March 19, 2008 — -- Five years after the start of the war in Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney offered a positive assessment of the current situation and called last year's troop surge a "major success."
"On the security front, I think there's a general consensus that we've made major progress, that the surge has worked. That's been a major success," Cheney told ABC News' Martha Raddatz during an exclusive interview in Oman.
Watch "World News with Charles Gibson" tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET for the full report.
When asked how that assessment comports with recent polls that show about two-thirds of Americans say the fight in Iraq is not worth it, Cheney replied, "So?"
"You don't care what the American people think?" Raddatz asked the vice president.
"You can't be blown off course by polls," said Cheney, who is currently on a tour of the Middle East. "This president is very courageous and determined to go the course. There has been a huge fundamental change and transformation for the better. That's a huge accomplishment."
Despite that, he says the Iraqi government has made "some progress, not as much as we would like," citing specifically hydrocarbons law and provincial powers legislation as two bills stalling in passage.
Since the war began, nearly 4,000 U.S. troops have been killed and more than 29,000 have been injured in the war, which has so far cost the United States roughly $600 billion, according to the Pentagon.
Cheney said he was unsure how he would have involved the nation to a greater degree.
Pressed on the question of what sacrifice most Americans have made to the war effort, Cheney touted the strength of a volunteer force, pushing away the idea of an instituted draft.
"I suppose you could have created a sense of sacrifice if you'd gone back to the draft, but that would have, in my opinion, done serious damage to the state of our military," Cheney said.
Cheney aligned sacrifice with war funding.
"Obviously, we've expended considerable public funds on this enterprise, and those are funds that could have been used for some other purpose. But we think this is the most important use we could put them to. The country has, in fact, supported financially the endeavors we've been involved in."
By some estimates, the war will end up costing Americans anywhere between $2 trillion and $4 trillion.
Citing an insurgency that lasted longer than anticipated, Cheney said five years ago there was no way "to estimate what the final cost would be."
"In any major enterprise or conflict like this once it starts, you cannot predict with precision exactly what course it's going to follow," Cheney said, emphasizing he's "not sure how" the aftermath in Iraq could have been better predicted.
Asked how long it will continue, Cheney said, "You do it as long as you have to until you get it right. You don't quit because it gets hard."
Pressed for a timeline, Cheney stressed, "I don't know how long it's going to take. I do know we have to get it done. And if it takes a long time. That doesn't make it any less worthwhile. This has been a hard-fought, difficult, challenging thing for us to do, but we kept at it because it's the right thing to do."
Quitting two years ago would have meant chaos, Cheney said. "Certainly, it would have been a much worse situation from the standpoint of the Iraqi people."
"It is hard. It has been difficult. No question it's been costly, in terms of treasure and life but it's worth it. And we are going to get it right," Cheney said.
Cheney also touched on the current state of the economy, admitting, "We're clearly going through a rough patch." But the Bush administration has not said the United States is experiencing a recession.
Cheney said that the downturn can be blamed in part on natural economic cycles, pushing back on the idea that any one of the administration's specific policies were responsible for it.
"We've had, prior to that, 52 months of uninterrupted economic growth," he said. "Now, of course, we've got problems in the housing industry, mortgage-backed securities and so forth that have created problems that we're having to deal with."
Supporting Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in November, Cheney said he'd do everything he could to help the Arizona senator but held back his thoughts on the Democratic race.
Asked about Sen. Barack Obama's speech on race, Cheney said, "One of the things I've avoided so far is getting in the middle of the Democratic presidential primary process. And I think I'll stay there."
Cheney said he had no reaction to American troops who support Obama's position on withdrawing from Iraq voting for the Illinois senator.
"They're a broad cross section of America. I think they've overwhelmingly supported the mission. Every single one of them is a volunteer," Cheney said.