GLOBAL ECONOMIC VIEWPOINT
This interview was conducted for Global Viewpont
QUESTION: What do you make of the tone in the issues that are emerging on the Democratic side?
DICK CHENEY: I think they're having trouble. They started out with an effort to try to use the economy against us (Republicans). They've spent a lot of time talking about the economy, but the American economy is looking pretty good. Things are currently moving in the right direction. With respect to foreign policy and national security, to some extent we've taken the wind out of their sails through the success we've enjoyed in Iraq, especially in recent weeks, wrapping up Saddam Hussein.
I sense there is sometimes a bigger debate inside the Democratic Party between those who supported the war and those who didn't than there is with us, the Republican side. There's not a unified Democratic position; it's a tougher issue for them to deal with.
Q: Do you think that America needs to be more aware of the continuing dangers of terrorism? Is there a danger in complacency?
CHENEY: There is clearly a danger of complacency. This is a conflict unlike any we've ever experienced before. By the same token, there's a fine line between being vigilant, remaining prepared to do everything you can to try to disrupt further terrorist attacks and not growing complacent on the one hand. On the other hand, a situation in which everybody is so scared all the time that they hunker down in their homes and the economy comes to a screeching halt (would mean that) the terrorists win without ever launching another attack.
It's a matter of not letting the terrorists prevail, either by actual attacks or with the threat of attack. But you do need to remain vigilant. We need to remember we are at war.
Q: Are there any lessons for you in the way the smallpox vaccine program ran into public opposition? Is that an example of where the public is less aware of the dangers than they ought to be?
CHENEY: Let me be careful here so I don't start another wave of concern out there about smallpox. People clearly were concerned about the side effects of the vaccine. There was a certain amount of complacency in terms of people not being willing to take it as seriously as we thought it should be taken. And so far we've been fortunate. Hopefully we will continue to be fortunate. It's to some extent the responsibility, though, of those of us in government to think about the what-ifs, to worry about the worst case, to look at the evidence that's out there and connect the dots.
The government was criticized generally prior to 9/11 for, "you didn't connect the dots." I think we did, but that charge is made. Here you're in a situation where you clearly want to make certain that you take all the intelligence available, you look at the capabilities of your adversaries, you draw reasonable conclusions, and you act on those conclusions. And that's what we did with respect to smallpox.
Our focus was to try to get enough people in the medical community, first responders, inoculated, so that if we did get hit, we could move aggressively to implement a national immunization program. We're better off now than we were before we started, but clearly we fell short of what we had originally anticipated, in terms of the numbers of people we would like to have seen inoculated.
Q: On the point of connecting the dots, you've been criticized for connecting Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda and creating a perception of a link in the public mind. Can a danger be real, even before it is demonstrable to the public? Are there times the dots need to be connected?
CHENEY: There are clearly circumstances -- I'm trying to avoid sounding like (Secretary of State Donald) Rumsfeld with his "known knowns, and unknown unknowns" (laughter) -- where that is necessary.
You start with the threat that's clearly there. You know it's there, we had the attacks of 9/11. You work the intelligence, to the best of your ability, to try to anticipate what the enemy is going to do or what they're up to or what their capabilities are. You have to also assume, to some extent, that you probably don't have complete knowledge. You almost never do when you're dealing in the intelligence area, especially when you're dealing in the world of international terrorist conspiracies.
So there's a certain amount of judgment that's involved, more than anything else. People want to go back and look at the intelligence, for example, in connection with Iraq. They want to evaluate it in terms of, "Did you have a case that would stand up in court, is it beyond a shadow of a doubt?" Well, intelligence is almost never beyond a shadow of a doubt. It's a matter of professionals collecting as much data as possible, analyzing it and drawing conclusions from it and making recommendations that policymakers can act on.
But it's never perfect, it's rarely 100 percent complete.
You have to make judgments. What you can't do -- what is irresponsible -- is to err on the side of being complacent, of not thinking about the worst case.
Q: You have also talked about the assertive promotion of democracy throughout the world and taking the fight to the enemy. What should we infer from that about where we're headed in Syria, Iran and North Korea?
CHENEY: I wouldn't assume that you're going to deal with every problem exactly the same way you dealt with the last one. Libya turned out to be a problem on its way to resolution, in part directly traceable to the actions that the president took with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan. North Korea we're working diplomatically. We've got the Chinese engaged, and the Japanese, South Koreans and the Russians signed on as well.
Iran's being handled by different means. There the Europeans have taken on a significant role. The Iranians also appear to be listening, to some extent (to American action in Iraq). So we're seeing some progress and willingness to accept inspections that they did not accept before.
I don't think there's a cookie mold here, saying, well, this is the way, because we dealt with Iraq this way, this is the way you're going to deal with the other problems that are out there. To some extent if you do, in fact, use military force, as we did in Iraq, it makes your diplomacy more effective going forward, dealing with other problems.
Q: Are there military applications that could be a part of President Bush's just-announced space program? And is that a reason to go forward with this aggressive new program?
CHENEY: I assume there are military applications, but it would be a mistake to put that front and center in terms of our thinking on this. I think that the space program has been a magnificent achievement for our society. The potential that's there in terms of how we meet those challenges, how we solve problems we wouldn't otherwise address, to some extent what it means for the human spirit, in terms of what we're able to do as a people -- all those things go beyond military applications or military uses.
Q: Was the decision to offer the post of Treasury Secretary to Paul O'Neill Dick Cheney's biggest mistake?
CHENEY: Well, I clearly, strongly supported Paul for the post. The president made the decision, but Paul came highly recommended from a number of quarters. And I was a big advocate of his, without question. And it's turned out to be a big disappointment. It's too bad. I wish it hadn't turned out that way. I like Paul, I've known him for 30 years. We were friends. The relationship is a little strained now, partly because I also had to give him the word that his services were no longer needed.
It's one of those things that happens periodically: You put a round peg in a square hole, and it didn't work. I think the president deserves credit, one, for trying in the first place; second, once it was clear it wasn't going to work, for stepping up to making the decision that it was time for a change and moving on.
Why it failed? I don't know. I don't want to get into that. Paul has had his say. I disagree with his analysis obviously. But he's had his day. I feel bad for him, to some extent, that he has ended his career on this note. That's his choice.
Q: What's your hunch on whether or not weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq?
CHENEY: I think the jury is still out. The National Intelligence Estimate (about the presence of WMD in Iraq) was based upon on years of reporting. It was pretty consistent with what the Clinton administration had.
We know he (Saddam Hussein) did, in fact, have them in the past because he used them. And I think that we've got a lot of people over there now trying to find what happened to them. We need to think in terms of capabilities, the capacity, for example, on short notice to produce biological weapons. The stuff is perishable and doesn't last very long anyway.
It is important to run all of that to ground at some point to have a baseline out there against which we can measure our intelligence judgments, because that will make us more effective the next time we're faced with one of these situations. So we want to find out exactly what happened as well. But I am a long way at this stage from concluding that there was some fundamental flaw in our intelligence.
If I look back at the Gulf War '90 and '91, the problem then was that we missed some important capabilities. We underestimated, for example, how far he had gotten that time around with his nuclear weapons capabilities. He had a much more robust program than we knew about, and we didn't find that out till after the '91 Gulf War was over with.
There's still a lot of work to be done before we'll be able to sit down and make a final definitive judgment on, we got it right here, or we missed it over here.
Q: When you say that you're a long way from being convinced that there was a fundamental flaw in our intelligence, some of your critics say that you were dissatisfied with the intelligence in the run-up to the war. You've been accused of circumventing the standard intelligence reporting to "stovepipe" secondary intelligence to you. Are you saying you have been satisfied with (ital) all (unital) the intelligence?
CHENEY: The allegation that somehow we stovepiped intelligence just isn't true. What I have relied upon is a six-page summary of findings by the intelligence community, from the National Intelligence Estimate, that we declassified last July. If you look at my public statements on WMD, they track almost perfectly with what was in the NIE. I didn't go out and scarf up some piece of intelligence over here from some Iraqi defector and make that front and center in terms of my arguments. My arguments were based on what we were getting from the intelligence community. And I think that's an important point to make.
In terms of how I operated with the community, I did aggressively ask questions. I saw that as part of my job. I had been involved in one way or another as a consumer of intelligence, or as a member of the Oversight Committee in the Congress, or as secretary of Defense, where I actually ran part of it (the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency) over the years, to my time now as vice president. One of the keys to having the whole system work is managing that relationship between the intelligence community on the one hand and the policymaker on the other.
The intelligence community can have the best intelligence in the world, the finest collection, the best analysis. And if nobody in the White House ever hears about it, it's absolutely worthless. By the same token, if the intelligence community is going to advise the president of the United States, who is going to make life-or-death decisions based on what they produce, they've got to expect that they have to defend their analysis. They've got to be able to withstand the kind of questioning that goes with a good interchange. It's got to be a two-way street. You've got to be able to say to the analysts, "Well, wait a minute, why did you conclude that? What are your underlying assumptions?"
And I do a lot of that. I see that very much as part of my job. You don't simply take what the community produces and say, oh, okay, this is gospel. It's rarely gospel.
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