EXCLUSIVE: Cheney Says Pelosi Strategy Would Validate Al Qaeda

Vice President Calls Speaker's Opposition to Troop Increase 'Exactly the Wrong Course'

Feb. 21, 2007 —

ABC News' Jonathan Karl sat down for an exclusive interview with Vice President Dick Cheney on the USS Kitty Hawk at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.

Cheney said Britain's announcement that it would begin reducing the number of troops in Iraq was actually good news and a sign of progress in Iraq.

He also had harsh words for Democratic leaders, saying opposition to President Bush's plan for Iraq was "exactly the wrong course to go on."

The following is a transcript of the complete interview:

Karl: So, Mr. Vice President, Tony Blair is announcing that the British are beginning their withdrawal from Iraq. Are you concerned about that?

Cheney: No, they've indicated for some time now that they were going to make adjustments based on conditions on the ground. I think they believe that in southern Iraq, that Basra region where they've been most active, we have made significant progress. And I think that's one of the reasons they feel that they can draw down their forces there. I believe they're at the same time continuing to be very active in Afghanistan. And they'll continue with some forces in Iraq, but it won't be the same level it was at before.

Karl: But how does it look to the American people to see our most important ally begin to pull their troops out as we're actually sending more troops in?

Cheney: I look at it, and what I see is an affirmation of the fact that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well. The focus that we've had, obviously, is Baghdad and the decision the president made to surge troops into Baghdad. The Baghdad Security Plan is based on conditions in Baghdad.

But in fact, I talked to a friend just the other day, a guy who knows the region very well, has spent a lot of years in that part of the world who had driven from Baghdad down to Basra in seven hours, found the situation dramatically improved compared to where it was a year or so ago, sort of validated the British view that they have made progress in southern Iraq, and that they can therefore afford to reduce their force posture.

Karl: Now regarding the U.S. surge, the Congress is now on record opposing the president's policy --

Cheney: Well, the House is on record with a Sense of the Congress resolution.

Karl: Does it matter?

Cheney: Well, it's an important debate. I think it's important to remember that this is a Sense of the Congress resolution, that it doesn't have any binding impact or effect. It's still hung up in the Senate because the Democrats haven't agreed to allow our guys to vote on a resolution they'd like to have a vote on which would be a commitment not to reduce funding for the troops when they're in the field. So there's a certain amount of politics involved, I suppose.

The important thing is that we go forward with a successful strategy to prevail in Iraq. Ultimately, this ought to be about winning in Iraq, not about posturing on Capitol Hill. And I think the important debate will come up down the road when we get time to vote, for example, on the supplemental, or if there are votes in the meantime that do have a significant impact, have a binding impact, if you will, especially with respect to appropriations.

Karl: Because Congressman [Jack] Murtha and Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi have made it clear that what they would like to do is they would like to stop the surge. Can they do it? Do they have the power to stop the surge?

Cheney: I don't think so. The question is whether or not they have the votes. [Democratic Pennsylvania Rep.] Jack Murtha is an old friend of mine. We've done a lot of business together over the years. When I was secretary of defense, he was perhaps my closest ally on Capitol Hill. Jack clearly has a different perspective. With respect to Iraq, I think he's dead wrong. I think, in fact, if we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all we'll do is validate the al Qaeda strategy. The al Qaeda strategy is to break the will of the American people. In fact, knowing they can't win in a stand-up fight, try to persuade us to throw in the towel and come home, and then they win because we quit.

I think that's exactly the wrong course to go on. I think that's the course of action that Speaker Pelosi and Jack Murtha support. I think it would be a huge mistake for the country.

Karl: Now you just made a very clear statement in your speech saying the American people do not support a policy of retreat.

Cheney: I believe that.

Karl: Is that policy that we hear from the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, from other Democrats, is that a policy of defeat?

Cheney: Yes.

Karl: So the American people don't stand with the Democrats, what the Democrats are trying to do?

Cheney: I think the American people want to see first and foremost success in Iraq. I think the preference would be -- even those who are not happy with the current situation, given a choice would prefer -- a situation in which we succeed in Iraq in terms of being able to deal with the security situation, turn things over to the Iraqis so the Iraqis can govern themselves. But I think to do what Nancy Pelosi is suggesting -- and she's made it very clear on many occasions that she, in fact, wants to get out -- that that's exactly the wrong medicine. It's the wrong course of action. It will do nothing but encourage the terrorists. And it will have the devastating long-term consequences in the global war on terror.

You can't look at Iraq in isolation. You've got to look at it in terms of its impact, what we're doing in Afghanistan, what we're doing in Pakistan, what we're doing in Saudi Arabia. All those areas are part of the global battlefield, if you will, and you can't quit in one place and then persuade all your allies who are helping you in all those other theaters, if you will, to continue the fight.

So the thing we need to do is to let the president's strategy have an opportunity to work. The Senate just confirmed Dave Petraeus unanimously [as the top U.S. military commander in Iraq] -- not a single vote against him -- and then you've got a lot of senators turning around saying, but, we don't want to give you the resources you need to do the job we've asked you to do for us. So I do think that the important thing here is that we support the troops and we support the strategy, that we give it a chance to work, and that we not lose sight of the fact that our ultimate objective has to be victory.

Karl: And I wanted to ask you. You probably heard John McCain again come out and say that your friend Donald Rumsfeld is perhaps the worst secretary of defense ever. What do you make of that?

Cheney:I just fundamentally disagree with John. John said some nasty things about me the other day, and then next time he saw me, ran over to me and apologized. Maybe he'll apologize to Rumsfeld.

Karl: So what's your take on where Secretary Rumsfeld fits in?

Cheney: I think Don's a great secretary [sic]. I know a little bit about the job. I've watched what he's done over there for six years. I think he did a superb job in terms of managing the Pentagon under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. He and John McCain had a number of dust-ups over policy, didn't have anything to do with Iraq -- other issues that were involved. John's entitled to his opinion. I just think he's wrong.

Karl: And I know we're just about out of time, but I wanted to clarify, Sen. McCain had said that the problem with President Bush is he listened to you too much. So this is what he was apologizing to you for?

Cheney: Yes, yes.

Karl: What did he say?

Cheney: Well, he came up to me on the floor a couple of days later, the next time I was on the floor of the Senate, said he'd been quoted out of context, and then basically offered an apology, which I was happy to accept.

Karl: Another senator that's been involved in this debate is, of course, Sen. [Hillary Rodham] Clinton. Now, Sen. Clinton has been trying to figure out whether or not she should apologize for her vote in favor of the resolution. She has just come out and said that she is not going to apologize for that vote, that if people want to hold that against her, they should find other people to vote for. Do you admire that?

Cheney: Well, I think -- I'm not going to get involved in the presidential campaign. The president and I have both sworn off commenting on the give and take of the campaign in both parties. It's already well under way, and so I'll withhold comment for now.

Karl: Mr. Vice President, appreciate it.