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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Vice President Dick Cheney on his memoir, In My Time

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HH: Pleased to welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Vice President, welcome, it’s great to have you in studio.

DC: Well, it’s good to see you again, Hugh.

HH: I want to start, and Liz Cheney, welcome, good to have you with us as well.

LC: Great to be here. Thanks, Hugh.

HH: Congratulations on the publication of In My Time. It’s very disarming to open it up and immediately see pictures of Kate, Grace, Philip, Elizabeth, Sam, Sarah and Richard. This is not in keeping with your image, Mr. Vice President.

DC: Those are my grandchildren, our grandchildren, and a very important part of our lives.

HH: They’re very…but you took them everywhere. They’re on Air Force Two, they’re in the National Security…

DC: They campaigned with us. They weren’t in the National Security Council, because they didn’t have clearances. But no, we…my political career, in effect, was a family affair. It always involved our two daughters, Liz and Mary, were heavily engaged and my wife, Lynne, of course. And as we got into the situation where Liz and Mary began having children of their own, the easiest thing was just to put them on the airplane and take them with us, and that’s what we did. And I think it’s stuff they’ll never forget.

HH: Oh, it’s a wonderful set of pictures, and my compliments on it. I’d like to start by going to the middle of the book, Page 272. You’re giving the narrative of the Philadelphia convention, and how at one point after your big speech, former President Ford comes in, puts his arm around your daughter, Mary, and says aren’t you proud of your dad. And then you break your narrative, and you pause to talk about Jerry Ford. And you quote from your eulogy, which didn’t happen until December of 2006, saying President Ford was a, “modest and manful. There was confidence and courage in his bearing. In judgment, he was sober and serious, unafraid of decisions, calm and steady by nature, always the still point in the spinning wheel.” And you add, “a man who never assumed errs, and was known for his kindness. Gerald Ford led our nation through one of the greatest Constitutional crises in our history.” Is that the Dick Cheney gold standard for leadership?

DC: Well, it is very much. Jerry Ford was a very special guy. And of course, he was the first president I worked closely with. I’d been in the Nixon administration, but I was pretty far down in the ranks. With President Ford, if you can imagine, you know, one day you’re the Republican leader in the House, thinking about retiring, you’ve been there 25 years, and the next thing you know, you get picked to be vice president. And the President often told me that the nine months he spent as vice president were the most miserable of his life. He used to chuckle when he told me that after I’d become vice president. But the fact was he was there when the country needed him. And when Nixon stepped down and Ford took over, to see him, a man who never aspired to be president, suddenly thrown into that, and having to deal with everything from the end of the war in Vietnam to difficult economic circumstances, to challenges with respect to the Soviets and the Cold War, it was a truly remarkable time in our history. And he performed magnificently.

HH: Now I don’t play the what if game very much at all, but if he had stayed in office another term, you would have been his chief of staff another term. Do you think you would have been as surprised, or as paralyzed by Iran as President Carter turned out to be when Khomeini made his bid and successfully overturned the Shah?

DC: I don’t know. I speculate about those kinds of things, you know, take Jerry Ford and plop him down in Jimmy Carter’s circumstances. I think what you would have had, if Ford were still there, was a very well experienced team, because you still had Kissinger, for example, at State, and you had Rumsfeld over at Defense by then. And I think it would have been a group that had performed previously together, and I think would have gone on. The way the issue often comes up is if Ford had won in ’76 and beat Jimmy Carter, would we ever have had Ronald Reagan for president, which is an interesting question. And obviously, the Reagan presidency was an extraordinarily important one for the country from a historical standpoint. I was a Ford man all the way, but in 1980, I supported Reagan when it was clear Ford wasn’t going to run. But I often think that it took Jimmy Carter to create a set of circumstances where we could get to Ronald Reagan, and Reagan was, after all, a historically very significant figure for the latter part of the 20th Century.

HH: And one of the most interesting parts of In My Time is when you talk about that famous convention in 1980 when Ronald Reagan is offering the vice presidency to Jerry Ford. And you were a skeptic of this co-presidency thing. That’s new. That’s pretty interesting stuff.

DC: It is interesting stuff. I’d actually, in ’76, when we replaced Rockefeller, and we needed a new running mate, and we ended up with Bob Dole, but I had some polling done, very secretively by Bob Teeter, our pollster, testing the proposition of a Ford-Reagan ticket. And data was very good. I mean, Reagan added more to the ticket than anybody else did. And I took Bob up to Camp David one weekend before the convention, and we sat down with President Ford, and I laid this out to him. And he didn’t like it. And the tension had gotten so great between the two of them as a result of the primary that you just couldn’t put it together in ’76. In 1980, by then, I’m a junior member of Congress, on the outer fringes of what’s going on. Howard Baker and John Rhodes invited me to come down and participate in these meetings they were having with Bill Casey over what the Reagan people were willing to do. And they were very forthcoming in terms of offering really significant responsibilities to a prospective vice president. I always had the feeling that President Ford had made some demands that he didn’t expect anybody could accept, and he was surprised when they went as far as they did. Now of course, eventually, everybody understood this wasn’t going to work. Reagan invited Bush to become his running mate, and everything went along fine after that. But that was a remarkable set of meetings that day, because they really were talking about, if they’d implemented it, a co-presidency. And that doesn’t work. You cannot delegate some of the powers of the president. There are some things only he can do. And Ford was asking for some of those to be turned over to him if he were to agree to become vice president. But as I say, I was always convinced, knowing how strongly he felt about the vice presidency, how much he disliked his time as Nixon’s vice president. I didn’t see that Jerry Ford was ever going to go back as the number two.

HH: You know, given the whole, that anecdote and the whole thrust of In My Time, all those stories about you being the co-president, it’s just inconsistent with your understanding of the executive branch and the presidency, which comes through in every chapter.

DC: Right, and the fact of the matter was I had a significant role to play in our administration, but there was never any question about who was president. And that was George Bush, and he made the decisions. I didn’t run anything. I wasn’t in charge of the Defense Department, for example, when I’d had four million people working for me back in the early 90s. It was a situation where I had a good relationship with the president, and he let me get involved in whatever I wanted to get involved in. And I had, I think, significant influence, but there wasn’t any question about who was making the decisions, and that was the president. And I’ve included, deliberately, a couple of situations where he made decisions that clearly I disagreed with, where he overrode me and went and did what he wanted to do. He was the president.

HH: We’ll talk about that, the firing of Don Rumsfeld, the Scooter Libby non-pardon, different things we’ll get to. But let’s stay on ’76 for just one second. Since you were at the center of that, I was the youth campaign coordinator in Massachusetts for Jerry Ford, and I remember how ugly it was, and how Ford came out at the end dented. Right now, it looks like a two person race between Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. What advice do you give them both about making sure that at the end of this, the nominee isn’t too damaged to take on President Obama?

DC: Well, it helps to have a back channel established between the two campaigns in advance, early on, one that neither one’s going to violate. But if you’ve got something you want to say to the other camp, you’ve got a way to say it. And sometimes, I think that happens, especially when you get an old pro around who knows everybody. It’s a little tougher to do, I think, when you’ve got the two governors involved who, I don’t know how well they know each other, can be. They’re not all that close. But I think it’s basically a positive basis from which you can start, just by having a clear channel open, or when somebody gets off the reservation in one camp or the other. You can at least raise that quietly. You can’t do it with the press, you can’t do with the press involved in it. It just breaks down. It’s almost like sensitive back channel negotiations between two important countries. But it’s not a bad way to proceed.

HH: I want to now, since we’re on the cusp of the 9/11 anniversary, ask you a couple of questions about 9/11, especially one decision that you talk about in IN My Time, and that is the decision for President Bush to return to Washington on the day of the attack. In retrospect, was that a good call, given what we knew and the likelihood, or the not likelihood that there might have been additional attacks?

DC: Yeah, well, I think it was a good call the way we handled the attack. One of the things we’d learned, and I’d been heavily involved earlier in my career as Defense secretary, as White House chief of staff and so forth, in what we call the continuity of government program. For years, the U.S. practiced, actually had exercises that were involved in having a government survive the possibility of an all-out nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. And at the heart of that was making certain we protected successors in the line of succession to the presidency, so that when the smoke settled, that you had somebody as president who had the authority and Constitutional responsibilities to run the country. And that training kicked in that morning, and there were two things I really focused on that day. One was getting all the planes down out of the sky so we could sort out which ones had been hijacked. But the second was continuity of government. And after the president and vice president, next in line is the Speaker. One of the things we did that day was to get Denny Hastert, then speaker of the House, relocated to a secure location.

HH: Andrews, right?

DC: Well, it was at Andrews to begin with, but we flew him out of Andrews to an undisclosed location. It never has been disclosed, and sort of put him on ice. But I talked to him a couple of times to keep him informed of what was going on in the event the president and I were taken out, Denny was in a position to function as the president of the United States. And so it was important for us to do that, and we had made those arrangements, and then pretty well had a handle on things by the time we decided it was time that we could bring the president back. He was pushing very hard to come back. He wanted to be smack dab in the middle of the action in the White House. Of course, he was in Florida when the attack happened, but based on my advice, and also the advice of the Secret Service, he agreed to go to Offutt in Omaha, StratCom headquarters, where he had security and good communications and so forth. And by the time we started talking about bringing him back, we had pretty well then reduced the list. We started with a list of six aircraft we thought had been hijacked. It turned out it was only four, and then we could account for all of them by that point. Two of them had gone into the Trade Center, one hit the Pentagon, and the fourth had gone in, in Pennsylvania. So we were fairly confident that we’d seen the maximum that the enemy could do to us that day in terms of what was planned, and got him on back, and had an NSC meeting there. You’re torn as a time like that, because you really do want the President in charge. He’s the guy that we elected to run the show and deal with those kinds of situations. And we were operating in a crisis atmosphere while I was doing what I was doing in the emergency operations center that day. But as soon as we could get the President back, get him on television, give him a chance to address the country, the better off we were going to be in terms of conveying both here at home as well as around the world the notion that the United States had been struck, but we were still flying.

HH: Now it’s been ten years, and it’s a riveting account in In My Time. But can you recall the emotions of that day vividly? And you’re sitting next to Liz. You know, you’ve got two daughters. I don’t know if they were both in Washington. I think Liz was in Washington. Mrs. Cheney was in Washington. How are you emotionally handling the worry that D.C. is under attack at the same time you’re in command, not in the Al Haig kind of way, but in the operations room. How are you balancing those things?

DC: Well, Liz was in Washington. You were working over at the State Department, I think, at the time.

LC: At World Bank then.

DC: At World Bank. And we, Mary was on a dive trip in the Caribbean. She was an avid scuba diver, and she’d gone down there with friends on a dive trip, so she wasn’t immediately of concern. Lynne was downtown at the time the attack happened, so the Secret Service brought her to the White House, and she was with me all day long. She sat there at the table next to me and took notes on everything that was going on. It turned out later on to be very, very valuable from the standpoint of the sort of 9/11 Commission that tried to reconstruct the events of the day. I was confident that the Secret Service would look after my family. That was part of their responsibility. And Lynne tracked down where the girls were and what they were doing, so we got relatively quick word that the kids were fine. And I didn’t worry about it. That was their job. The agents would take good care of them. My job was to do what I was doing, and to stay focused on that. And you can’t let personal considerations enter in, in a moment like that when you’re making potentially life and death decisions that are going to affect thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people.

HH: Mr. Vice President, on that day, obviously when the crisis hits, people show their real ability to command and control. Secretary Rumsfeld walks back to the building, helps with the wounded. Some people know how to act there. Did anyone disappoint? I’m not looking for names, but did it reveal some people’s weaknesses to you in crisis?

DC: Well, we had a sense of who could function well in that kind of a situation, and some people can’t. And it’s not, it’s…we’re all human. And if you’d had certain kinds of experiences, or you’d been around before, you’d had the opportunity to operate before, part of it is not just having individuals who are sound, solid citizens, but it’s also having the experience of having worked together that is important.

HH: You had been with President Ford in crises, you’ve been with the first President Bush in crises. Did President W. Bush surprise you in that week and on that day for his capacity?

DC: No, he was very much sort of up to speed, if I can put it in those terms. Like everybody, I think first thing that morning, we all scratched our heads when we got the report of the first plane into the World Trade Center, beautiful, clear day in New York, how could that have happened? Everybody thought accident. Well, as soon as the second one hit, then we all thought terrorism. And he made that transition very quickly. He was very much aware that his actions would affect others, and how others saw the event. He handled the situation, I thought, well at the school he was at. He didn’t want to create a sense of panic, but he had to get out of there and get airborne, and at the time, thought he was coming straight back to Washington. He was very much in command, knew the right questions to ask, but had to deal with a lot of difficult situations and circumstances. As I say, the one source of frustration he had was he wanted to be back in Washington as quickly as possible. But he also had the good sense to know that those of us who are arguing let’s go slow here, don’t come rushing back until we can find out what’s going on, and how extensive the problem is, because we can’t risk a situation in which we lose the president, or the president and the vice president. So you’ve got to give us some time here to sort his out. And he didn’t like it, but he understood it, and acted accordingly.

HH: You mentioned the continuity of government exercises. You talk about them on Page 129 in In My Time. And I was wondering as I read that if they had just been a little luckier, if their targeting had been better organized, if the President had been at the White House, if they had seen the White House or had gotten to the Capitol, they could have decapitated the government.

DC: Correct.

HH: What have you thought through? Have we done better at…I mean, Robert Byrd went home, Hastert’s at Andrews, do we have a better plan now for this? Or how would be reconstitute the government if that were to happen in the future?

DC: Well, I think we’ve got, I think what happened that morning was we saw what was possible, and that our adversaries were perfectly capable of mounting that kind of an attack. Now clearly, they, as you look at what they chose to hit, there was apparently a dispute at some point, because there was some evidence the original target was going to be the White House, and then they shifted, apparently, to focusing on the Capitol. But that was going to be Flight 93 that had that as a target. And of course, the passengers took care of that problem, and they took down 93. But the notion that we could have handled it differently, or that we would have gotten better from the continuity of government perspective, I think we saw that morning what was possible, and that this was something we had to worry about. We were better after 9/11 than we were before. For example, the President went and addressed a joint session of Congress a couple of days after this attack. I wasn’t in the audience that night. I was up at Camp David, which was then my secure undisclosed location. We, every time we had a joint session of Congress, or a state of the union speech, we’ve always now followed the practice of making certain that there is a presidential successor that is a cabinet member who is under the statutes passed by the Congress, eligible to become president should everybody him in the line be taken out. And so we never had a joint session of Congress thereafter where we hadn’t taken precautions and moved one of the successors to a secure location, where in case something happened in the Capitol building, a bomb that took down the Capitol building, for example, that we would have a president.

HH: Liz Cheney, if I can drag you in for a moment, your 9/11, what were your, what were you doing that day? And were you, did you fear for your parents’ safety? Or were you just comfortable that they were where they needed to be that day?

LC: Well, I knew immediately that something was different, because my whole life, whenever I’ve called my dad, you know, we’ve always had the direct line to his office, no matter what job he was in. And he was always available to talk. And that morning, I was in my car listening to the radio, and heard that there had been one plane hit the World Trade Center, and I called him. And I got him on the phone, and he said to me two planes have hit, it’s a terrorist attack, I have to go, and he hung up. And it was clear to me, you know, obviously at that moment, this was something very different. I knew that I had a sense of everything that he had been through and done prepared him to be where he was. As an American, you know, not just as his daughter, I was very glad he was where he was. My immediate concern was for my own kids, and getting to my kids, who were at school. As my dad said, though, the Secret Service was there very quickly, and all of us were able to meet up that night up at Camp David, actually.

HH: Mr. Vice President, you mention throughout the book the efforts of people like John McConnell and Mike Gerson. These are wordsmiths who helped the President and help you communicate with the country in the aftermath of 9/11. They did so wonderfully in the Cathedral address, the joint session. But afterwards, do you think the administration lost sight of their communication strategy with the American people after starting out so strong? Did they not communicate consistently about the war, about Iraq, about the fact it was one war on many continents?

DC: I don’t think so, but it was, I think of it from my own perspective, the things I got involved in immediately after 9/11, and subsequent years. Two come immediately to mind – the terror surveillance program, and the other was enhanced interrogation techniques for how we interrogated al Qaeda captives like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Both of those involved a lot of highly sensitive, classified information. They were very difficult to go out and talk about. To talk about them, to some extent, ran the risk of compromising these operations, and telling the bad guys how we were reading their mail, or the techniques that we were using with respect to enhanced interrogation. And so there’s a limit there in the sense that you can go a certain distance, but you can only go so far. And then you might have to cross that line in order to explain it fully to people and have them understand it, say yeah, right on, but if you did that, then you, by definition, had created a problem for yourself. We had, for example, at one point on the terror surveillance program, some controversy that developed internally within the administration. We needed to have a session where I invited down top leadership of the Congress, senior nine members of the House and Senate, Republican and Democrat, briefed them on the program, told them what we were doing and how we were doing it, and what it had produced by way of results. And then the question I asked them, I said should we continue. Absolutely, they said yes. Nancy Pelosi was there. They were all unanimous. Secondly, I said do we need to come back to the Congress to get more authority. And they said absolutely not. If you come back up there, it’s going to leak. And so we didn’t do that. We continued on the course we were on. But we could have done more, I think, to communicate to the public. But doing so would have risked, as I say, the essence of the programs themselves.

HH: Do you think that today the American public remains focused on the nature of the threat from the Islamist radical fringe?

DC: I think all the time that’s passed now, the ten years, that there’s a bit of a tendency in some quarters for people to say look, that was a one-off affair, it’s never going to happen again, or not to think about it at all, just to tune it out. I think it’s understandable why that happens, but it’s dangerous. I think the threat’s still very real. I think we’re faced with a set of circumstances where the biggest threat we face as a nation is the possibility of a terrorist organization, like al Qaeda, coming at us next time with deadlier weapons, with a biological agent of some kind, or a nuclear weapon, to kill perhaps hundreds of thousands of Americans. We cannot let our guard down. It’s very important we not do that.

HH: I want to talk to you about, from your perspective, I think, as I went through my notes, you’re probably the individual, the civilian who has spent the most time either in supervisory roles of the military or advising the commander-in-chief – Secretary of Defense, Vice President, Chief of Staff. You probably know the American military as well as any civilian. And you’ve dealt with a lot of generals. I was just making a list of the different generals you’ve dealt with – Franks, Abizaid, Sanchez, Casey, Petraeus, Odierno, Schwarzkopf, Mike Dugan, who you had to fire because of this. Do we do, does our civilian leadership do a good job of picking the generals to fight wars?

DC: I think generally yes. Not always, but I think generally, the answer I’d give is yes, and part of that is because of the enormously competent and capable people that we have rise all the way to three or four stars, so they’re in a position to command major operations. Those are difficult tasks, but when you start with a million man army, and you get down to that one guy or that handful of guys at the top, you produce some really remarkable individuals like Ray Odierno, or Dave Petraeus, the guys who did so much of our operations in Iraq when the going got tough. They really, we are blessed to have people of the caliber that we do – Stan McChrystal, who was the head of our Special Operations Command for a long time. Those individuals are, they’re giants. And I would, I’ve got more confidence in them sometimes than I do in the civilians that are put over them. Now obviously, under our system, the civilians make basic, fundamental calls, the military reports to the civilian political structure. That’s as it should be. But we are blessed with the caliber of men and women at the senior levels in the military.

HH: Memo to the next Republican president, they’re looking for a secretary of Defense. What’s the skill set that individual needs?

DC: Well, that’s a good question. It’s…what I found valuable, from my perspective, I had some experiences that proved to be especially useful. One was my time on Capitol Hill as a member of Congress. I’d worked for ten years with people on both sides of the aisle. And those friendships were vital to me when it came time to deal with Congress as the Secretary of Defense, because Congress has a huge impact on the Defense Department. And it’s not just battles over budgets and so forth. There are all kinds of issues that come up. That’s a place where we had to work hard to get the votes to authorize us to go into Kuwait, to kick Saddam Hussein out. We only prevailed by five votes in the Senate when that issue came up. So there’s some very close-run issues where background in the Congress is very important. That’s not to say every Congressman is capable of being Secretary of Defense. I don’t think they are. But that’s a biggie. Some background managing large organizations – my time in the White House running the Ford White House was invaluable in terms of how you service the president, how you get to him the information he needs to make these key life or death decisions, the linkage between the White House civilian operation and the military was crucial, how you manage the national security apparatus of State and Defense, and the NSC. Those kinds of backgrounds and experiences were valuable. The other thing that’s crucial, I think, is find yourself a really good deputy who comes from a totally different background. I was blessed. I had a guy named Don Atwood. Don was vice chairman of General Motors. He’d been an infantryman in World War II, and I don’t think he ever got above the rank of corporal. But he was a master at running a large organization, and managing a huge, somewhat technical enterprise. And the deputy secretary of Defense is more important and more influential than most cabinet members, given the nature of the job. And so you can make up a lot by picking somebody as your deputy who’s got that kind of background.

HH: Secretary Rumsfeld – did he succeed in transforming the Pentagon, in your opinion?

DC: He had a big impact. Don was a guy as secretary who is really hands-on. I mean, he would delve into the organization in major ways, in terms of asking the tough questions, and forcing up important issues to be resolved, and so forth. That’s just Rumsfeld’s style of management. I worked for the guy for four years.

HH: I liked your two job interviews with him – one successful, one not.

DC: (laughing) Yeah, one I got hired, and one I got thrown out.HH: (laughing)

DC: But no, he’s a remarkable individual, and he’s one of the best bosses I ever had. But he’s also probably the toughest I ever had. Don’s one of those guys that if you do well, he gives you more work. He’s not going to pat you on the head and make you feel all warm and fuzzy. He’s going to give you more work to do. And I think the tours he had in the Pentagon were very successful.

HH: One of the disagreements that you referred to earlier, you urged the President not to relieve him in November of 2006. Explain to the audience why you thought that was a mistake. The President, of course, disagreed. But why did you think it was a mistake.

DC: Well, and the President gets to make that decision.

HH: Right.

DC: It had come up before. This wasn’t the first time. But I felt strongly that Rumsfeld had put together a good operation, that the team that he worked with, Tommy Franks as our commander on the scene over there, he and Tommy had worked very hard to put together the plan for going into Iraq that accomplished a much more difficult task, in some respects, than the one we’d had ten years before, 1990 and 1991, and done it with fewer forces. If you just looked at it, it was a masterpiece in terms of that particular campaign. It got controversial afterwards, after we had occupied Iraq and we got into the controversies over how it’s going to be managed, and debates between State and Defense and so forth. But I thought that it was sound policy, and with respect to the President making that choice or that decision, I thought, relieving Rumsfeld would be taken at the time as some loss of confidence, if you will, in the basic overall strategy of being in Iraq. Now clearly, the President made, by the time he brought it up to me, he’d made his decision. We were in the midst of getting ready to change the strategy by going with a surge. And that work was underway already under Rumsfeld over at the Pentagon, and of course, we continued that when Gates came on board, and the President went ahead and made the decision in the beginning of ’07 for the surge. And that’s the road we went down. I was a strong supporter of the surge. That was the right way to go. But I, obviously, I admit a fondness for Rumsfeld, and it’s a lifelong relationship, almost. I’ve known him for better than 40 years, and I hated to seem him go.

HH: I’ve spent five hours talking with him about his memoir. I’ve spent five hours talking with him about his memoir. He beat you, by the way, in word count.

DC: (laughing) He did.

HH: He did. I just want you to know that you came in short.

DC: Right. Well, I’m glad he was on the show.

HH: Let me ask you about Peter Pace, another decision with which you disagreed, and I thought very unfortunate for the war, and for an extraordinary general. Should the Secretary and the President have stood up to Congress at that point, because they basically threatened the administration. It was after the loss of the control of the Senate, and they were going to make it hard on him. Should the Bush administration have stood up at that point and said Peter Pace is a good man, and we’re sticking with him?

DC: Absolutely. Yeah, I…Peter Pace, he was the first Marine ever to be chairman of the joint chiefs. And I will just give you one example. I went out one day to Walter Reed to visit with some of our wounded troops out there, and invited Pete to go with me. So the two of us went out and visited all of the wounded soldiers and Marines who were in the hospital at that time recuperating from very serious wounds. And I watched General Pace with these young soldiers and Marines, and it was absolutely remarkable. He had a rapport, a bonding with these guys unlike anybody I’d ever seen. He still carried around, and could recite from memory, the list of the men that he had lost in his platoon when he was a Marine lieutenant in the Battle of Hue, back in 1968, at the time of the war in Vietnam. He never forgot them, and talked about them from time to time. And those soldiers in the hospital, there was something when Pete walked into the room, they knew he was one of them. He might be a four star general, he might be chairman of the joint chiefs, but he was their guy. And I’d never seen anything quite that emotional, frankly, for me, just walking around with him, sharing that experience. He did a superb job for us as chairman. The normal practice is that you get two two-year terms as chairman of the joint chiefs. He had finished his first two-year term, and was up for the second one, and had been nominated. And a place where I disagreed with Bob Gates. Bob went up, talked to the Democrats on the Committee, Carl Levin was the chairman at that point, the Democrats had taken over in ’06. And he, Levin left Bob with the impression that he might have trouble getting Pace confirmed, that there’d be a fight about it, and so Bob persuaded the President that he wanted to withdraw the nomination and went with Admiral Mullen, who is a fine guy. But the point was Pace, and also another victim of that was Ed Giambastiani, a Navy admiral who was a brilliant officer. And you couldn’t have two admirals in those top two jobs, so when you went with Mullen for chief, then the vice chief had to be somebody else. And so Ed, Admiral G. as they called him, most people couldn’t pronounce his name, had to step down. But I thought it was a mistake. I thought Pete should have had the other two years, which was the normal tour. And I thought he had performed masterfully in a very difficult job, and it was one of those periods in our history where it was very important to have somebody at the top ranks of the military who had that kind of feel and sympathy and understanding that he had for what we were asking those young men to do.

HH: Three generals I want to get comments on. General Maddis, is it just luck of the draw that he has not had the kind of command that General Petraeus and Odierno, and now John Allen has in Afghanistan? Or is there something about the fighting general that keeps them on the shelf until…

DC: I don’t know the specific case with respect to General Maddis. I’m unaware of any problem, but I’m not current on his situation.

HH: General Schwarzkopf – interesting recounting of the war here, and an interesting relationship with him. Was it the right choice, given everything that we learned afterwards, especially the messy conclusion? I didn’t know the details of this until I read In My Time. We didn’t know where our troops were, the Republican Guard got away, it was just kind of, the helicopters got given over to Saddam. It was kind of a mess up at the end of the first Gulf War.

DC: Well, it was like most wars. They never go according to plan. And there were some missteps, I guess I’d put it that way, at the tail end as we got that sorted out. But that we’d done what we said we were going to do, we did it, I think, in a masterful fashion, with very few casualties, and the tail end of it was messy, as you say. The Iraqis got to keep helicopters. On the other hand, we destroyed all the bridges in the country with our precision-guided munitions. They couldn’t get around without something like helicopters, so Norm had signed up to that, I think, without thinking about what the long term consequences might be. But Schwarzkopf was a good general. And it was a very difficult assignment, partly because we had this enormously complex coalition that we’d put together. And you had all of these people volunteering to serve, and send in troops, but we’d get a battalion from Senegal, and you wanted them in because it showed the breadth of the operation. But then somebody had to feed them, somebody had to supply them with ammunition, somebody had to find a place to put them in the order of battle, and Norm had to deal with all that stuff. So our State Department types were out running around, rounding up forces. But then Norm’s sitting there receiving them, and a lot of them are just making life more difficult for him. But he did a masterful job. He put together, I think, a very effective program. You won’t find very many campaigns of that scale that were conducted with, I think, we only had 148 killed in action.

HH: Wow.

DC: It really was a remarkable performance.

HH: A little bit of information in In My Time I had never seen before. At the end of the first Gulf War, you called Ronald Reagan. You also called a man named David Ivry, as you recount on Page 227. I’ve never heard of him before. Would you explain to the audience why you gave him a call?

DC: David Ivry was the Israeli ambassador to the United States. But back in the early 80s, ’81, he was at that time the head of the Israeli Air Force. And that was when the Israelis had gone in. They’d found that Saddam Hussein was building a nuclear reactor at Osirak, in Iraq, and they’d gone in and destroyed it through bombing missions, and took it out. And they were roundly criticized for that. I thought it was a masterful stroke, and I later got a photograph that had been taken at night, and special technology involved, but it showed what was left of that reactor after the Israelis had taken it out. And ten years later, when we went in and kicked Saddam out of Kuwait and won the Gulf War, I got a picture of that, copy of it, and signed it. I said Dear David, I want to thank you for what you did in 1981 that made it a lot easier for my guys in 1991 when you took out that Iraqi reactor. And he’s always, he had that hanging on the wall of his office, even after he went back to Israel.

HH: Now in In My Time, there’s also an extended, and to me, quite revealing conversation about the Israeli attack on the Syrian reactor, and the debate that went on in the highest councils of the Bush administration prior to that. I guess that must have all been declassified. I just missed a lot of it. But going back, do you, ought we to have done that? Do you think the United States ought to have taken out that nuclear reactor? Or are we always going to let the Israelis do the dirty work for us?

DC: Well, I thought we should have taken it out. What happened was, we got involved in, I want to say the spring of ’07 was when it first cropped up on the radar screen. And eventually, it was taken out by the Israelis in the fall, in September of ’07. I’d recommended that we do it, that the United States take it out, that that would send a very strong signal to the North Koreans and the Syrians and the Iranians, all of whom were trying to get into the nuclear business at that point. The North Koreans were already there. The President decided not to take it out, but rather to go the diplomatic route, and offer a U.N., United Nations approach to the Israelis. And the Israelis, of course, weren’t interested in having the U.N. in the middle of their business, and so they went in and took it out, which I was thankful for. But the way that it went down, and the way it became public was that in the spring of ’08, which was a couple of years later, we decided that we had to go public with what had happened here, partly because it was evidence that the North Koreans were proliferating nuclear weapons technology to a terrorist-sponsoring state, which we said we’d never let happen. And so there was a briefing given by administration officials at the White House where they laid out a lot of this detail, and the source of much of the information on that operation comes directly out of that briefing. It didn’t get a lot of attention in the press, because…

HH: No, it didn’t.

DC: …it was done sort of on the Q-T. But it was all unclassified at that time.

HH: It’s an amazing narrative. You also talk about in here the NIE that came out about Iran, and whether or not it tied our hands. Do you think the CIA manipulated that intentionally to tie the Bush administration’s hands?

DC: My recollection is, and I need to be careful here that I don’t get into an area that’s still protected, but it was produced by the intelligence community. But I think the individual who actually was sort of the chief author, came out of the State Department, and on the State Department intel side of the business. It turned out to be very misleading. And it was, it served, though, to undermine the efforts that were being mounted in some quarters to make the case for going after the Iranian nuclear program. And there are accounts, well, just today, I just got through reading, I think it was an editorial in the Washington Post today on the scope and sweep of the Iranian nuclear program, and that we’ve not yet found an effective way to deal with it.

HH: Let me finish, and I’m getting the wrap-up sign back here, I think, with two subjects. First is your very unusual relationship with Secretary of State Powell. You promoted General Powell to be the chief of staff when you were the Secretary of Defense, and your careers are intertwined. He’s a little put out over this book. And on the other hand, when you read this, your relationship’s so complex. Mrs. Powell making you Thanksgiving dinner, and Liz is nodding here when you were in the hospital. What is that relationship? Is it like Woody and Bo? What is it?

DC: Well, today it’s strained, obviously. And General Powell has made clear that he doesn’t agree with everything I’ve got in my book that involves him. But there are parts of the book, I try to be balanced, and the relationship has, I think, been balanced over time. I did pick him to be chairman of the joint chiefs when I became Secretary of Defense in ’89. I got the President to nominate him. And he served for four years in that capacity. We worked very well together, I felt, through the course of Desert Storm and all of the other things we had to do on my watch. And I think it was a very good relationship at that point. Now later on, when he came back as Secretary of State and I was vice president, it became a very strained relationship. I’m not sure why. It’s one of those things that happens in Washington, but the relationship is obviously strained at this point, and that’s life.

HH: Let me conclude by asking you, Vice President Cheney, about vice presidents. You oversaw the selection process, you yourself have served in it for eight years, you’ve worked alongside Rockefeller as a vice president, and Ford as a vice president, and you know this business. When you were first selected, I’ll confess, I said that’s three electoral votes. That doesn’t do us anything. I said Wyoming? Are you crazy? But what is your advice to the nominees as they come forward as to what they need in a vice president?

DC: Well, (laughing) it has generally in the past been a crappy job, if I can put it in those terms. I don’t mean to be vulgar in my choice of language at all. But it, Ford, as I say, always loved telling me that it was the worst job he ever had after I got the job. He thought that was great to sort of stick it in every once in a while. It really depends upon who’s president, it depends upon what he expects in a vice president. There have been some, for example, I always, I’m not a big fan of Jimmy Carter’s, but I thought that Walter Mondale was used pretty effectively in the Carter administration. In other cases, the vice president, well, Lyndon Johnson, for example, Kennedy beats him for the nomination, but then makes him his vice presidential candidate. Johnson takes it, but he gives up being the Senate majority leader to go down. And the one thing I can remember Johnson did as vice president was he invited some camel herder from Afghanistan to come visit the White House. They didn’t give him anything to do. Of course, he eventually became president on Kennedy’s death. It is very difficult to predict how it’s going to go, but it really turns on the president himself, and whether or not he’s willing to let the vice president do anything. One of the things I think that helped me, frankly, was that I’d made the decision some years before, when I’d looked at running for president myself, that I wasn’t going to run for president. And the fact that I was not a candidate, and that I made it clear to the president and others that I was not going to be a candidate for president meant I wasn’t worried about what kind of comment I was going to generate in Iowa four years hence. And that was crucial, because that meant there was only one agenda in the Bush White House, and that was the President’s agenda. I wasn’t going to be somebody who was going to be peddling advice or taking actions that were designed to promote me instead of him. And that was very important. I was surprised, too. I argued against the selection when he picked me. I sat up, said okay, look, I’ll consider what I have to do to become vice president, because I’ve got to worry about my job and so forth, reregistering. But I said I want to come down and sit down with you in Austin, and tell you all the reasons why it’s a lousy idea. And by the way, Karl Rove wanted to go with me, because Karl agreed, too.

HH: (laughing)

DC: And we sat down and made the arguments, and then a couple of days later, he called and said you’re my guy. And you’re right, it was only three electoral votes. It turned out they were pretty important electoral votes.

HH: (laughing) Yes, they were.

DC: But it was, for me, it worked very well. And I think the President believed it worked well for him, too. But it’s a difficult kind of a job to be hard and fast about anything. It works, it doesn’t work. And often times in the past, it’s been a nothing job, and a nothing burger of a job. John Nance Garner hated it. He’s not the only one. You go back, and most people can’t even remember who was vice president when. In my case, I was fortunate. I did get major responsibilities, and given my background and so forth, it all fit together. I’m not sure it would the next time around.

HH: Vice President Dick Cheney, congratulations on In My Time. Thanks for coming by, thanks for your service.

DC: Well, thanks for reading the book, Hugh. You obviously know a lot about it.

HH: Well, I got, like, one-third of the way through the questions, but time is time. When you’re bored, come back.

DC: All right. We’ll do it.

HH: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

DC: You bet.

End of interview.


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