Cheney addresses war, energy
VP says one can’t put a time line on ending the conflict in Iraq.
By Thomas Dewell
May 23, 2007
WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney in a White House interview Friday criticized the Democrat’s redeployment strategy for Iraq and explained the underpinnings of the Bush administration’s surge plan.
In a 20-minute conversation in his West Wing office, Cheney also addressed the creep of gas development toward northwest Wyoming, supported the Wild and Scenic designation for Snake River headwaters and offered his views on global warming.
During the past week, Washington, D.C., was embroiled in controversies over The World Bank President and former Bush administration official Paul Wolfowitz and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. At the same time, President Bush announced a bipartisan immigration compromise and elected representatives continued work on domestic issues.
During the week, Cheney was a prime mover, having returned from a trip to the Middle East in which he visited 11 leaders in eight cities and covered 15,000 miles. He pressed the Iraqis to expedite the steps needed for them too take control of their country.
Cheney said the administration had expected faster action in concluding America’s involvement in the war.
“It’s taken longer than we would have hoped,” he said. “It would be nice if it had all gone smoother. ...”
Now that Democrats control both houses in Congress, the administration has to contend with players such as Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, who granted Jackson Hole News&Guide an interview May 15. During the conversation, Pelosi explained the redeployment strategy she and her colleagues have offered.
The speaker wants to extract American troops from the middle of a civil war, have them protect U.S. interests in the region, fight terrorists and protect the embassy.
“It’s a mess there now whether we stay or whether we go,” Pelosi said. “It’s a mess.”
Cheney countered that U.S. forces must remain in the country to fight terrorists who have decided to take on the U.S. military in the Middle East.
“Look at what Osama bin Laden says about Iraq – he does see it as the central front in the war with the United States,” Cheney said. “We don’t have the luxury we might have had years ago of retreating behind our oceans and saying, well, we’re safe and secure here at home.”
On Tuesday, Democrats said they would pull a withdraw time line from a war funding bill.
On energy, Cheney said some natural landscapes warrant protection and backed U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas’ bill to grant “wild and scenic” protection to area rivers. As a U.S. Congressman, Cheney helped pass legislation in 1984 that defined what areas in northwest Wyoming should be protected as wilderness and what areas should not be considered for protection for the next 10 years, potentially opening them up for oil and gas extraction.
Cheney acknowledged the national and international debate over climate change and asserted the Bush administration’s philosophy that technology can help address the problem.
“You don’t get to choose,” he said. “You don’t get to say, well, we’re going to just have a clean environment or, we’re just going to have plentiful supplies of energy.”
The following interview excerpts the Friday conversation at the White House. The full text of the interview can be found at www.jhnewsandguide.com.
The first News&Guide question focused on the vice president’s trip to the Middle East. “What’s your perspective on the region and the conflict?”
THE VICE PRESIDENT: ...[I]t’s an area of the world that’s been complex and difficult, with all kinds of conflicts going a long time – to some extent, the normal state of affairs – go back and talk about the Arab-Israeli war since 1948 or the Gulf crisis of 1990 and ’91, or our operations against Saddam Hussein in 2003, or against the Taliban and Afghanistan in 2001. I mean, there’s always a – it’s a difficult part of the world and continues to be.
But the purpose of my trip was to go out and consult with our allies and friends in the region. I spent a couple of days in Iraq with our troops and commanders, as well as with Prime Minister Maliki and the leaders of the Iraqi government. And then visited the Emirates – Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan – before I came back, see the heads of government in all those places.
NEWS&GUIDE: Did you feel they were – did you find some hopefulness? Did you find impatience? Did you find – what sort of tenors did you find?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s a blend, depends on where you sit. If you’re talking about the region, there’s a great focus on Iraq, with, obviously, a lot of interest in terms of what’s going to happen with respect both to the security question in Iraq proper, as well as whether or not the new government, the Maliki government, can meet its commitment and its obligations.
Great concern about Iran. Iran is viewed by most of the countries in the region as a threat because of the radical nature of the views expressed by the current President, Ahmadinejad, because they have been actively involved, for example, working through Syria to support Hezbollah, to try to topple the government in Lebanon, because of the conflict last summer between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah, again supported by the Syrians and the Iranians. And also, obviously, for Iran, viewed as a threat because of their insistence on developing the capacity to enrich uranium to produce nuclear weapons. The entire international community has come together and we’ve had two unanimous votes now at the U.N. Security Council against what the Iranians are trying to do.
So both those subjects, Iraq and Iran, are very much on everybody’s mind. There is always interest in the peace process and what’s going on between the Israelis and the Palestinians; those are the sort of themes that run continuously as you travel through that part of the world... .
NEWS&GUIDE: When I spoke with Speaker Pelosi on Tuesday ... she was hard-nosed. She said the country had lost its confidence in President Bush’s conduct in the war. And she explained her redeployment strategy – which I specifically wanted to ask her, “Okay, what’s your plan? What’s your redeployment strategy?” And she said: get the troops out from the middle of a civil war, protect against the terrorists, protect the embassy and protect our interests.
So my question after that is, do you think the country has lost its confidence in the administration’s conduct of the war? And what would be the result of the strategy [backed by Pelosi]?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think her strategy isn’t a strategy. ... [T]he bulk of the problem I think continues to be al-Qaida, which is heavily engaged there. From their standpoint, they’ve said this is the central front of the global war on terror; it’s not just a civil conflict. There is some Shia-on-Sunni violence, although that’s been dampened down significantly as we put troops in and surged our forces that are there.
I don’t think she deals at all with the consequences of her action. Nancy Pelosi and some of her colleagues on the Democratic side have said, well, we want to fight the good war – that’s the war in Afghanistan – we don’t want to fight that bad war in Iraq. That’s silly. That doesn’t make any sense at all.
You’ve got a significant threat to the United States that will emanate from that part of the world, and has in the past, as we’ve seen al-Qaida, for example, come to the fore, as they did in Afghanistan, with respect to what happened on 9/11. And the situation in Iraq is part and parcel of that ongoing conflict. And it’s not just Afghanistan and Iraq. It also involves Pakistan. It involves Saudi Arabia. We’ve seen attacks flowing out of that part of the world – the attacks that were disrupted last summer, for example, when they talked about hijacking aircraft over the Atlantic and flying them into cities here in the United States. You can trace that back to Pakistan, in terms of the place, the locale in which it was planned.
But the people who planned [the hijackings] basically were second-generation Brit, and this is a global conflict that involves a whole range of countries, including Iraq. And for the United States to turn around and walk away from Iraq – which is what the Democrats are advocating – she can talk about redeployment, but basically what it is, is giving up the fight in Iraq and withdrawing our forces. And what that will do is to validate the al-Qaida strategy. They are absolutely convinced they can break the will of the American people; that if they continue the fight until enough innocent civilians, as well a military forces [die], that eventually we’ll pack it in and go home, and they’ll win.
And then you have in Iraq what you had in Afghanistan a few years ago – remember, we were all engaged in Afghanistan back in the ’80s, then the Soviets withdrew, everybody walked away from Afghanistan. And what emerged out of that was a civil war, followed by the emergence of the Taliban, followed by an offer of safe haven to Osama bin Laden – so he went in ’96, moved into Afghanistan, set up training camps, trained somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 terrorists in that period in the late ’90s, some of whom came here and killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11.
If we walk away from Iraq, Iraq will become the same kind of safe haven, if you will, for al-Qaida, who is already operating there. Look at what Osama bin Laden says about Iraq – he does see it as the central front in the war with the United States. We don’t have the luxury we might have had years ago of retreating behind our oceans and saying, well, we’re safe and secure here at home. Anybody who looks at the history of it and looks at the track record has to recognize that things changed on 9/11 and that what happens in that part of the world can have a direct bearing on the safety and security of us right here in the United States.
There’s no reason in the world we can’t prevail in Iraq. We’ve come a long way: We’ve liberated 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq, taken down two of the world’s worst regimes, and stood up two new democracies. And we’ve got to complete the mission.
NEWS&GUIDE: Senator Thomas, on Tuesday, I asked him, “OK, Senator Thomas, how would you define success in Iraq?” And he had a pretty good, clear answer, that the Iraqis can run their government and take care of their own security. ... So what’s the administration’s strategy, then, toward getting to that success? And without asking you specifically ... when is that going to happen – what sort of time frame should people be willing to consider as this moves forward...?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think Craig nailed it. I mean, there are two key things that have to happen. They have to have a viable government that’s able to function and effectively control the sovereign space of Iraq, provide for the needs of its citizens – and they’ve got that government in place. They’ve had three national elections. They wrote a new constitution, the most democratic constitution of any nation in that part of the world, the Arab part of the world. And the current government has been in business about a year, and they’re making significant progress.
Have they solved all their problems? No, not by any means. When I was there I spent a lot of time talking with Maliki and his key people on what’s in front of him, in terms of their political agenda, what they need to get done – the question of an oil law, for example, and de-Baathification and reconciliation efforts between the government and the Sunni minority population. So that progress is going forward; that’s the political part of it, the governance part of it. And I think they are making progress.
The other part, the security part is getting to the point where the Iraqis can provide for their own security, so that you don’t need U.S. forces there to assist or to provide their security for them. And the purpose of the surge that the president announced at the beginning of the year, that involved us putting five additional brigades, U.S. brigades into Baghdad, is to buy them the time so that they could get their forces, complete the building of the Iraqi armed forces, security forces, the training and equipping, so that they can take on those responsibilities themselves.
How fast will it happen? Nobody can put a specific time line on it. They’ve been at it now for about four years, since we went in and toppled Saddam Hussein. If you look at the American experience, from the time we launched our war for independence in 1776 until we got a constitution written, was 13 years. Now, that was some time ago – and we had a little problem 65, 70 years later, when we had a civil war – to sort out some of the issues that we didn’t get right the first time around. People who want instant success – probably not going to get it. But there’s no reason in the world why we can’t accomplish this in a reasonable time frame. You want a specific calendar – nobody can give that to you.
But I do think that we’ve come a long way over that period of time. It’s taken longer than we would have hoped. It would be nice if it had all gone smoother than it had after we had completed the original mission, in terms of taking down Saddam Hussein’s government. It hasn’t, I think in part, because al- Qaida has clearly focused very much their effort and resources and they’re doing everything they can to promote conflict between the Sunni and the Shia. The Shia, for a long time, did not retaliate against the Sunni. What changed all that was a little over a year ago, when Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, launched an attack on the mosque at Samarra, blew it up. That was a very special site, in terms of religious worship for the Shia. And they began to retaliate against the Sunni, and that triggered some of the sectarian conflict we’ve seen since.
But we have seen a falloff in the sectarian conflict since we put our troops into Baghdad. We still have a lot of car bombs going off. We’re seeing progress out in Al Anbar province, where the local population is now turning on al-Qaida in that part of Iraq. So I think we need to have patience. We need to support the troops. We need to give them the resources they need to get the job done. But I think it’s a doable proposition. I believe that.
NEWS&GUIDE: Much of your life has been devoted to public service. How does this job compare to the other jobs you’ve had in this town and in Wyoming? And what does – what’s it like in this current climate where on one hand, last night they want to blame you for Gonzales, and at the same time, we have immigration reform coming along, and you’re able to go out on these trips? What’s it like right now to work in this town? What’s the climate? And then, how does this compare to your other tours in this –
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s my life story. It’s hard to get that done in five minutes. It’s been a great career. I came here to stay 12 months in 1968, so it’s been almost 40 years that I’ve been involved, most of that time, in public service and politics and government.
One of the jobs I loved was being Wyoming’s congressman for 10 years. That was a great job, great assignment. And I expected, when I got elected to Congress in 1978, that that’s where I was going to spend the rest of my career. I didn’t count on being asked to become Secretary of Defense in 1989. That was a great job, especially through Desert Storm.
And then after that I went into private life for eight years, and then, of course, I got drafted to come back when the president asked me to run for vice president. They’ve all been fascinating assignments, for different reasons, I mean, they’re different kinds of jobs.
As the vice president, I don’t run anything, like I did when I was at the Defense Department, for example. I had 4 million working for me. Now it’s much more a matter of being a counselor and advisor, troubleshooter, somebody who can take on special assignments and so forth. When I first came to the West Wing, going to work for Don Rumsfeld in the first year of the Nixon administration, 1969, I was one of the youngest people here. Now I think I’m the oldest.
I’ve worked in four different administrations, watched a fifth, the Reagan administration, up close from the perspective of Congress as a member of the House. And I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had a chance to do all those things. It’s been a great tour.
NEWS&GUIDE: ... [I]n Teton County, we sell a wild and scenic experience. ... and currently, gas exploration is creeping towards Teton County, and you have even sportsmen’s groups starting to oppose it ... It’s not just the greenies opposing it. So are there some places that are inappropriate for development? And, if so, how can people stop this energy juggernaut ...?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, this has been an issue – it’s not the first time it came up. If you go back and you look at the debate we had in the early ’80s, the question was putting off-limits some parts of the state for development. When we passed the Wyoming Wilderness Act, I sponsored it in the House, worked on it with Al Simpson and Malcolm Wallop. I think we passed it, as I recall, in the fall of ’84. We put nearly an additional 1 million acres into wilderness.
And there had already been the original act passed, I guess in the ’70s, and this was a significant add-on to it. And it took a lot of that area in northwestern Wyoming and said it’s off-limits to development.
At the same time, you need to have other parts of the state that are available for multiple use. You need both, obviously. But I think, in general, we’ve made pretty good decisions over the years. I think the way the debate gets pretty heated and pretty intense at times – we need a strong, viable economy; our resource base is a vital part of our economy, our coal and our oil and gas. But we should not sacrifice all parts of the state to that kind of growth and development. There ought to be areas off-limits. There are significant areas off-limits right now in terms of the parks and the wilderness areas and so forth.
And the debate sort of never ends and there’s always an opportunity to refight yesterday’s fight. For example, we get into the wilderness designation on the rivers – I think Craig has got a good bill – and designate the Snake River a wilderness river. I think that makes good sense. And I do think that part of Wyoming needs to be protected. By the same token, the development that we’re seeing over in Sublette County, around Pinedale and Big Piney, is a boon to the state. The Jonah Field is drawing off something like a $1 million a day in revenue for the state government. A lot of jobs connected with it, a lot of natural gas, which the nation needs.
But we just have to exercise judgment and use the authorities that are available to decide what areas we’re going to protect, and which ones are going to be developed. I think we’ve done a pretty good job. People in New York and San Francisco like to come tell us how to do our business, but –
NEWS&GUIDE: I just think it’s interesting for me that you’re starting to see the Rock Springs sportsmen come in to play because [of] the Wyoming patrimony, [the] hunting and fishing. ... And they’re really afraid to lose that. And that’s something I like to do with my kids, too.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Why do you think I have a home in Jackson Hole?
NEWS&GUIDE: We’ll stay on energy for a second – during [an April 30] news conference with the German chancellor, the president recognized that we had a problem with greenhouse gases, we have a problem with dependence on oil, and said technology could be one of the solutions to this. So what are your views on climate change? Have they shifted in recent years? And is this really an opportunity for the American people and American industry to address the problem?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I mean, climate change – there’s a growing debate here in Washington, obviously around the world, on the question of climate change. ... I can’t claim to have any special insight, obviously. I think there is evidence of global warming. I think it’s a big question about exactly what’s caused it, how much man has contributed to it, how much of it is part of a natural cycle, obviously.
The question that the president has responded to most frequently, and I think he’s basically right, is that part of the solution here is technology. He’s pushed hard to broaden our research into finding ways to use energy resources in a cleaner fashion. For example, we spend a lot of money on research into reducing pollutants connected with coal-fired plants, and find effective ways to build clean-burning coal-fired plants.
We’ve spent a lot of time and money on ethanol research and alternative fuels. We have called for an increase in the CAFE standards and a reduction in the percentage of gasoline – percentage reduction in the amount of gasoline that we use over the course of the next several years. So it’s a combination of things that move us in the direction of reduced dependence on foreign imports, but at the same time, make sure we’ve got adequate supplies of energy to run our economy and meet the needs of the American people, while we also try to do it in an environmentally responsible fashion.
And I think to some extent, a lot of this gets solved by technology, as we move forward and we find ways to satisfy all those requirements. You don’t get to choose. You don’t get to say, well, we’re going to just have a clean environment or, we’re just going to have plentiful supplies of energy. We need to be able to do both.