December 07, 2015

Vice President Dick Cheney On San Bernardino, Obama’s Foreign Policy, And Setting History Straight

Click here to listen to the full interview. The transcript is below.

HH: I want to talk about America’s preparedness, and there’s no better person, and really, no better person in the world to do that with than the former Vice President of the United States, the Honorable Dick Cheney, who joins me in my Colorado Christian University studio, the author, along with Liz Cheney, of the brand new book, Exceptional. Mr. Vice President, it’s good to see you again. Welcome.

DC: It’s good to see you, Hugh. Good to be back in Colorado.

HH: I was amazed that you brought Nelson with you, your golden retriever. I’m very pleased to have welcomed Nelson to the studio.

DC: Yellow lab.

HH: Yellow lab.

DC: Yeah, he takes that…

HH: I’m sorry about that. I didn’t realize that it was a yellow lab. We’re having trouble with your microphone there, somehow. You might have to get closer to it a little bit.

DC: How’s this?

HH: That’s on. I can hear that. So why is he named Nelson? Is that for the former Vice President?

DC: I bought him from a breeder who was a Brit, and she was fond of Lord Nelson, his role at Trafalgar, and he was about a year old, and we didn’t want to confuse him by changing his name. It’s not a name I would have ever picked, but you know, he’s eight years old now, and he responds to it well.

HH: You know, I’ve got a lot of serious stuff to cover with you, but since I just finished talking to Jon Meacham about his book on 41…

DC: Oh, yeah.

HH: …in which you figure prominently, obviously. The relationship between Dick Cheney and Nelson Rockefeller was a complicated one.

DC: You could say that.

HH: What was it, how would you characterize it?

DC: Well, what happened was my job was as chief of staff, to make the cars run on time and so forth, and Nelson Rockefeller of course came down and was picked to replace Ford after Ford moved up to the presidency. But he had a whole different style of operation. And he was a big program, big government man, and we had a policy in place because of our economic situation, inflation and so forth, of no new starts. That was basically the guideline that everybody had been given in the administration. Well, he would show up for his weekly meeting with the President once a week, and he’d had a new start, you know, some monster energy program or whatever it might be. And he was a very creative kind of a guy, but he’d keep cranking this stuff up. And after they’d had their lunch, the President would call me in and he’d hand me the package, and he’d say well, what do we do with this? And I said, well, we’ll staff it out, Mr. President. That meant we’ll send it around the circuit, go to budget and Justice and all the agencies, and the answer always came back the same. This is inconsistent with our basic fundamental policy. And he pretty well figured out fairly soon that I was the enemy, and it wasn’t personal. I just, that’s what we had to do to stay consistent with our policy. He once told the President, I heard, that this is after he had gotten off the ticket in ’76, supposedly said the only way he would serve another term as vice president would be if he could also be White House chief of staff.

HH: (laughing) You know, I read the book by Richard Norton Smith about Rocky called On His Own Terms. It’s a magnificent book. But he did come across as being not really in step with the Republican Party even of then, much less now.

DC: Right. No, he was, well, he’d had to look at him. He was a fascinating guy, a great history. I just fundamentally disagreed with him, but it wasn’t my view that was prevailing here. This was a policy the President had established. My job was to carry out the policy.

HH: Now Mr. Vice President, let’s turn to the important stuff. Last night, President Obama gave a speech. I want to play for you some of the clips from that speech so that you can respond to it. This is the first one in which he credits the rise of ISIL basically to the Bush/Cheney years. Let’s listen to cut number one.

BO: And as groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war on Iraq and then Syria, and as the internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers.

HH: So the groups like ISIL grew in the chaos of Afghanistan, Mr. Vice President, what do you think of that?

DC: Well, that’s not what happened. He modified the history several times over. What basically happened, of course, was we had a major battle underway in Iraq. And that, at that point, we were dealing with al Qaeda in Iraq. You may remember Abu Musab al-Zarqasi. He was the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. And for quite a while there while we were in Iraq, that was the centerpiece where we were doing battle with al Qaeda on a global basis, more than Afghanistan. This was along in ’05. I think we killed Zarqawi in June of ’06. And what we’d done with the surge, which you remember the President announced in early ’07, we got the Saudis committed to, and Anbar Province, were all working with us. We had a bipartisan or a coalition government in Baghdad. And by the time we got to ’08, al Qaeda had been defeated in Iraq, most of them run out or gone. Their leader was dead, and things were in good shape in Iraq. What happened later on, then, was we had an arrangement for a stay behind force with the Iraqis that had to be negotiated, that they wanted it. And then after we left office, about three years later, Obama pulled the plug and pulled everybody all. All U.S. forces left, not trainers, no stay behind force, and you ended up with a vacuum there. And what was left, obviously, was a situation which Maliki, for example, arrested his deputy prime minister who had been Sunni. He asserted his prerogatives as the prime minister to discriminate against the Sunni and to benefit the Shiia. They purged the Iraqi military of a lot of its leadership who were Sunni, and the bottom line result was ultimately, ISIS moved in from Syria where some of them had fled when they were still al Qaeda, fled and came into Iraq, and you ended up with a caliphate established, which was a huge move forward for the terrorists. And it’s the big problem we’ve got today. But it was all, you can trace it back to what happened when Obama came in, and then after we left office when he pulled the plug and removed all U.S. military operations or connections or training of any kind in Iraq.

HH: Now Mr. Vice President, I want to come back to Maliki, but I’ve got to ask you a hypothetical, and hypotheticals are always dangerous, but we had Paris two weeks ago, we had San Bernardino last week. If there had been an extension of the status of forces agreement, do you believe either of those events would have been less likely, if not impossible to happen, because there would have been no caliphate?

DC: There would have been no caliphate, and the caliphate has become crucial. When we left office, al Qaeda was still in business, but they’d been driven out of Iraq. Their leader in Iraq had been killed, et cetera, and we had a situation that was far more stable. I just got through reading a piece, Steve Hayes has done a masterful piece, we’ll talk about it later if you want, on Obama’s foreign policy and so forth. But one of the keys in there is that by the end of ’08, the situation in Iraq was stable. When it became unstable is when the, when we left and when we ended up with ISIS moving back in, many of them led, for example, by former al Qaeda members.

HH: Do you think stability can be returned absent American ground troops in significant forces?

DC: I don’t think you can restore stability in the region, and I don’t think you can defeat ISIS until you shut down the caliphate. I think as long as they have the caliphate, it’s very important to understand what it’s all about. It’s not only a secure base from which they can train and launch attacks just as Afghanistan was the pad from which the 9/11 attack was launched by bin Laden. And I think looking at what’s happening now with not just ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the caliphate, but they’re now spread to much broader areas. You’ve got Boko Haram in Nigeria identifies with ISIS. You’ve got ISIS attacks in Paris. You’ve got ISIS attacks in San Bernardino. They’re a global threat now, far bigger than al Qaeda ever was by itself. And the base of operations where they recruit and where they bring people from all over the world into train, like the woman who was involved in San Bernardino, she’s from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia. She has been trained, obviously, before she came here, and has pledged her loyalty to ISIS. So it’s a mushrooming problem, and at heart, I think you have to go back, ultimately, and if you’re going to be successful in ultimately defeating ISIS, and destroy ISIS, which I think has to be your objective, you’re going to have to shut down the caliphate.

HH: Were you and President Bush clear-eyed about what would happen if ISIS or then, as it was only known, al Qaeda, ISIS has got its divisions with al Qaeda, obviously, but radical Islamist ideology, were you clear-eyed about what would happen if it were not cornered and killed?

DC: Well, we thought we had a pretty good situation by the time we got through our time in office, that is to say when you look at the ’08 timeframe. At that point, Syria, there was no ISIS, it hadn’t been established, yet. Ultimately, it was a spin-off from al Qaeda, obviously, but I think we’d made significant progress. I think after we left office, and began to withdraw, when the U.S. pulled out of Iraq, one of the big things that happened was that was a terrible signal to the Sunnis. Remember, the Sunnis, Anbar Province, is their home turf. They’d governed Iraq originally by themselves, and then the Shiia had taken over after we got rid of Saddam. And there was a natural Shiia-Sunni conflict there that was pretty well capped while we were there. And the Sunni tribes came to us once we announced the surge, they took the President at his word that he was serious about winning that war, and they signed up. And they did a hell of a job in Anbar Province fighting alongside our guys, et cetera. All of that went by the boards when we saw that vacuum appear and that notion that the U.S. was pulling out of the region was an invitation to radical Islamists to move aggressively…

HH: To return. I’ll be right back with the former Vice President, Dick Cheney.

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HH: Before I go back to the book, though, I’ve got to ask you, you’ve been busted.

DC: (laughing) Yeah, that’s true. It just happened.

HH: Just happened. Tell people, now that got some people’s eyebrows up. Tell people what we mean.

DC: Well, what happens in the Senate, of course, the Vice President has a second job. He is the president of the Senate. So you’re the only person who has a position both, you know, what is it, Article I and Article II in the Constitution, and that you’re the vice president in the executive branch, but you’re also on the legislative side. You’re there as the president of the Senate. And the tradition has developed over the years, I think starting back in about 1880, that when you retire, that they will create a bust, just you know, from your shoulders up, and all those busts from prior vice presidents are on display if you look carefully around the Senate chamber, both in the gallery and then down on the main floor. And my bust, which was unveiled last Thursday, will now reside in the hallway between the House and the Senate right next to the Senate majority leader’s office.

HH: Now is it because of the, between the House and the Senate because you were also a member of the House for a long time?

DC: Well, that’s an interesting story. I haven’t talked about it recently, but when I was a newly-elected vice president, I was visited by the House Speaker, and by the chairman of the Ways And Means Committee. And they came into me, they were old friends I’d known and worked with, came to me and said look, Dick, we know you’re going to the president of the Senate and you’re going to have an office on the Senate side of the Capitol. But we think of you as a man of the House. I’d served there for ten years, was the whip when I left. We think of you as a man of the House, and we want you to have an office on the House side of the Capitol as well, too, so I was the first vice president in history to have offices on both the Senate and on the House side of the Capitol.

HH: How interesting. Now what do you make, since we’re a little off topic, but we have a new Speaker of the House, and you observed a few of them in your time not only in the House, but as vice president and secretary of Defense. What do you make of Mr. Ryan, who also aspired at one point to have your office of vice president?

DC: Yeah, well, he got to be speaker, and I got the bust.

HH: (laughing)

DC: So I think he may have gotten the best end of the deal, but no, Paul’s a great guy. I’ve known him quite a while. He’s been, really, a first-rate member in the House, been there for several years now, of course, was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, still a young man. He’s very bright, very tough and hard-nosed, totally trustworthy, always keeps his word. If I had had to go through the entire House of Representatives and designate a Speaker out of that group, I’d look first to Paul Ryan.

HH: And before I turn back to security, I’ve got to ask, the last time I saw you in studio was when you had done your book, Heart. And you were carrying around a heart pump with you…

DC: Right.

HH: …when you came in, and now you have a new, you look terrific.

DC: Than you.

HH: How do you feel? And how is your health?

DC: I feel great. I did a heart transplant it would be four years ago March, and it’s just been flawless. It’s absolutely worked without any problem. There’s never been a single sign of rejection. I feel like it did, you know, 20 years ago. I’ve lived with heart disease ever since my first heart attack when I was 37 in 1978.

HH: I recommend Heart, the book that you co-authored, again and again to anyone who has heart disease in their family, because it is the technology written for a layman, a terrific book. Let’s go back. It’s December the 7th. It’s Pearl Harbor Day. A lot of people out there, we salute you, we’ll have a Pearl Harbor veteran with us tonight when we do our Q&A about national security. Do you think we’re facing another one like 9/11, like December 7?

DC: Unfortunately, I think so, Hugh. And I mean, if you just look at the progression of what’s happened over the years, 9/11 was a unique experience for us. We’d had terrorist attacks before that – Khobar Towers, the first attack on the World Trade Center in New York, et cetera. But they’d been all treated as law enforcement problems. You’d send out the FBI to find the bad guys, you try them and throw them in the slammer down here at Super Max when you could find them. But 9/11 was different. It was different, because it was an act of war. It was worse than Pearl Harbor in the sense that you had more people killed, 3,000 Americans, took down the World Trade Center. It’s in the heart of New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. And it was a fundamental sea change in terms of the nature of the threat we faced. And of course, I think we’ve seen now over the last 18 years, well, I guess 14 years, that the situation is once again dire. I think of our security threat today as greater than it was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. We learned a lot from 9/11, but one of the key decisions the President and I made was to treat it as an act of war, and therefore, you’re justified in using all the means at your disposal in order to be able to defeat the enemy. You’ve got to find out who did it and bring them to justice, and to prevent that next attack. And that led us to put in place a number of tough measures – the terrorist surveillance program, for example, that Congress changed recently, unfortunately, the enhanced interrogation program that we pursued. We did those things in order to make sure we could uncover any future attacks, and in fact, those programs helped us get to the point where we could get bin Laden, for example. It fed very much into that. And we kept the country safe for the next seven and a half years. There were no more mass casualty attacks like we had on 9/11. But one of the things that Obama brought to the office is he’s dismantled all of that. Congress, unfortunately, just last summer, voted to strip the NSA of its ability to maintain the data we’d been collecting on phone calls. And it’s important for people to understand there’s not a single exception that I know of where an American citizen had any violation of their civil liberties by that program. It was set up so that the phone records, which are deemed by the court to be business records, don’t belong to individuals. They belong to the companies, but that the phone records could be kept, and we could identify number contact to contact. You could not go in and get the content on the phone, couldn’t listen to what’s being said, without going to get a warrant. It was super safe, and with all the hoopla about it, has never yet been proven that there are any exceptions there. So it’s a very important program. It gave us, if we’d had it in place on 9/11, we would have been able to intercept communications with the two hijackers in San Diego who ultimately were on the plane that went into the Pentagon. We weren’t able to do that, and we saw what happened from it. But now, Congress, and I think unfortunately, a lot of my Republican friends went along with it as well, Congress has now said the NSA can no longer maintain those records. They can’t use any of them. We’re now in a situation where in this search in San Bernardino, trying to find the information and intelligence on the couple that committed the murders, we can’t go back into that database and see what may be there by way of communications between them in San Bernardino and California, and potential allies or associates in ISIS.

HH: And if I understand correctly, it’s not just that they have to go to the phone companies to get the records. They can only go back two years now, not five years.

DC: Correct, and the phone companies don’t have any requirements on them. They can get rid of them whenever they want. It’s a real tragedy, and it’s wrong. I think people got carried away. You had things like the IRS problem, where there is a problem, where people were in fact being persecuted unjustly. But about that same time when the NSA broke, everybody thinks we’re out there now listening to Joe talking to Charlotte over the telephone, and we’re not. We don’t do that unless there’s reason to believe we do. If you find a number, if we found a number that was identified, say, with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed overseas, known leader of al Qaeda, we could go and get that and listen to it. But you can’t do it now.

HH: I’ll be back with the former Vice President of the United States.

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HH: Mr. Vice President, before I turn to other things, there are a lot of proposals about refugees out there, about Syrian refugees. Donald Trump has said no Muslims whatsoever. A lot of people on the scale in between. What do you think ought to be the American policy towards welcoming people from that part of the world, which is predominantly Muslim right now?

DC: Well, I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from. A lot of people, my ancestors got here, because they were Puritans. There wasn’t anybody here then when they came, but it’s a mistaken notion. It’s a serious problem, this refugee problem is. It’s a serious problem to make certain that the people coming in don’t represent ISIS. You’ve got to set up a vetting process. And that’s crucial, but I think the way you’ve got to begin to deal with that problem is to go back and look at why they’re here. and they’re here because of what’s going on in the Middle East. And what’s going on in the Middle East is the result of a U.S. vacuum. It’s the result of the rise of ISIS, civil war in Syria. I’ve heard proposals that I think make sense that we ought to establish safety zones, if you will, in the northern part of Syria where you’ve got them secured, you’ve got sufficient forces, hopefully of locals that would be there to protect, the area, but that’s where people who are fleeing the terrible tragedy that’s going on inside the caliphate, a place where they could reside. But it also takes the pressure, then, off of the refugee flow, the move to Europe of thousands of refugees and the move here to the United States. I think that makes a lot more sense than what’s happening now.

HH: Now Mr. Vice President, you know most of these regional rulers. King Hussein, obviously, I don’t know if you know King Salman…

DC: I do.

HH: And in Jordan, King Salman in Saudi Arabia, and I don’t know if you knew Sisi when he was a general, but you obviously knew Mubarak. Who ought we to be building our policy on? Who are our reliable people over there, other than Netanyahu and the Israelis of course?

DC: I’ve been very impressed with President Sisi. I met him when he was still a general. One of our trips, Liz and I were over there, and this was shortly before he took over as president. He’d been elected, or was going to be elected president. I was very impressed, a first-rate military man, and I’ve watched what he’s done. The Egyptians have a serious problem. They’ve got their own insurgency problem there. You’ve had ISIS operating over there killing Egyptians in Libya. You’ve still got ongoing conflicts in the Sanai, both the Israelis and the Egyptians working together to try to clean that out. But I like him, because he had the political courage to go to the Muslim university there in Egypt, one of the most important institutions of Islamic thinking in the world, and basically delivered a fairly firm lecture on you guys have got to clean your act up. That was the kind of thing where…

HH: Cairo on New Year’s Day, I believe.

DC: Yeah.

HH: It was in Cairo on New Year’s Day.

DC: It was a very impressive performance. That’s what we need more of, is people from the Muslim world who are prepared to stand up and defend their faith against the radicals who have tried to take it over.

HH: Now Pakistan is one of those on the edge with this enormous insurgency. What do you think is, what ought the Republicans to be saying about Pakistan? This killer in San Bernardino began in Pakistan, and may have been radicalized there and then gone to Saudi Arabia? We don’t know anything about this, yet. They could be running date-a-terrorist services and trying to match up black widows with people. We don’t know, but what happens if Pakistan becomes unstable? What do we do?

DC: Well, it’s a key question. And you’ve got to look at some more of that history. Remember the madrassas. These are religious schools that promote, if you will, a radical view of Islam, schools for educating young Pakistanis that have been operating there now for many, many years. You’ve also go in Pakistan significant inventory of nuclear weapons. The Paks developed that capability some years ago, primarily because the Indians had it. But they’ve also been the source of a lot of potential problems, proliferation, if you will. A.Q. Khan, the man who provided nuclear materials, centrifuges, weapons design, uranium and so forth to Libya, is from Pakistan. He’s the father of the Pakistan nuclear program. If you go back and look at the history books, you’ll find that 1987, in a hotel in Abu Dhabi, A.Q. Khan’s associate provided to the Iranians their very first information on ten centrifuges for enriching uranium, got them for $3 million dollars. So Pakistan has been a source of some of the problems we’ve got over there now. When we were there, Musharraf was prime minster, president. I liked him, I dealt with him and worked with him, but of course, he was run off eventually. He’s no longer anywhere near there, but there’s a great danger of potential instability in Pakistan. And one of the reasons we need to stay in Afghanistan instead of get out the way Obama wants to is we need to keep an eye on that inventory of nuclear weapons.

HH: Very closely. I’ll be right back with Vice President Cheney.

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HH: On Page 225, Mr. Vice President, you write, “In the 70 years since World War II,” this is appropriate given that it’s Pearl Harbor Day, “no American president has done more damage to our nation’s defenses than Barack Obama. His determination to cut defense spending and reduce the size of the U.S. military has served two of his fundamental objectives. He came to office determined to increase domestic spending and cutting defense spending was a way of getting the resources to do it.” How underfunded are we right now, Mr. Vice President?

DC: I think it’s really bad, Hugh. If you look at statements, we just had a change in the chiefs. They rotate every four years. Ray Odierno, Army Chief of Staff, shortly before he left, said that the readiness level of the United States Army today is at its lowest level in history. That’s 200 years. That’s its ability to pick up tomorrow and go to war. And…

HH: Wow, I missed that.

DC: Yeah, well, this was testimony before the Congress shortly before he left, a few months ago. The Air Force today is flying with a smaller inventory of older aircraft than at any time since it was set up in the late 1940s. So if you go down the line and look at what’s actually happening, it’s devastating. And it’s devastating on an all-volunteer force. They’re fantastic men and women that serve us. Pearl Harbor is a great reminder of all that they’ve done for us. They’ve been crucial to our success as the world’s foremost power during World War II and since. But what Obama’s done is devastating. You see, we used to have a technical edge over everybody, over the Chinese, over the Russians, and so forth. We had stealth first. We had precision-guided munitions first. The Chinese are closing that gap. And we get into the whole area of cyberwarfare now. We’re not out there all by ourselves with a significant lead. We’re having to go head to head with others who are acquiring that capability. The Chinese now have a ballistic missile that’ll take out a carrier. It’s not nuclear. We’ve seen the Chinese move into the South China Sea and build bases on sandbars down there, and exert their authority that way. We watch what Putin’s doing. You know, Putin’s in Ukraine, he threatens the Baltics. He’s now back in the Middle East in Syria. And all of those things send a terrible signal to our adversaries, and it encourages them, obviously, they don’t take us seriously, and to our allies, you know, a lot of people around the world, the Japanese in the Far East, and all of our friends in the Middle East, Europe. We’ve got a situation now where there’s talk about NATO, and NATO, what will we do if in fact Saddam or excuse me, Putin, moves on the Baltics. Article 5 of the treaty required us to come to their defense, the same thing for Turkey. If we don’t do that, that would tube NATO. There’s no way that NATO can exist without that. But…

HH: Two questions…

DC: NATO gets 75% of its funding comes from us.

HH: Wow. Two questions related to that. If the Center For a New American Security put out a study called Retreat Beyond Range by Captain Jerry Hendricks saying carriers are just too damned vulnerable now. You just mentioned that carrier killer by China. Is the carrier the battleship of the modern era. Mr. Vice President?

DC: No. I think it’s far better. I think it’s the carrier of the modern era. It’s now what the battleships were in World War II. I’ve toured the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford. That’s the next one coming down the waves. I was there when we christened it. I got to call the President and tell him that that had gotten through Congress, that that carrier was going to be named after him. This is a dramatic new technology in many respects. It’s not like old carriers. They’ve cut the workforce onboard significantly. They’ve been able to increase the number of sorties we’ll be able to do by 30-40% during the course of a day. We’ve got electromagnetic launchers now. No more of this old steam catapult stuff. You’ve got magnets that are set up in two rows with a plate that hooks up to the nose of the aircraft and it accelerator down between those batteries. But it’s all electromagnetic. They get the motion out of, work out of it by rapidly reversing the polarity on the batteries. So it’ll go from a standing start to 160 knots by the time it’s coming off the end of the carrier. We’ve got the potential to deploy directed energy weapons, things like that. So it’s a dramatically new piece of equipment. We’re going to build, this is not just one ship. It’s going to be the class, like there was the Nimitz class. Now, there’s going to be the Ford class. And, but that’s the kind of thing we need to be doing, and our capacity to defend against future threats and so forth…

HH: So carriers are here to stay in Dick Cheney’s world?

DC: In my world, they definitely are. Just think about how many places around the world we can use them, what they mean today.

HH: Yeah.

DC: We have to make certain that we can protect them, but we can do that.

HH: Second question has to do with Putin. I’ve asked you about him before. You said you always looked in his eyes and saw a KGB colonel. But if, he’s been very, very aggressive.

DC: Yeah.

HH: If he shoots down an F-18 off of a carrier, or an A-10 out of Turkey, what ought the president of the United States do in response, whether he says it’s accidental or not?

DC: Oh, I think you’ve got to be firmer than that. You’ve got to have, I’d have some stuff in the can ready to go. You can, there are a lot of things we could do. I don’t think he wants to mess with one of our carriers at this point. He’s got one. It’s marginal.

HH: But I mean, over the no-fly zone in Syria, if we enforced…

DC: If you’re going to set up, you’d better enforce whatever you set up. If you’re going to set up a no-fly zone, you absolutely have to be prepared to back it up.

HH: Even if it’s a Russian jet?

DC: Even if it’s a Russian jet.

HH: Now Mr. Vice President, in terms of, I don’t know if you read Ted Koppel’s book, Lights Out. It’s about cyberwarfare. It’s eye-opening. He’s probably an old friend of yours. Do you think we have been penetrated already to the point that they can lights out our grid if they want?

DC: Well, I don’t know. You know, I haven’t been in the loop on all the highly-classified stuff since I left office, but it’s a thing we’ve certainly got to be concerned about. And we’re good. We’ve got to be better than everybody else. And we need to be able to defend ourselves. I think we’re pretty good in terms of our national security interests. One of the things I worry about with the grid is part of it is not protected. It’s the part that’s public. It’s the part that’s on a private sector, if you will, out there. There’s always been a concern about trying to have the government involved in protecting private sector grid. Private sector isn’t all that interested in having the government in their knickers. So there’s always been a little bit of competition there. But I think we have to be concerned about exactly that kind of threat.

HH: You’re an old lineman, right?

DC: Built a lot of power line and transmission line in my day.

HH: And so that is out there. Anyone can mess with it. They messed with one of the power stations outside of, up in the Bay Area.

DC: Yeah.

HH: And it’s worrisome.

DC: I remember that attack. But the thing you’ve got to think about with the electromagnetic pulse is another…

HH: EMP’s, yeah.

DC: It’s like a solar flare. And we once had a solar flare hit the Earth. It was in 1859 in Canada. And of course, there weren’t any electronics in those days except telegraph, I suppose. But now, it would do devastation to us. And when you get into the cyber area, if you shut down the grid, you’ve done enormous damage to the United States.

HH: One more short segment with the Vice President, America.

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HH: I’ve saved all my Iranian deal questions for the live audience tonight, Mr. Vice President, but I want to go back to the great what if of history, which is 1991, the 100 hour war, the road to Baghdad is littered with dead Iranians and tanks and things like that, and the war is called off. You’re the SecDef. Colin Powell’s the chief of staff, and the President and Vice President say go no further. Was that a mistake?

DC: I don’t think so. At the time, there wasn’t anybody who was advocating go further. You’ve got to remember what the circumstances were. We’d put together a coalition of 30-some nations. The Syrians even sent forces to fight on our side. And we had gotten permission from the Congress, tight vote in the Senate. We didn’t need their permission, but we’d asked for it and they approved it, approval from the United Nations, and everybody had signed up to a particular mission. The mission was to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. We were concerned if we went all the way then and started taking down governments, as we ultimately did with Iraq, but if we’d done it then, you’d blow up the coalition. A lot of friends, Arab friends who’d signed on, would leave. And the other thing that was crucial, and I mean, it was a great operation. It achieved our objective. We did the job, and then we went home. That’s exactly what I promised the king of Saudi Arabia when I went and persuaded him to take our forces and let us operate out of Saudi Arabia, that we’d bring enough force to do the job and when it’s over, we’ll leave.

HH: Last question in terms of Assad. You just mentioned he sent forces, or his father sent forces in ’91.

DC: His father did.

HH: Does he have to go?

DC: I think so.

HH: Bashar?

DC: I think so, but the question, of course, is what’s going to happen as long as Barack Obama is president? And I’m fearful the answer is not much.

HH: And we’re literally with one minute, can the President in 14 months do any more damage than he’s already done?

DC: Oh, yeah. Yeah, he absolutely can. Look at what he did with the Iranian deal. You know, and he didn’t, it should be a treaty. It wasn’t a treaty. It should have gone to the Senate for approval. It just was a total, I think, abuse of his authority, and he’s done enormous damage, and he did it in relatively short order.

HH: So looking ahead 13 months, the Senate and the House, I assume, have the biggest check here. They’ve got to fund up Defense. They’ve got to be vigilant?

DC: Right. That’s got to be your number one priority is to get the military back in shape, because of what that does to our relationships with everybody else, but also our capacity to deal with a growing threat out there.

HH: Mr. Vice President, always a pleasure, thank you for bringing Nelson in as well, and he’s been very, very comfortable throughout the hour, by the way.

DC: He has. He likes your floor.

HH: He likes, he’s a radio dog.

DC: Yeah.

HH: He’s obviously encharmed with that, and have a wonderful holiday. Say hello to Mrs. Cheney as well.

End of interview.


  • Jerry Hendrix

    Former Senior Fellow and Director, Defense Program

    Jerry Hendrix was the Senior Fellow and the Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security. A retired Captain in the United States Navy, his staff ...