EXCLUSIVE: George Stephanopoulos' Interview with Vice President Dick Cheney

ByABC News

Nov. 5, 2006 — -- Vice President Dick Cheney sat down for an exclusive interview with ABC'S George Stephanopoulos to discuss the Iraq war, President Bush's economic policies, and the upcoming midterm elections. Following is the text of the interview, below.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You said this week that it's your belief that the insurgents are trying to influence the election. Does that mean that a Democratic victory is a victory for the insurgents?

CHENEY: Well, I think what they're trying to do, obviously, is execute on their strategy. And, if you think about their strategy, it isn't to defeat us militarily; they can't do that. But what they're betting on -- Osama bin Laden talks about it -- is that they can, in fact, ultimately break the will of the American people, that they can persuade enough Americans that we'll ultimately leave.

And then they cite Beirut in 1983 and Mogadishu in 1993 as examples where the U.S. took casualties and then departed.

So that's their basic, fundamental, underlying strategy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What are they trying to get voters to do?

CHENEY: Well, I think when they see something happen, such as happened in Connecticut this year, where the Democratic Party, in effect, purged Joe Lieberman, primarily over his support for the president and the war, um … that says to them that their strategy is working.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you've had a lot of Republican defections on Iraq as well. Just today, just a few minutes ago, Vanity Fair magazine reported that Richard Perle and Ken Adelman, two of the strongest early supporters of the war, say that now they would not have supported the invasion if they knew how incompetent the administration would be in handling it.

Listen to Ken Adelman. He called your administration among the most incompetent administrations in the postwar era, individually each team member had serious flaws, together they were deadly dysfunctional.

CHENEY: Well, I haven't seen the piece. I'm not going to comment on it, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But Richard Perle and Ken Adelman were two of the strongest supporters of the administration.

CHENEY: Well, I think there's no question but what it's a tough war, but it's also the right thing to do. And it's very important we complete the mission. I just fundamentally disagree.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You also have a lot of Republican candidates for Senate out there right now -- six by my count -- who are calling either for a change of course in the war or a change of leadership.

CHENEY: George, the primary opposition to the war is coming from the Democratic Party. They haven't offered up a plan, but they've got several different positions: Withdraw; withdraw at some future date; cut off funding, there's been legislation introduced in the House now by House Democrats to do that.

The fact of the matter is this is the right thing for us to be doing. We need to succeed here. It has a direct bearing on how we do around the world in the global war on terror. If in fact Karzai in Afghanistan and Musharraf in Pakistan, who have been great allies in the war on terror, where we've had major successes, were to see us suddenly decide we're going to depart from Iraq um … and decide it had gotten too tough, it would seriously undermine our efforts in all those other places.

So to suggest that somehow there is a solution here, to walk away from Iraq and still aggressively pursue the global war on terror, is just wrong. It's just not valid.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet, you're seeing that come from your own candidates right now …

CHENEY: George, it's tough. This is hard to do. No question about it.

But it's the right thing to do, and that's why the president's out there as aggressively as he is and so am I.

We don't make decisions based on the polls. We don't make decisions based on pundits on television or whether or not it's popular. It's the right thing to do, and that's why we're doing it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So will the vote on Tuesday have any effect on the president's Iraq policy?

CHENEY: I think it'll have some effect, perhaps, on the Congress, but the president's made clear what his objective is: It's a victory in Iraq and it's full speed ahead on that basis. And that's exactly what we're going to do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So even those Republican candidates calling for a change of course are not going to get that on Wednesday.

CHENEY: No. You can't make policy, national security policy on the basis of that.

These are people running for Congress. They're entitled to their own views, on both sides of the aisle. But I think there's no question but what … when we get into the global war on terror, when we get into the measures that are needed to go on offense and take the fight to the enemy, if you will, that the support that we've had and continue to have is primarily on the Republican side. And I think the Democrats have come up weak on it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Paul Harvey this week said that Iraq had gone sour. And he made the observation that what he calls the mishandled war in Iraq has gone on almost as long as World War II right now.

Do you think if it hadn't been mishandled, if there hadn't been mistakes, more American troops would be home right now?

CHENEY: Well, George, I think the um … analogy to World War II is just not a valid analogy. It's just a totally different set of circumstances.

What we're trying to do in Iraq is to stand up a government that is capable of governing the country. And we are making progress. We've had three national elections. We have a good constitution.

The government now in power has been there six months. It's a little early to write them off.

The other thing that we have to do is to get the Iraqis into the fight themselves, so they take on the responsibility for security. That's the effort. That's the basic broad, overall strategy.

And on that basis, there's no way to short-circuit that process.


CHENEY: We can… We can maybe accelerate it in terms of training and those kinds of things, but in terms of the basic fundamental overall strategy, it's uh… it's not likely to change.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There seem to be a setback in the strategy this week. The U.S. military announced this cordoning off of Sadr City to look for the kidnapped American soldier.

The prime minister said lift it. It's lifted and it appears, at least, the U.S. military abandoned this effort to go after its own soldier.

CHENEY: Well, first of all, that's not strategy. Those are tactics used on the ground to try to deal with a particular situation.

We're still very interested, obviously, in getting our soldier back and we continue to push very aggressively.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But not pushing forward militarily anymore, not searching homes.

CHENEY: We are working very closely with the people we need to be working with in order to try to achieve that objective.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned World War II. You're a student of history. We've gone back and looked and since 1860, there have been five Congressional elections like this one that are held during wartime.

Every single one, the president's party takes a beating.

Is that just a price that wartime presidents have to pay?

CHENEY: It may be, but I think you have to be very careful not to generalize from individual races in order to look at it, say well, this is what happened in 1942 and this is therefore what's going to happen in …


CHENEY: 1966, 2004. The um … I just … I'm reluctant … you guys have to come up with some kind of rationale to try to explain what's happening out there. I understand that. But I think you have to look at each one of those individuals.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What's happening now?

CHENEY: I think what we're having now, obviously, is a very hard-fought election. I think there is great concern over the situation in Iraq. I don't deny that. None of us do.

It is very tough going. But, it is, in fact, the right thing to do. Now, you don't get to choose the issue you're going to deal with when you have something like 9/11 and the aftermath of 9/11. That's something the president and I were handed with when we arrived -- shortly after we arrived. It, obviously, has shaped everything we've done as an administration. We're bound to see judgments made now on the basis of this year's election.

Over the long haul what counts is what it looks like 20 years from now and how people will judge the effort we've made to deal with a very, very tough situation.

But it's very important we get it right. If the United States bails out on Iraq now, if we pack it in and leave now, we'll put at risk all the progress we've made and the hundreds of thousands -- indeed, millions -- of people in that part of the world who've signed on to be part of the effort: the millions of Iraqis and Afghans who voted, the hundreds of thousands who've signed on to be part of the security forces, men like Musharraf and Karzai who risk their life every day just going to work. There have been three attempts on Musharraf's life.

So for the United States now, because it's tough and because it's hard-going, to say, well, gee, we're going to pack it in and go home, is exactly the wrong thing to do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned the perspective of 20 years. None of us know what it's going to look like …

CHENEY: That's right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: … in 20 years. But …

CHENEY: But it will probably look different than it does in today's headlines.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No question about that.

From today, though, a lot of people look back at the experience of the last three years and look at a series of mistakes, some that have been conceded by the administration -- disbanding the Iraqi army, not doing enough …

CHENEY: The Iraqi army melted away. It wasn't there by the time we got to Baghdad.


Both you and Secretary Rumsfeld have such deep experience in the government, in the House, as White House chiefs of staff, as Pentagon secretaries, now you as vice president.

How do you explain the failure to anticipate more of these problems, the failure to prepare for them?

CHENEY: Well, George, I don't buy the analysis, basically. I think, clearly, there have been problems. There always are in any war. The change always begins immediately as soon as you launch into conflict. And this one's clearly no different than that.

But I think, again, I come back to the basic proposition, I think we've got the basic strategy right -- that is, the Iraqis have to ultimately take responsibility for their own fate, both militarily as well as from a political standpoint. That's the strategy. Our objective is victory, and that's the road we're walking down.

They have, in fact, made significant progress. And, again, I come back to the notion, it would be a terrible shame if after only six months with this government everybody said, "Well, gee, we better quit."

Twenty years from now, what's that going to look like? What will that part of the world look like? Will the others who've signed on to be part of this global war on terror on our side decide, if the Americans bail out on this one, they can't be trusted, they're likely to bail out on them, and it'll have a ripple effect in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan and do serious damage to our long-term efforts …


STEPHANOPOULOS: You've been talking a lot about the consequences …

CHENEY: The press may not like it. It may be controversial. There'll be politicians who want to argue against it. And it may not be …


STEPHANOPOULOS: It seems like the public has turned against it right now.

CHENEY: It may not be popular with the public. It doesn't matter in the sense that we have to continue the mission and do what we think it right, and that's exactly what we're doing. We're not running for office, we're doing what we think it right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've talked a lot about the consequences of the Democrats taking over Congress in the last week. Nancy Pelosi said thiSTEPHANOPOULOS: "We win" -- speaking of the Democrats -- "we get subpoena power."

If you're subpoenaed by the Democrats, would you go?

CHENEY: I have no idea that I'm going to be subpoenaed, and obviously we'd sit down and look at it at the time. But probably not, in the sense that the president and the vice president are constitutional officers and don't appear before the Congress.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So that's just your view of executive power, you're not going to go up and testify?

CHENEY: I think that's been the tradition. I can't think of the last time a president did appear before the Congress or vice president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Gerald Ford, I think.

CHENEY: He did. That's right. But not under subpoena, he did it on his own hook. He wanted to explain the pardon.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And in your view, the most serious consequence of the Democrats taking over would be their effect on Iraq policy?

CHENEY: No, that's not the only effect.

First of all, a lot of what happens in that area, obviously, is up to the president. He's the commander in chief.

Secondly, there are other issues, like tax policy and the economy.

The economy is going gangbusters. It's doing very, very well, primarily because of the tax cuts we put in place in 2001 and 2003. Democrats overwhelmingly opposed those.

Those cuts have to be extended if they're going to stay in place, otherwise the old rates come back.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not til 2010, though.

CHENEY: Well, but, if the Democrats were in charge in the Congress, if Charlie Rangel were chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, all he has to do is block legislation to get a big tax increase. They don't have to pass a tax increase to get one. They just have to not act and then, when those old rates came back in, you'd have a big … a big tax increase on the American family, on the economy.

And I think it would do very serious damage. I think it's one of the big issues in this campaign.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Democrats say that's what happened in the Republican Congress this year. A student loan tax cut was not extended by the Republican Congress. That's been a tax increase for those who want student loans.

CHENEY: We're talking about what we did on the marriage penalty. We're talking about child credit. We're talking about death taxes. We're talking about tax on capital gains and dividends. We're talking about the breaks for small businesses to encourage investment, expansion and job creation.

All of those things have now provided about 6.8 million new jobs since August of '03.

Unemployment rate today down at 4.4 percent. We're doing very, very well.

But it all goes back to those taxes that we put in place, the tax cuts, and the fact is the Democrats overwhelmingly opposed them. They opposed them then, they oppose them now.

Charlie Rangel said there's not a single Bush tax cut that he thinks ought to be extended.

Well, that's a pretty fundamental difference between the parties. If, in fact, the Democrats were to take control of the Congress, Charlie Rangel takes over tax policy, i think, in fact, you would see a major tax increase.


CHENEY: Well, sooner than that, for some of them; they're phased in at different times.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned the unemployment rate today: 4.4 percent unemployment; exceptionally low. Why don't you think the president's getting more credit for that?

CHENEY: Well, you guys don't help. The fact, of course, is that what's news is if there's bad news. And that gets coverage.

But the good news that's out there day after day after day, doesn't get as much attention.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The president's been speaking about this New Jersey decision on gay marriage.

And every thump speech in the last 10 days, you haven't mentioned it once. Why not?

CHENEY: Well, I think my views are well known on the subject.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You believe the states ought to decide?

CHENEY: I've always felt that the states were the prime place to resolve that. The states, historically, have been the authority regulating authority with respect to marriage.

The president believes that we ought to have a Constitutional amendment. He's the president and he makes the policy for the administration. I support the president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You have no problem with the New Jersey decision, personally?

CHENEY: I think we do have a problem in terms of courts trying to move in, if you will, and substitute their judgment for the voters.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're place is … So, legislature is where you think the -- the state legislature …


CHENEY: I think the states ought to handle it. But again, the president makes policy for this administration and I support the president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've got two years left -- about -- in office. What's the single most important thing you want to accomplish?

CHENEY: Well, I think it's going to continue to be a focus on the global war on terror. It's going to continue to emphasize what we're doing overseas in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the other places we're operating. It'll be our continued efforts to protect the nation from another attack.

We've gone over five years now without another attack on the U.S. That's a major success story. It didn't happen by accident. It happened because we did, in fact, aggressively pursue things like the terrorist surveillance program, like questioning of detainees and the military commissions that we got through the Congress just recently.

All of those measures need to be continued and will be continued with this president, and offer us the best opportunity to be able to defend the country against further attack.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And after that, for you, private life?

CHENEY: After that, for me, private life.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Vice President, thank you very much.

CHENEY: Thank you, George.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events