Cheney to GOP: ‘It would be a mistake for us to moderate’
Dick Cheney did an interview today with Scott Hennen, a North Dakota radio host, whose staff sent over a transcript (after the jump), defending the Bush administration and advising the Republican Party to stay with its roots.
“I think it would be a mistake for us to moderate,” Cheney said. “This is about fundamental beliefs and values and ideas … what the role of government should be in our society, and our commitment to the Constitution and constitutional principles. You know, when you add all those things up, the idea that we ought to moderate basically means we ought to fundamentally change our philosophy. I for one am not prepared to do that, and I think most of us aren’t. Most Republicans have a pretty good idea of values, and aren’t eager to have someone come along and say, ‘Well, the only way you can win is if you start to act more like a Democrat.'”
Cheney did, however, say it was probably time for his fellow Republicans to shove him off the stage.
“I think periodically we have to go through one these sessions. It helps clear away some of the underbrush … some of the older folks who’ve been around a long time — like yours truly — need to move on and make room for that young talent that’s coming along,” he said.
Cheney also defended the Bush administration’s national security policies, and advised President Obama to fight any effort to prosecute Bush officials.
He responded to a question about interrogation by saying harsh means were a last resort.
“That assumes that we didn’t try other ways, and in fact we did. We resorted, for example, to waterboarding, which is the source of much of the controversy … with only three individuals,” Cheney said. “In those cases, it was only after we’d gone through all the other steps of the process. The way the whole program was set up was very careful to use other methods and only to resort to the enhanced techniques in those special circumstances.”
Full transcript after the jump.
Hennen: Let’s talk a little bit about the state of the Republican Party these days. Arlen Specter obviously has created a big fuss with his defection over the last week. Does that surprise you?
Cheney: Not really. You know, we’d gone through the exercise here right after we got elected in 2000, and controlled the Senate just by virtue of my ability to cast a tie vote. It was 50-50, and then my vote gave us control of the Senate. They worked hard to switch Jeffords then — and they did — they promised him a committee chairmanship and so he went over to the other side and changed control of the Congress. I always had the feeling though that people looked at that and didn’t really like it. One of the things I thought it did was to build support for the Republican side in the next election in ’02, and we had an extraordinary outcome there where the Administration actually gained seats in the Senate in an off-year election (which almost never happens). So there are often times lasting consequences from these kinds of switches…and they’re not always positive from the side that receives the individual doing the switching.
Hennen: Some people are wringing their hands saying, “This is an example of why the party needs to change, to hear the message of Specter,” that, as Colin Powell said, the Republican Party needs to moderate. Do you think the Republican Party needs to moderate? Is that the message of the Specter defection, or the state of the party these days?
Cheney: No I don’t. I think it would be a mistake for us to moderate. This is about fundamental beliefs and values and ideas … what the role of government should be in our society, and our commitment to the Constitution and Constitutional principles. You know, when you add all those things up the idea that we ought to moderate basically means we ought to fundamentally change our philosophy. I for one am not prepared to do that, and I think most us aren’t. Most Republicans have a pretty good idea of values, and aren’t eager to have someone come along and say, “Well, the only way you can win is if you start to act more like a Democrat.” I really think we go through these cycles periodically Scott, and I’ve been through them before. I remember campaigning across the country with Gerald Ford in 1974 when I was his Chief of Staff. This was the Watergate Election, the first one since Nixon had to resign. It was a train wreck; I mean, we got blown away in every part of the country. In 1976 we lost the presidency. By 1980 Ronald Reagan was president, we’d had a major resurgence in the party and we’d captured control of the Senate, and obviously embarked upon the Reagan Era in American politics. So I think periodically we have to go through one these sessions. It helps clear away some of the underbrush…some of the older folks who’ve been around a long time (like yours truly) need to move on, and make room for that young talent that’s coming along. But I think it’s basically healthy. I don’t spend a lot of time or lose a lot of sleep over it. I just think now is the time for people who are committed to get out there and find candidates they like and go to work for them.
Hennen: Is the Obama administration helping the resurgence or the “renaissance” of the conservative cause by overreaching very early on?
Cheney: I think it will. I watch what he is doing, especially in the National Security area which is sort of my first interest. This whole question of detainees and interrogation of detainees and the Terrorist Surveillance Program and so forth, closing Guantanamo…I don’t think the vast majority of Americans support what he wants to do. I think in fact most Americans are pleased — when they think about it — that we were able to go nearly eight years without another major attack on the United States. They think we handled that pretty well. We were not a perfect administration (none ever is), but I think what we did in the counter-terrorist area was extremely effective. I think Obama needs to be careful because he appears to want to cancel out some of those most important policies. Then you get into this whole thing of closing Guantanamo and of course the bottom line there is “What are you going to do with all these terrorists that are in Guantanamo?”
Hennen: Do you believe the President, the Vice President, this current administration — really believes those things did not work and have not worked, or this is all political? Is this basically pandering to the far left?
Cheney: Well, I think what’s motivated them from the outset has been — as you say — trying to appeal to the far-left in their party. I think that was an issue for them in the primaries on the Democratic side during the last election. I think the situation is that if anybody (who obviously has to have clearances) takes a look at the record, they’ll find that we had significant success as a result of these policies. One way to nail that down is that there are two documents in particular that I personally have read and know about that are still classified in that National Archives. I’d ask that they be de-classified, I made that request over a month ago on March 31st. What those documents show is the success, especially of the interrogation program in terms of what it produced by way of intelligence that let us track down members of Al-Qaeda and disrupt their plans and plots to strike the United States. It’s all there in black and white. It is work that was done by the Central Intelligence Agency after several years of experience with these programs. It demonstrates conclusively the worth of those programs. As I say, I’ve asked the Administration to de-classify them and so far they have not.
Hennen: Yeah, they have selectively have released these memos (which is very interesting, given their past criticisms as well about politicizing intelligence) because clearly, that is what they are doing here. Now they have said, “the President was asked about this during the 100 Day Press Conference the other day, and he said that basically he had read the memos, and basically that he believes we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values and ways that were consistent with who we are.” What is your response to that?
Cheney: Well, I don’t believe that’s true. That assumes that we didn’t try other ways, and in fact we did. We resorted, for example, to waterboarding, which is the source of much of the controversy … with only three individuals. In those cases, it was only after we’d gone through all the other steps of the process. The way the whole program was set up was very careful, to use other methods and only to resort to the enhanced techniques in those special circumstances.
Hennen: Three individuals, right?
Cheney: In the waterboarding in particular — which has been the most controversial — was a total of three individuals. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed being the number one. Of course he was the guy who planned and carried out the attacks on 9/11, which killed 3,000 Americans.
Hennen: I’m sure this is driving the media crazy today, but a CNN story today suggests half the public in a new poll approves of the Bush administration decision to use those techniques during the questioning of suspected terrorists. It also indicates that most Americans don’t want to see an investigation of Bush Administration officials who authorized the interrogation techniques on these suspected terrorists. That can’t be doing the Obama folks any good, because they seem to kind of want to perpetuate this.
Cheney: Well, and they are especially sensitive to polls, I think. Just think about it for a minute: the idea that one administration is going to come in and take power — and then they’re going to turn around and prosecute, (or if not prosecute sanction, lawyers who gave advice that they disagreed with) — to their predecessors. I’ve never heard of such a thing. And talk about putting a wet blanket on anybody in government’s willingness to be bold in their recommendations and so forth. Just forget that. Anybody who sees that kind of thing happen is going to pull their head in and they’ll be reluctant to take responsibility for anything. They’ll be reluctant to recommend the kind of actions that were necessary to defend the country over the last eight years. I hear this talk that there is going to be some kind of foreign prosecution of our guys, and I think they ought to do everything they can to fight that.
Hennen: Our guest, former Vice President Dick Cheney on the Scott Hennen Show and The Common Sense Club today. By the way, there is an incredible double standard here in the media coverage. Is that frustrating to you at all? I look at the recent flap over the photo opportunity for Air Force One above New York City, and I imagine had that happened — not that it ever would — in the Bush administration, how the media would have hyperventilated over that forever! And it’s been forgotten. We’re led to believe somehow the President was mad about it. Is it possible for the White House Military Office now under a political appointee, different from your administration when it was a military officer that held that post, that the White House or some high-level staff didn’t know about that?
Cheney: I would assume that some senior staffer signed off on that. Especially a mission with, with in effect what is the backup for Air Force One, there are two of those planes, big 747’s. Either one can function as Air Force One anytime the President is on it. I used them a couple of times during our administration for special trips. You know, they don’t turn a wheel without a lot of people knowing about it and signing off and approving it. A pilot can’t just go out there and get on board and take it for a spin.
Hennen: These are the kind of things that I think worry people, that essentially you have an ”amateur hour” going on at the White House. There is a lot of angst amongst our audience, amongst our listeners about all of these things … about the apology tour that’s happening all across the world … what’s happening politicizing intelligence … all the way down to Air Force One. Are you worried?
Cheney: Well I think people need to be engaged and making their points as you know them, and talking to their members of Congress. For a while there was this talk out there that we ought to cut these guys some slack and that they shouldn’t be criticized in the early days of their administration. I haven’t spent a lot of time operating according to that proposition. The fact is that I think these are very important issues and it’s vital they be debated and I think they need to be held to account just like any other administration.
Hennen: One example, we got this reach out effort to Iran and these rogue dictators — Ahmadinejad and these individuals like that. We’ve got Roxana Saberi — happens to be a Fargo North grad, a Concordia College graduate — so she’s a hometown gal who’s been a journalist over there, imprisoned right now. The Administration, after all their touchy-feely reach out effort has said, “no success” on getting her released. It doesn’t work to talk nice to these guys does it?
Cheney: It doesn’t seem to.
Hennen: I also wanted to ask you about the economic situation a little bit. Do you look back at all and regret the waning days of the administration and following Hank Paulson’s lead on some of the bailouts that, (now as we look at them) do not seem to be performing in the way we’d hoped?
Cheney: Well I think the jury is still out on where the economy is going to go over the next year or two, but clearly those were some tough decisions. As somebody who’s got a conservative record as I do, and for example worked in the wage price control program back in the ’70s, and not exactly a fan of expanding the size and role of government in our society. What we ended up with that last year of the Bush Administration was a situation in which the experts were telling us that the financial system is near collapse, and that was very worrisome, because the ultimate responsibility for our financial institutions resides with the federal government. It’s been the role of the Federal Reserve Board, the Treasury, the FDIC, all of those regulatory bodies. If the financial system is broken, the government’s got to fix it. There isn’t anybody else that can do that. So that’s why I think a lot of us with a more conservative bent were willing to support or go along with the proposition that set up the programs that were used during the last few months we were in office — in effect to try and shore up the financial system — to get the credit markets working again and so forth. The thing I worry about is when that rationale is used in other parts of the economy that aren’t central to the functioning of our economy. If you’re in agriculture, you need access to financial institutions that work. If you’ve got a car dealership or you’re a babysitter or a homeowner — whatever it is — all of us rely on that financial system for whatever we’re doing. When we get over, for example, into the industrial side and automobiles, and the debate about the future of General Motors and Chrysler in particular, then I think government’s role there is different, and that you don’t automatically think that somehow the government needs to step in or should step in. Maybe Chapter 11 Bankruptcy is exactly the right response to restructure the company and make the changes that are needed so it becomes a viable enterprise … but government doesn’t need to be on that stand set to bail them out.
By Ben Smith 05:17 PM