Full Interview: Dick Cheney on Iraq

The following is ABC News' Martha Raddatz's interview with Vice President Dick Cheney in Ankara, Turkey on March 24, 2008.

ABC NEWS' MARTHA RADDATZ: Mr. Vice President, I want to start with the milestone today of 4,000 dead in Iraq -- Americans -- and just what affect you think that has on the country. Your thoughts on that?

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Well, it's obviously, brings home for a lot of people the cost that's involved, the global war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Um, it places a special burden, obviously, on the families and we recognize I think -- it's a reminder of the extent to which we are blessed with families who sacrifices as they have. The President carries the biggest burden, obviously. He's the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans, but we are fortunate to have a group of men and women, the all-volunteer force who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harms way for the rest of us. And we wish nobody ever lost their life. But unfortunately, it's one of the things that go with living in the world we live in. Sometimes you have to commit military force and when you do, there are casualties.

ABC: When you talk about an all volunteer force, some of these soldiers, airmen, marines have been on two, three, four, some of them more than that, deployments. Do you think when they volunteered, they had any idea that there would be so many deployments or stop-loss? Some of those who want to get out can't because of stop-loss.

VP: Well, my experience has been going back to my time as Secretary of Defense. Um, the all volunteer force is a tremendous national asset. A lot of men and women sign up because sometimes they all see developments, for example, 9-11 stimulated a lot of folks to volunteer for the military because they wanted to be involved in defending the country. And, I am struck continually as I make the rounds and visit with troops as I did on this trip by the caliber of people that are willing to do what they do.

One of the experiences I think you saw, you were there that night, when I decorated the young 19-year-old woman with a Silver Star. Only the second time since World War II, that award for bravery has been given to a woman. It's a very, very remarkable young lady and if you spend as much time as I do on whether it's out here with the troops or back home on bases around the states, the thing that comes through loud and clear is how much they are committed to the cause to doing what needs to be done to defend the nation and sign up to reenlist--

ABC: You have to know how difficult these multiple--

VP: Of course, of course it is, Martha.--

ABC: --deployments are?

VP: So what would be the solution to that? I mean, how would you deal with that?

ABC: Well, I don't know. There are lots of plans out there.

VP: But--

ABC: But it certainly--

VP: But the fact of the matter is that we've got a say these remarkable folks that volunteer to serve that deploy over and over again, that reenlist. The other night after I decorated the young woman with the Silver Star, I reenlisted six soldiers on the spot who'd signed up for four more, for another four-year tour. In Afghanistan, after they'd been out there numerous times and were so committed that our reenlistment rates, for example, in the combat zones was higher than what we ordinarily get in peace time.

ABC: Okay, we won't go back and forth with the figures, but, but for instance, Captains, you lost a couple of thousand Captains who didn't reenlist because of deployments and because of these redeployments.

VP: Martha, I fundamentally believe that the force is in great shape, that the men and women who serve deserve the thanks of all of us as do their families who oftentimes bear a heavy, heavy burden. And I can't say enough good about them or their commitment or the repeated demonstrations of their loyalty and their honor to go participate in whatever they're called upon to do.

ABC: Gen. Petraeus has talked about having a pause after the drawdown in July. Do you think it's important after that, and I think he's talked about six to eight weeks after that, or eight to ten weeks for a pause, do you think it's important to continue a drawdown in the fall, if possible?

VP: I say it's important to continue the drawdown, that isn't the way I think about it. It's important to achieve victory in Iraq. It's important to win, to succeed in the objective that we've established. The question about what force level that takes is a judgment that's based upon the recommendations the commander in the field. Um, obviously we look at the advice, for example, from Ryan Crocker, our Ambassador that's there as well, too. All of this goes through the chain-of-command in the Pentagon. The Joint Chiefs have an opportunity for input and advice. The Secretary comes in. All of this goes to the President with a set of recommendations. But the, the criteria that will be applied is how do we make certain that we succeed in Iraq? And it may be that we can make judgements about reductions down the road and the President will make those when the time arrives, but I don't think he's likely to try and say now what the force ought to be at the end of the year. Conditions on the ground will determine that.

ABC: I guess, I guess the other think I would say is to put more pressure on the Iraqi government. Is that not a consideration for any sort of drawdown?--

VP: I don't bother with that analysis. (Stepped on) That argument I've heard made by our Democratic friends. But as I look at that, um, I don't think that's the way to achieve what we want to achieve here. Having made the commitment and the sacrifice and spent five years now. We're on our way to achieving our objective. The surge has been remarkably successful and there's no reason now to decide what the force level is going to be in December of oh-eight. What you do want to do is we'll see whether or not we should continue the current effort to get down to pre-surge levels which everybody expects we will do. And then based on conditions at the time, then I'm sure the President in the future will make judgments about further drawdowns.

ABC: Speaking of the President and the future--

VP: And the last time we came to one of these points, we had all this wisdom that obviously he's going to want to reduce troop levels and he didn't. He added five more brigades. That was the right call to make. He didn't follow conventional wisdom and I doubt that he will this time either. He'll make a decision based on what he thinks it takes to succeed.

ABC: How do you plan for a policy in Iraq given that you'll have a new president in January? Do you put in place a plan that you have to look at withdrawing all troops as you've heard, in a particular amount of time which you've heard Barack Obama say, or do you stick with the John McCain, I mean how do you plan for these different contingencies given what's going to happen in January?

VP: Well, you have to be care, that's a little bit like trying to make judgments based on the polls and the president will do what he thinks is right for the country and in terms of the way forward, I'm sure he will leave in place and recommend to his successor what he thinks is the right course of action in Iraq. He doesn't control who the next president is going to be anymore than you and I do, the American people will decide that next Nov., but you can't reduce your level of effort because you think a particular candidate might win, you really have to look at in terms of what you think is the right call for the country and that's exactly what he'll do.

ABC: One of the major issues you've discussed on this trip is Iran. And you've talked about Iran and some other places as a darkening shadow on the region. In what ways is that manifesting itself of late?

VP: I hear about it virtually every place I go and the concerns that leaders in the region have for what they see happening in Iran, and what they see Iran doing in the region is perhaps not universal, but it's close to it. And, uh, that goes with everything from their support for Hezbollah and their efforts, their working through the Syrians for example to interfere with the political process inside Lebanon. they've supported Hamas with the intention, I believe, of trying to disrupt the peace process. Obviously, they're also, they're heavily involved in trying to develop nuclear weapons, enrichment, the enrichment of uranium to weapons grade levels. So, if you put all that together, you see that range of activity that Iran is engaged in, it's very disturbing to many of the leaders in the region because they believe that if Iran stays on the course they're on, that it does offer the prospects for instability, and that it's a threat to the regimes in the area.

ABC: You said today that Hamas is doing everything they could do with the support of Iran and Syria to torpedo the peace process. Are Iran and Syria trying to torpedo the peace process?

VP: I believe they are.

ABC: Independent of Hamas, through Hamas?

VP: Well, through Hamas and the case of Gaza, obviously, but I think they had in the past through Hezbollah. They provided significant additional weapons now to Hezbollah, Hezbollah went through that dust up with the Israelis in '06, they've been completely resupplied by the Iranians, often times providing materials through the Syrians and then fly materials in Damascus and take them by road into Lebanon.133426 the headquarters of Hamas and, um Hezbollah and Palestine and the Islamic Jihad, they all have significant representation in Damascus, that's where they operate from.

VP: There's been a very close relationship over the years obviously, between Iran and Hezbollah. I don't think there's any question that Iran and Syria have no interest in seeing the peace process succeed and that's a conclusion that I've arrived at not just on my own, but also from talking to people in the region.

ABC: In the Mideast, our swing through Israel, West Bank, it didn't seem like there had been a lot of progress certainly since the president was here. In fact, the list that Abbas went down of grievances with the Israelis seemed longer than the one he had before certainly. Where are you we that?

VP: Well, the um, it's a process for starters. There isn't any sort of magic solution to this and there isn't a US solution that can be imposed and say there, do it this way, and uh, this represents uh, the final settlement. , uh, what we can do is try to facilitate the process. We can help provide financial support and assistance, uh, which we do both to the Israelis and the Palestinians. We can provide a forum, an opportunity for there to be discussions as we did at Annapolis for example. We engage on a continuous process. Annapolis last fall and January the president was in the region, went to Ramallah and talked to the Palestinian leadership as well as the Israelis. I'm here this week, Condi Rice, the Sect of State will be here next week, the president will be back in May. So, we're doing everything we can to nudge him and move him along.

ABC: The president always talks about two steps forward one step back, that's what happens in the Mideast.

VP: I think that's right.

ABC: I can't see the two steps forward, are there two steps forward?

VP: Well, I think if you look for example at the president's um, I think, um, broke new ground when he came out and subsequently has continued to support eth proposition of the two states, the Palestinian state, no other president's ever supported that publicly, he has. The idea of two states side by side, Israeli's and Palestinians living at peace with one another. That's a step forward, that's progress. However far we get--

ABC: But since then --

VP: Obviously, our successor, well, it's never been a situation in which all of a sudden the heavens open and peace descends on he Middle East. It is the Middle East, this is a conflict that's gone on for many, many years, we're going to mark the 60th anniversary of Israel here in May and of course in 1948 when they were declared an independent sovereign state, when the UN passed its resolution, Harry Truman recognized the state of Israel. Almost immediately the war began and there've been numerous conflicts since and it is a very, very difficult, complex, complicate problem with a lot of different facets to it.

ABC: In Saudi, did you ask for an increase in oil production, tell us what you can about the increase in oil fares?

VP: Well, what I did was I talked with Minister Ali al-Naimi, he's the Saudi oil minister, use to be the head of Aram-Co the Saudi oil co, I have known him for many years before I came back to government I knew him. And what we did was renew a commitment they made to us in 2005 as I recall, the King came to the States we had a session, we then encouraged them to increase their production capacity. They agreed to do that and they agreed to add 2 million barrels a day to their production. They started with 10.5 million barrels a day for their production they are now at 11.8, they will get to 12.5 million which was their main objective by the end of next year. They've spent about 90 billion dollars to increase their capacity so they can produce more crude oil obviously. They have also investing in refineries in the United States. We went down at a Port Arthur, so they have done a lot.

ABC: Any short term solutions here?

VP: Well one thing to remember is that there are not short term solutions about energy. It takes a long time to bring about an additional capacity. If we had acted back in the 90's on NWAR, when Congress approved it twice but Clinton vetoed it, we would of had an immediate additional million barrels a day of production today online. That would of had a big impact on the prices in the United States. But that decision was made back in the 90's that we were not going to do that, so we don't have those additional million barrels a day and that we are having to import the equivalent and that makes us more vulnerable to foreign prices. But that idea that you can turn and next week gasoline prices are going to drop that's not really the way the world works. It takes a long time and huge investments to expand your capacities.

ABC: I want to look briefly at Afghanistan, your administration has been defined by 9/11 and you will likely leave with Osama Bin Laden still at large, Al Sahab released a new audio tape, what effect does that have on you that he is still alive, does that anger you?

VP: Well I, first of all we have 10 months to go. I think that we have had major success against Al Qaeda. UI think that if you look for example at what we have been able to accomplish in terms of people captured and killed in the Al Qaeda organization in the fact that we have put them on the run the fact that we have successfully defended the country now going on seven years against any further attacks, there have been no additional attacks since 9-11 on the U.S. that's not an accident. That is because we have been very successful at going after bad guys searching them out where ever we find them because of the majors we put in place at home, terror surveillance program, patriot act, and so forth.

ABC: Is a Iraq more of a threat to out homeland now more than Afghanistan in your view?

VP: No, its not a this point because we are there at such force. And because the Iraqis are rapidly building up their own security forces. And you don't have at this stage the same kind of safe haven in Iraq that existed in Afghanistan before 9-11. Remember --

ABC: Do you think it still exists, I mean if Bin Laden is still out there in Afghanistan, Za da heiri still out there, unless you believe they are an accident.

VP: In Iraq?

ABC: Unless you think they are still out there?

VP: I don't think its in Afghanistan.

ABC: It's in Pakistan?

VP: Clearly that area --

ABC: The safe haven?

VP: -- is a problem. But you got to remember what happened in Afghanistan that it is relevant to Iraq and that is that after we been engaged in Afghanistan in the 80's support the Mucha Hadin against the Soviets. That was a successful policy then everybody walked away. And what you got in Afghanistan was a civil war, the Taliban and the emergence of Osama Bin Laden in 1996 when he moved into Afghanistan, set up training camps and trained thousands of terrorists, some of which came and killed 3,000 Americans in 9-11. Now when I hear my friends in the states, candidates and so forth, wannabees, announce that they want to take our forces and withdrawal, I say that is exactly what happened in Afghanistan that produced a safe haven that generated the groups of terrorist that killed 3,000 Americans. We don't have the luxury of saying we don't care what happens in Iraq, we don't care what happens in Afghanistan, we have to be engaged in that part of the world. We have got to work with others so they can control their own sovereign territory, but the idea that we can walk away from Iraq, is I think a terribly damaging on its face and to say that's the only way we can get the Iraqis to take on responsibility, I don't believe that's the case. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have stood up along side us, enlisted in their security services, have run in elections, have taken on responsible post. Been threatened with assassination and car bombs operated under very difficult circumstances.

ABC: So a candidate who believes in that you believe would be putting the homeland at risk?

VP: I do and it is seriously, seriously misguided. And a belief that we can some how walk away from Iraq and it won't happen --

ABC: You are talking about Barack Obama here?

VP: I am talking about any candidate for my office that believe in a solution for that part of the world is to walk away from the commitments that we have made in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

ABC: Okay, a couple of questions the the kind you don't like and that is talking about yourself and looking at yourself as vice president and the impact you have had as vice president and the way some people view you. Can you talk about that a little bit and your impact. You have been without question one of the most power vice presidents in history, you were talking about that a bit today and how you view that in the next vice president.

VP: Well I have been tremendously privileged to serve as George Bush's vice president. I'd spent 23, 25 years in government when I finished my tour as Secretary of Defense and then left and went to private life and thought that I finished my political career when he invited me to join him on the ticket 8 years ago now. And I am very glad that I did, it's been a remarkable period of time its been a, say a privilege, to serve with him, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. in terms of trying to forecast forward in terms of the debate in the discussion we participated in earlier today, that is really impossible to do, I can't say that in the future Vice presidents will operate the way I have. It will term on the President and what he wants in a vice president, what he expects, it will depend upon the times in which they govern, what kind of qualities the future vice president brings to the job, sometimes vice presidents are selected for purely political reasons to help win a key state on election campaigns. Sometimes its the bind up that goes after the party, you go after who ever the nominee defeated in the primary process. Those weren't calculations that George Bush made when he picked me, he picked me because he said he wanted me to be part of his administration to be a member of the team and that's exactly what he has done, I've been the beneficiary.

ABC: Well you have been pretty successful on this trip, I'll say that normally you aren't, normally we don't hear from you very often. I think I said to you that I covered the White House two and a half years and I never really met you before. Is that really fair to the public, because you have been so powerful shouldn't you be out there answering questions more?

VP: Martha, the way that I look at it, and the reason that I am less visible in this job than say when I was Secretary of Defense, there I was out all of the time, is this is a different job. My job really here is as an advisor to the President as a counselor in effect, I don't run anything, I'm not in charge of a department or a particular policy area and for me to be out all of the time commenting on the issues of the day pontificating if you will on whets going on, to some extent infringes upon everybody else in the administration, especially with those specific people who have got specific responsibilities. So I do it rarely, I've agreed to do this today because we've done this trip that involves a certain amount of visibility and so forth and so I have done that. But its very conscience decision on my part, that the job I have had as vice president can best be done if I am not out publicly commenting on all of these issues, the question you and your colleagues in the press always asks is, 'What did you advise the President, did he support that policy, did he do what you recommended?' Those are questions that I won't answer. My value to him is the fact that we can talk privately I can tell him what I think, sometimes he agrees, sometimes he disagrees he doesn't take my advice all the time by any means. But the contribution that I make and my value to him I think is greater because he knows and everybody else knows I'm not going to be in the front pages of the paper tomorrow talking about what I advised the President on what particular issue.

ABC: You have been in the front pages of the papers this week --

VP: On this trip with the President's approval. He wanted me to come make these various stops. We go the schedule together on who I would see and where I would go. We are in Turkey doing this interview, he specifically added Turkey to my schedule as a stop he wanted me to make, so I'm hear at some extent to his behest. But ordinary actions most of the time, day to day basis of doing my job as Vice President I think I am more effective when I don't talk about what I do when I am not out trying to generate press coverage of my activities.

ABC: You got a lot of press coverage, this is our question, you got a lot of press coverage this week of a comment you made in an interview with me earlier this week. Do you understand how that was perceived, do you understand that people looked at that comment and looked at the message?

VP: Well you didn't really ask me a question Martha, as I recall, but what it had to do with is polls and the point I wanted to make and I will make again is the President of the United states under these circumstances dealing with these kinds of issues can't make decisions based on public opinion polls. He shouldn't,. George Bush believes very deeply and I absolutely and I think correctly that he has to do what he thinks is right for the country. That he cannot make judgments based upon what the polls say. I had the experience for example working with Gerald Ford and I will never forgotten the trials he went through after he had been president for 30 days when he issues a pardon for former President Nixon and there was consternation coast to coast. The President had had to go up, chose to go up in front of the judiciary committee in the House and testify in order to put down the rumors that somehow there had been a deal between he and President Nixon that if he would pardon Nixon then he would get to be President himself. I rode up with him that day and sat in the hearing room while he answered all of those questions and I know how much grief he took for that decision and it may well of cost him the Presidency in 76. 30 years later nearly everybody would say it was the exactly the right thing to do. and if he would have paid attention at the time at the polls he never would have done that. But he demonstrates a great courage a great insight and the country was better off for what Gerry Ford did days and 30 years later everybody recognized it and I have the same strong conviction the issue we are dealing wit today the Global terror, the War in Afghanistan and in Iraq, that all of the tough calls the President had to make that 30 years from now it will be clear that he made the right decisions. And that the effort that we mounted was the right one and that if we had listen to polls we would have gotten it wrong. I think you can disagree with me, but that's what I believe I know that's what he believes and my comments the other day should be taken in that light.

ABC: But you understand that to some people they thought, ah ha, that's Dick Cheney, he doesn't care about --

VP: Some of, look there are a lot of people out there, Martha, that don't agree with me about a lot of things, but if I wanted to be loved, I'd ought to be a TV correspondent, not a politician.

ABC: We are not always loved either. Thank you sir.

VP: Cheney: Thank you.