'This Week' Transcript: Former Vice President Dick Cheney

Transcript: Former Vice President Dick Cheney

ByABC News
January 22, 2010, 2:35 PM

Feb. 14, 2010 — -- KARL: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."

CHENEY: There is no middle ground.

KARL: This morning, a "This Week" exclusive, former Vice President Dick Cheney, the administration's harshest critic...

CHENEY: The president's been largely silent. Half-measures keep you half-exposed. The White House must stop dithering.

KARL: ... with no apologies of his own.

CHENEY: I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program.

KARL: National security, Iran, politics, and...

BIDEN: Iraq, I mean, it's going to be one of the great achievements of this administration.

KARL: ... Dick Cheney takes on the current vice president, only on "This Week." Then, a Washington thaw.

OBAMA: I'm going to spend some time listening.

KARL: But can bipartisanship survive the politics of the moment?

PALIN: We need a commander-in-chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern.

KARL: That and the rest of the week's politics on our roundtable with George Will, Peter Beinart of the Council on Foreign Relations, the New Yorker's Jane Mayer, and Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal.

And as always, the Sunday funnies.

LETTERMAN: John McCain knew that it was Sarah Palin's birthday, and he did something very nice for her. He bought her a Toyota.


ANNOUNCER: From the heart of the nation's capital, "This Week" with ABC's congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl, live from the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.

KARL: Joining me now, former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mr. Vice President, welcome to "This Week."

CHENEY: Good morning, John.

KARL: Now, you have been unflinching in your criticism of this administration's handling of terrorism, counterterrorism. Most recently, talking about the Christmas Day bomber, you said, "It is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend that we are not at war." Now, this morning, we have heard from the current vice president, Joe Biden, directly in response to that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: We're pursuing that war with a vigor like it's never been seen before. We've eliminated 12 of their top 20 people. We have taken out 100 of their associates. We are making -- we've sent them underground. They are, in fact, not able to do anything remotely like they were in the past. They are on the run. I don't know where Dick Cheney has been.


KARL: Your response?

CHENEY: Well, my reference to the notion that the president was trying to avoid treating this as a war was in relation to his initial response when we heard about the Christmas underwear bomber...

KARL: Right.

CHENEY: ... up in Detroit, when he went out and said this was the act of an isolated extremist. No, it wasn't. And we found out over time, obviously -- and he eventually changed his -- his assessment -- but that, in fact, this was an individual who'd been trained by Al Qaida, who'd been part of a larger conspiracy, and it was closer to being an act of war than it was the act of an isolated extremist.

It's the mindset that concerns me, John. I think it's -- it's very important to go back and keep in mind the distinction between handling these events as criminal acts, which was the way we did before 9/11, and then looking at 9/11 and saying, "This is not a criminal act," not when you destroy 16 acres of Manhattan, kill 3,000 Americans, blow a big hole in the Pentagon. That's an act of war.

KARL: Well -- well...

CHENEY: And what the administration was slow to do was to come to that -- that recognition that we are at war, not dealing with criminal acts. And as I say, my response there dealt specifically to the fact the president called it an isolated extremist. It was not.

KARL: Well, I want to get to that notion of treating this as a law enforcement action, but what the administration will say is, look at what they have done, 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, doubling, tripling, and maybe even more the drone attacks on the tribal areas in Pakistan on Al Qaida targets. They say that they are actually dedicating more resources to the fight against Al Qaida than you were.

CHENEY: Well, I -- you know, I'm a complete supporter of what they're doing in Afghanistan. I think the president made the right decision to send troops into Afghanistan. I thought it took him a while to get there.

Having Stan McChrystal now in charge in Afghanistan I think is an excellent choice. General McChrystal's one of the most able officers I know. I'm glad they're doing what they're doing in Afghanistan. I'm not a critic of what they're doing, in terms of how they're dealing with that situation.

But I do see repeatedly examples that there are key members in the administration, like Eric Holder, for example, the attorney general, who still insists on thinking of terror attacks against the United States as criminal acts as opposed to acts of war, and that's a -- that's a huge distinction.

KARL: OK, before we get to Eric Holder, a couple more things from the vice president. He's been out responding preemptively to you. One thing he said we heard in the open, that he believes Iraq may ultimately prove to be one of the greatest achievements of the Obama administration.

CHENEY: Well, I -- I guess I shouldn't be surprised by my friend, Joe Biden. I'm glad he now believes Iraq is a success. Of course, Obiden and -- Obama and Biden campaigned from one end of the country to the other for two years criticizing our Iraq policy.

CHENEY: They opposed the surge that was absolutely crucial to our getting to the point we're at now with respect to Iraq. And for them to try to take credit for what's happened in Iraq strikes me as a little strange. I think if -- if they had had their way, if we'd followed the policies they'd pursued from the outset or advocated from the outset, Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Baghdad today.

So if they're going to take credit for it, fair enough, for what they've done while they're there, but it ought to go with a healthy dose of "Thank you, George Bush" up front and a recognition that some of their early recommendations, with respect to prosecuting that war, we're just dead wrong.

KARL: Well, in fact, Vice President Biden says that he believes that the war in Iraq was not worth it. What do you say to that? I mean, given the resources that were drawn away from the -- what you could argue is the central front in Afghanistan, Pakistan, is he right about that?

CHENEY: No. I -- I believe very deeply in the proposition that what we did in Iraq was the right thing to do. It was hard to do. It took a long time. There were significant costs involved.

But we got rid of one of the worst dictators of the 20th century. We took down his government, a man who'd produced and used weapons of mass destruction, a man who'd started two different wars, a man who had a relationship with terror. We're going to have a democracy in Iraq today. We do today. They're going to have another free election this March.

This has been an enormous achievement from the standpoint of peace and stability in the Middle East and ending a threat to the United States. Now, as I say, Joe Biden doesn't believe that. Joe Biden wants to take credit -- I'm not sure for what -- since he opposed that policy pretty much from the outset.

KARL: I think what he wants to take credit for is taking resources out of Iraq, the fact...

CHENEY: That's being done in accordance with a timetable that we initiated, that we -- that we negotiated with -- with the Iraqis. I mean, that was our policy.