as quickly as possible about the kinds of demands that are placed on various units -- especially those that are Reserve and Guard units that are called up -- so
that they can plan their own lives and we can work around that.
There's also a major effort underway, especially, for example, in the Army, to restructure the entire Army, to create a lot more deployable force out of the total end strength that we have today. Pete Schoomaker, who is the Army Chief of Staff, has got a superb plan he's working on to take the same end strength and increase, I think it's from 33 brigades up to 48 brigades, to be deployable.
We're also in the midst of a major transformation of our forces worldwide. For example, we've had two heavy divisions deployed in Europe now, since the end of the Cold War. Now we'll be bringing them one and there will be only one brigade left in Europe to replace them. But that means we'll have more of our troops based here at home on a permanent basis; they'll deploy periodically overseas; it'll be a lighter, more mobile force; we'll be able to have more basing arrangements at various places around the world that we have to get into quickly, but it will be a different kind of force structure than we've had previously. We're doing the same thing in Korea, where we're cutting back a brigade there, as well, too.
So I think when you get through this whole period of time you'll see that on the one hand we're doing everything we can to support the troops that are deployed out there now; secondly, to restructure the entire force so we can better sustain these kinds of operations, recognizing that what we have to do in the global war on terror and the way we have to operate is fundamentally different than what we did during the Cold War, when the basic idea was to keep a lot of heavy divisions forward deployed overseas to be able to take on the Soviets, for example, in a conventional armored warfare, the kind of thing that you'd have if there had ever been a major conflict in Europe.
So all of that should help relieve the turmoil, if you will, and the turnover in the force. The Secretary -- also talking about longer assignments, instead of rotating somebody in and out of a unit every two years, that once you signed on for a unit, you'd stay for a longer period of time. That means fewer moves for the family, more consistency and stability over time.
We're very sensitive to the need to maintain the quality of life for the force, because it's an all-volunteer force, everybody who is wearing the uniform today voluntarily put it on. That places a special obligation on all of us to make certain that we manage that process in the best way possible, to take into account their needs, too. A lot of the soldiers today are married, they've got families, they need good schools for their kids, decent health care, housing, and so forth, and we have to tend to all of that at the same time.
I'm confident we can do it. I served as Secretary of Defense for four years, myself. I can't say enough things about the caliber of people we have serving today and about the value of the all-volunteer force, they do a superb job for us. And we're watching very carefully all those indicators to make certain that we do, in fact, do whatever is necessary to maintain that force as strong and as healthy and as vibrant as it is today.
MRS. CHENEY: I'll just add one thing, which is, you know, what Dick and I are doing traveling all across the country is sometimes you wake up in the morning and you feel like, oh, my gosh, this a is pretty exhausting thing we're doing. There is nothing that energizes either of us -- and I think it's probably -- I'm speaking for Dick, but I've done that before. Meeting with the young men and women who are serving, and meeting with military families, there is such strength there, such focus, such conviction, and it does seem to me that one of the things that we can do to repay that is to elect a Commander-in-Chief who has that same focus and strength and conviction, and who understands that the way you honor the men and women who are serving is by completing this mission. (Applause.)
Q: Vice President Cheney and Mrs. Cheney, I have been hearing the opposition saying things like, if you're re-elected that we're going to be -- you're going to institute the draft. And I know it isn't true, but I want you to let other people know it, too.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right. This is an urban legend. (Laughter.) Or a nasty political rumor, I'm not sure which. Nobody has any intention -- nobody in a position of responsibility -- any intention of trying to reinstitute the draft. It makes no sense at all. As I say, and those of us who have been associated with the military in the past -- and as I say, I had the privilege of serving as Secretary of Defense for four years, from '89 to '93, through Desert Storm and Just Cause in Panama and so forth. The thing you come away from that with is just enormous respect for the caliber of people we have serving today.
The other thing that I would say, in addition to the fact that everybody is there because they want to be there, just affects their quality and caliber of the whole operation. But, also, it has forced the services to be much better than they used to be about how they tend to their people. You know, when you had an arrangement where manpower was basically a free good -- you didn't have to pay for it, you could compel people to serve, you got your monthly quota and put them through basic and trained them up and away we went -- it worked under certain circumstances and during World War II made sense.
But once we went to the all volunteer force after Vietnam, it forced the services to think about: Well, how do I attract good people? How do I retain them? What do I have to pay them? What kind of benefits do we provide? What kind of leadership? Do we give them enough responsibility so that they're willing to sign on and be proud of their service? Do we take care of their families? Is there adequate base housing? All of those things you have to do if you're running a business to be able to attract good people that want to work for you and to have a really first-class organization, the military has to do now. And it's changed -- I can't measure all the ways in which it's changed, the way the Army and the Navy and the Air Force and so forth, think about the kind of organization they want to be and how they attract their folks.
And it has just -- it's paid enormous dividends. As I say, in all the years that I've been involved, one way or another -- as a member of Congress, SECDEF, the Vice President now -- I have yet to encounter anybody in the uniformed military or in a position of responsibility who thinks we ought to go back to the old days, where we operated based on a draft, instead of an all-volunteer force. It works. It works extraordinary well. It's the best military I think the world has ever seen. And I don't know anybody in their right mind who would want to go back and do that. And the notion that somebody is peddling out there, that there's a secret plan to reinstate the draft -- hogwash, not true. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Excuse me, Mr. Vice President, we're out of time.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we do -- we've got time for a couple more questions here -- unless you guys all got to go back to work. (Laughter.) Yes, sir.
Q: I just wanted to say to you that slightly chubby, balding hairline just like yours --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't know anybody like that. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right.
Q: I stand squarely behind you, 100 percent. It seems that perception right now in the political process is more important than reality. The reality that we have right now as a border state, it appears to me that with millions upon millions of illegal aliens in the United States, will it take another 9/11 before the Congress, which really has the power, if you will, will do something about our borders?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's -- it is a continuing problem. It's one that Tom Ridge, who is the Secretary now of Homeland Security, spends a lot of time on. We've beefed-up our border patrol capabilities, completely reorganized that part of the government so you've got Customs and Border Patrol, and so forth, now all under one agency. We've hired a lot more people. We've deployed more technology to be able to monitor the borders.
But you've still got a situation both at the border with Canada and the border with Mexico are huge, thousands and thousands of miles; a tradition of good, friendly relations with our neighbors, so these are not hostile borders, by any means, with armed guards on them -- we probably haven't got enough people to put armed guards, you know, every step of the way. So we've got to find ways to work with them to help try to control the flow of people and to regularlize it and have knowledge over who's here, when they come, what they're doing when they're here, and when they leave. It's a problem, too, also, from our ports and air transportation coming in and so forth, but a special problem at the borders.
We're doing better. We're not doing good enough, yet. And it's an area that the President continues to emphasize. He's got good, strong understanding of because of his years as the governor of Texas, and trying to deal with the problem down there, which has been significant. And we just have to keep working at it. But we do need to find ways to make certain we know who's here and what they're doing, and to protect it.
Q: We're behind you in that.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right. Thank you. (Applause.)
Q: I have just a little different opinion on men with hair. (Laughter.) Just teasing you.
My name is Peter Wood, I'm a third generation logger from the Duluth area here, and my family has homesteaded where I live for the last, almost hundred years.
The forest industry is about the second industry in Minnesota. We employ roughly around 60,000 people. What is your own take on the President's healthy initiative on forests?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we think the Healthy Forest Initiative is very important, especially out our way -- I mean, we're from Wyoming. The problem we've had out there, with respect to wildfires, is that it's been devastating. We've had about a five year drought and we've lost vast stretches of forest. And the policies the President has put in place to allow us to control that, to go in and harvest some of that timber and put it to good use -- and partly as a preventive measure, to make it more easy for us to control and prevent fires in the far West is extraordinarily important. We've had to continue to fight to get it through. We've got environmental groups oftentimes on our case trying to block it, or stop it in various places. But I think it's absolutely the right thing to do. And as I say, my years in Wyoming, I used to serve on the public lands subcommittee and the interior committee for 10 years in the House where we wrestled with these kinds of issues. And I think the Healthy Forest Initiative is a very good, a very positive step forward. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, those are tough management decisions that you've got to make, and obviously, in part the federal government gets involved because a lot of those are federal resources. Again, in Wyoming, we've got a slightly different situation because we're a public land state. We came into the union under different circumstances. Half the surface of Wyoming is owned by the federal government. So we get into situations there where we get a real crunch between the federal interest, the fact that to do anything in Wyoming, whether it's resource development or farming and ranching, or recreation, you've got to have access to the public lands. And that immediately sets up a conflict between the various groups involved. So we're continually trying to manage that process. I'm not familiar with the details of the issues you've got around the Boundary Waters Area. I know it's a beautiful area, very important resource. Right now, the battle in Wyoming is over snowmobiles in Yellowstone. And those of us who live in Wyoming -- I've got to be careful how I say this now -- (laughter) -- when you're from a public land state, or a state like Wyoming, we love it. It's a fantastic place to live. And it is in great shape relative to, say, New York or San Francisco, in terms of the natural beauty of the place, but we get a lot of advice from New York and San Francisco about how to do our business. (Laughter and applause.) And for years, we've used snowmobiles in Yellowstone. And I'm sure you got snowmobilers here in northern Minnesota. And it's something we've done. We do it responsibly in the park. When you go in the park, you stay on the road. You don't go off-road at all. But there's been a battle raging now for several years, and the Clinton administration tried basically to shut down all snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park. That doesn't make any sense at all. Reasonable regulations and requirements and so forth, be sensitive to other uses -- so there is this battle, that the only way I know about it is to go into the normal process, the political process, participate and get actively involved, work with your members of Congress, work with the administration.
One of the things we inherited when we came in, in the closing days of the Clinton administration, shortly before he left office, Bill Clinton designated huge areas in the West as roadless, permanently roadless, off-limits. You couldn't do anything with them. Well, we've been through that process now. The courts basically threw that decision out. We've now gone to a situation where what we've said is we want to work with the governors, and the governor of each state can come in with recommendations for how the lands ought to be managed in that state, and we'll try to work with them to put together an intelligence, coherent plan that respects and reflects the views of the people that live there, and who've got to make a living as to how we ought to proceed. So as I say, these are age-old issues for those of us who live in places like Minnesota and Wyoming. I think we're doing a better job now than was true in the past, with respect to managing that. And you're always looking to balance out, if you will, the public interest in protecting and preserving a lot of those areas, as well as the need for folks that live in the area to be able to make a decent living and to use those resources, but use them intelligently and in a wise fashion.
So thank you. You bet. One last question.
Q: Mr. Vice President, I think I'm going to have to throw one on the social side. A lot of people, especially the elderly that I've been around, they get really mad because Mr. Bush is going to -- President Bush is going to take away their Social Security. That's one of the issues. The other one --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's not an issue. It's not going to happen. (Laughter.)
Q: Believe me it is when you're downtown waiting for a bus and they've read about it -- that he's taking away my Social Security. And the Medicare, and Medicaid -- these are things that I hear a lot about in the different groups I belong to, and the education -- like my daughter moving from one school to the other because they brought in -- everybody has to be educated, so we'll take them from a bad school and put them in a good school. And the good school turns bad because of the students. There's no doubt about it. These are social factors the average mom and dad coming home, and maybe they've got two hours before everybody has to get to bed, and at least my grandson knows the President is Mr. Bush. And the thing of it is, this is the argument -- what is the President going to do for me?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me give you a quick response to a couple of those. Social Security -- the Social Security program is safe. We have no intention on taking away anybody's Social Security benefits. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise. For those who are currently in the program, receiving benefits, the program is secure. For those who are about to retire, getting close to retirement age, they're going to be fine.
The problem we're going to have in Social Security is down the road 30 years or so, and today's younger worker in their 20s and 30s can look at it and legitimately say, well, is there going to be anything there when I'm ready to retire? And there are going to be long-term problems with the program if we don't find ways to keep it solvent and make it solvent. One of the things the President has talked about, I think and this applies to the younger generation. It would not apply to anybody who is already receiving benefits, or expecting soon to receive benefits, but it would a program that would allow the younger worker voluntarily -- they don't have to, but that they could take part of their payroll tax and invest it in a personal retirement account, earn a higher rate of return and be able to have greater confidence when they reached retirement age that they would, in fact, have the cushion they need for their retirement when that time comes. It's a concept. It's an idea. There are a lot of ideas floating around about exactly how you would do it. But those are some of the things we're looking at. But anybody -- tell anybody, any of your friends today, their Social Security check is going to continue to arrive just like clockwork. And I don't know anybody who isn't committed to that course of action.
With respect to Medicare, the President did something I think is very important -- it's the most important change in Medicare in my lifetime since the program was set up back in the '60s. This year, when we passed legislation -- this past year, he signed it last December, I guess, when we passed legislation to provide prescription drug benefits to Medicare recipients -- 40 million Americans. And the Medicare program, of course, when it was set up -- part B of the program would provide hospitalization coverage, but in effect, the way it was working was you could get -- if you were enrolled in Medicare, you could get covered for a heart bypass operation, but you couldn't get covered for the prescription drug that might keep you from needing a bypass operation because it didn't cover prescription drugs. And in the 40 years, or 50 years since -- 40 years, I guess, since Medicare was set up, medicine had changed a great deal, and a whole lot more is available now, possible now through prescription drugs. They're a much more important part of our continuing care for everybody, and so the President wanted to change that.
His opposition -- the Democrats, frankly, campaigned year after year after year on the basis that they were going to do this, and they never did. George Bush got elected, and we did it. We got it done. It's now the law of the land. (Applause.)
So there -- we have I think moved in the right direction with respect to Medicare. I think that's a major plus. A lot more work to do in the whole health care area. It's one of the single most important issues that we face. It affects everybody. It affects businesses, the cost of doing business, the care and quality of life of everybody. We've got a lot of folks out there that are not insured still at this point -- a lot of them working for small businesses. So the President has got a plan to address a lot of these issues. We've already started and it will be priority for us clearly in a second term.
Let me stop at that point. I've gone on long enough, and I've gone over my limit according to Joanne. So I'll simply want to thank you again for being here today. As I say, it's a enormous privilege for all of us to be able to participate in the presidential selection process. Lynne and I feel uniquely blessed to get to campaign all across this country and meet so many tremendous people in fantastic communities, and great companies, and organizations doing great work. And you really do come away from this experience just with this enormous enthusiasm and excitement and emotional feeling about the greatness of America. So we're proud to be here today. We hope all of you will take advantage of our citizenship, participate on November 2nd. And we hope you remember us.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 11:53 A.M. CDT
Richard B. Cheney, Vice President and Mrs. Cheney's Remarks and Q&A at a Town Hall Meeting in Duluth, Minnesota Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/281916