By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, February 23, 2007; 12:46 PM
Vice President Cheney is going out of his way to make it clear that he doesn't think he has anything to apologize for.
In an unprecedented display of public verbosity from the typically taciturn vice president, Cheney spoke for the second time in three days with ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl. During today's 22-minute interview in a Sydney restaurant, Cheney showed no sign of backing down from controversy. Rather, he:
* Repeated and amplified his opinion that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's proposed course in Iraq would validate al Qaeda. (After Cheney's last interview with Karl, Pelosi called upon President Bush to repudiate the comments.)
* Refused to acknowledge any failure of U.S. policy in Iraq.
* Stood by his 1991 prediction that an invasion of Iraq would result in a quagmire -- but said that 9/11 changed the dynamics such that it had to be done anyway.
* Expressed pride in having done "some very controversial things" since 9/11 that he said have averted further terrorist attacks within our borders.
* Said it was "probably inaccurate" to call him an all-powerful vice president.
* Refused to rule out military action against Iran.
As Karl reports, "Cheney first made that allegation regarding Pelosi's call for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq on Wednesday, prompting Pelosi to call the White House to ask President Bush to repudiate the comments.
"Pelosi called Cheney's words 'beneath the dignity of the debate we're engaged in and a disservice to our men and women in uniform, whom we all support.'
"But Cheney is holding firm on his original comments."
Cheney, in fact, seemed somewhat amused at the controversy -- including the fact that Pelosi had not been able to reach the president when she called.
From the transcript:
"Cheney: She did call him. She got [chief of staff] Josh Bolten. The president wasn't in right then. But I'm not sure what part of it is that Nancy disagreed with. [Cheney chuckles]
"She accused me of questioning her patriotism. I didn't question her patriotism. I questioned her judgment. If you're going to advocate a course of action that basically is withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, then you don't get to just do the fun part of that, that says, we'll we're going to get out and appeal to your constituents on that basis.
"You also have to be accountable for the results. What are the consequences of that? What happens if we withdraw from Iraq? And the point I made and I'll make it again is that al Qaeda functions on the basis that they think they can break our will. That's their fundamental underlying strategy, that if they can kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in Iraq, then we'll quit and go home. And my statement was that if we adopt the Pelosi policy, that then we will validate the strategy of al Qaeda. I said it and I meant it.
"Karl: And you're not backing down?
"Cheney: I'm not backing down."
At yesterday's press briefing, by the way, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino came to Cheney's defense -- quite aggressively.
"Q Was he at all out of line in making those comments?
"MS. PERINO: The Vice President out of line? Absolutely not. He was questioning the merits of the -- of their proposal. And I think if you go up and take a look back at some of the things that they've said about the President, the tables could be turned. But we're not making the same accusations."Failure? What Failure?
Cheney on the subject of Iraq:
"Karl: But hasn't our strategy been failing? Isn't that why the president has had to come out with a new strategy?
"Cheney: A failed strategy? Let's see, we didn't fail when we got rid of Saddam. We didn't fail when we held elections. We didn't fail when we got a constitution written. Those are all success stories.
"Karl: But didn't we fail when 3,000 American soldiers are killed?
"Cheney: You wish there was never a single --
"Karl: When a virtual civil war is --
"Cheney: You wish there was never a casualty, Jonathan. Always regret when you have casualties, but we are at war. And we have to succeed where we've begun this venture. And we can. There's no reason in the world why the United States of America, along with our allies cannot get it right in Iraq. I think we will.
"Karl: You seem to be one of the most optimistic people that I have spoken to about Iraq. [What is your response to people who say] you don't see the downside, you don't see the violence, you don't see the way things are falling apart?
"Cheney: If you look at our history -- and crucial moments in history, whether you look at the Civil War, World War II or other conflicts we've been engaged in -- there were many, many times when we could have quit, when we could have said, gee, that's just too tough. We're not going to go there. We're not going to make it.
"This is obviously a different kind of conflict, but it requires the same kind of commitment from the United States, from U.S. leadership, and unfortunately the same kind of sacrifice on the part of America's armed forces. We are enormously blessed to have the men and women we have in uniform willing to go into harm's way on a volunteer basis to do what needs to be done for the country.
"Karl: Is it getting harder for them, though? You see the latest spate of helicopter downings, the military says this seems to be a new strategy to take down helicopters. We've seen the use apparently of chemical bombs now in the last week in Iraq. Is it getting harder?
Cheney: It's just the terrorists doing what terrorists always do, adjusting and adapting their strategies. We can do the same obviously adjust and adapt."Cheney's Quagmire Prediction
I'm not sure, but this may have been the first time a reporter asked Cheney to respond to his now-famous assertion in 1991 that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would result in a quagmire.
Here's the complete quote from 1991 ( YouTube has the audio): "The notion that we ought to now go to Baghdad and somehow take control of the country strikes me as an extremely serious one in terms of what we'd have to do once we got there. You'd probably have to put some new government in place. It's not clear what kind of government that would be, how long you'd have to stay. For the U.S. to get involved militarily in determining the outcome of the struggle over who's going to govern in Iraq strikes me as a classic definition of a quagmire."
From today's interview:
"Karl: Back in 1991, you talked about how military action in Iraq would be the classic definition of a quagmire. Have you been disturbed to see how right you were? Or people certainly said that you were exactly on target in your analysis back in 1991 of what would happen if the U.S. tried to go in --
"Cheney: Well, I stand by what I said in '91. But look what's happened since then -- we had 9/11. We've found ourselves in a situation where what was going on in that part of the globe and the growth and development of the extremists, the al Qaeda types that are prepared to strike the United States demonstrated that we weren't safe and secure behind our own borders. We weren't in Iraq when we got hit on 9/11. But we got hit in '93 at the World Trade Center, in '96 at Khobar Towers, or '98 in the East Africa embassy bombings, 2000, the USS Cole. And of course, finally 9/11 right here at home. They continued to hit us because we didn't respond effectively, because they believed we were weak. They believed if they killed enough Americans, they could change our policy because they did on a number of occasions. That day has passed. That all ended with 9/11.
"In Iraq, what we've done now is we've taken down Saddam Hussein. He's dead. His sons are dead. His government is gone. There's a democratically elected government in place. We've had three national elections in Iraq with higher turnout that we have in the United States. They've got a good constitution. They've got a couple hundred thousand men in arms now, trained and equipped to fight the good fight. They're now fighting alongside Americans in Baghdad and elsewhere. There are -- lots of the country that are in pretty good shape. We've got to get right in Baghdad. That's the task at hand. I think we can do it."
So if I read this correctly, Cheney is saying: Yes, it's a quagmire. But after 9/11 we needed to prove that we weren't weak.
Is that now the official White House position?Cheney and 'Controversial Things'
Karl asked Cheney how he thought history would judge him, particularly in light of poll results that show he is widely considered a deeply divisive and unpopular figure.
"Cheney: I'm not spending any time. You can't -- I come back again to the proposition, do we get paid to be popular? Do we get paid to have a nice standing in the polls? Or do we get paid to do what we think is right for the country to make those tough calls. And we've done it consistently. We've made tough decisions and we've done things that we thought needed to be done. We've succeeded I think in many respects. I think we've been very successful in Afghanistan and Iraq. I also think we've been very successful in defending the nation at home. We've gone more than five years without another 9/11. That's not an accident, but it's because we've done some very controversial things.
"We've aggressively gone after the terrorists overseas -- wherever they might be. We've put in place the Terrorist Surveillance Program that has led to a lot of criticism in certain quarters, but it's been vital to intercepting communications of our enemies. We have had a high value detainee program that's produced valuable intelligence for the country. We've set up a financial tracking program that's let us go after terrorist finances. And we've had to do these things in order to achieve our objectives and carry out our responsibilities. You can worry about the polls; I don't have time for them."Cheney on His Own Power
"Karl: You've seen some of the commentary in Washington that points to this deal as a sign that your influence is waning in the administration. What do you make of that?
"Cheney: I don't pay any attention to it.
"Karl: Is your influence where it was? You've been portrayed at various times as being the all-powerful vice president and now you've been portrayed as being a vice president that is somewhat on the outs.
"Cheney: And probably both of them are inaccurate."
Probably?Cheney and Libby
"Karl: Now let me ask you about something that I know you don't like to talk about, but the Scooter Libby trial, the CIA leak trial.
"Cheney: You got to ask. I'm going to give you the same answer I always give: I'm not going to comment on it.
"Karl: But there was an extraordinary statement that was made by the prosecutor --
"Cheney: I'm not going to comment on it, Jonathan.
"Karl: The prosecutor said, 'there is a cloud over the Vice President.' So don't comment on the case, but do you think that there is a cloud over --
"Cheney: Jonathan, the matter is still before the jury. I'm not going to discuss it."Cheney and Iran
"Karl: . . . [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair recently said that the only sensible solution to this crisis is diplomacy. Do you agree with that?
"Cheney: We hope that we can solve the problem diplomatically. The president has indicated he wants to do everything he can to resolve it diplomatically. That's why we've been working with the EU and going through the United Nations with sanctions. But the president has also made it clear that we haven't taken any options off the table.
"Karl: Now, Tony Blair seemed to be suggesting that military action really isn't an option by saying the only sensible solution here is diplomacy. Is there realistically a military solution to this?
"Cheney: I'm not going to go beyond where I am, Jonathan. As we've said, we're doing everything we can to resolve it diplomatically, but we haven't taken any options off the table.
"Karl: And that includes, obviously, the military option.
"Cheney: We haven't taken any options off the table."Iran Watch
It's talk like that, of course, that fuels stories like these:
Ron Hutcheson and Warren P. Strobel write for McClatchy Newspapers: "President Bush says he isn't looking for a fight, but the question won't go away: Is the United States headed for war with Iran's Islamic rulers?
"Increasing tensions with Iran over its nuclear program and actions in Iraq have fueled speculation that Bush may be paving the way for military action. With U.S. forces tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one expects a ground invasion, but analysts at both ends of the political spectrum put little stock in Bush's insistence that he's focused only on diplomacy.
"'I still believe, at the end of the day, that he will bomb the Iranian (nuclear) facilities,' said Joshua Muravchik, a neoconservative scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank with close ties to the Bush administration. Muravchik, who favors military action, sees Bush's current focus on diplomacy as a prelude to attack. . . .
Bush has two more years in the White House, and he may not want to leave the Iranian problem to the next president.
"'We may be talking about decisions the president has not yet made, but may yet make before his two years are up,' said Paul Pillar, a retired senior CIA analyst who's now a Georgetown University professor."
Tom Baldwin and Philip Webster write in the Times of London: "Senior British government sources have told The Times that they fear President Bush will seek to 'settle the Iranian question through military means' next year, before the end of his second term if he concludes that diplomacy has failed. 'He will not want to leave it unresolved for his successor,' said one.
"But there are deep fissures within the US Administration. Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, who has previously called for direct talks with Tehran, is said to be totally opposed to military action.
"Although he has dispatched a second US aircraft carrier to the Gulf, he is understood to believe that airstrikes would inflame Iranian public opinion and hamper American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. One senior adviser to Mr Gates has even stated privately that military action could lead to Congress impeaching Mr Bush.
"Condoleeza Rice, the Secretary of State, is also opposed to using force, while Steve Hadley, the President's National Security Adviser, is said to be deeply sceptical.
"The hawks are led by Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, who is urging Mr Bush to keep the military option 'on the table'. He is also pressing the Pentagon to examine specific war plans -- including, it is rumoured, covert action."Yesterday's News
Some more ratcheting up of tensions:
David E. Sanger and William J. Broad write in the New York Times: "In open defiance of the United Nations, Iran is steadily expanding its efforts to enrich uranium, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Thursday. In response, the Bush administration immediately pressed for more severe sanctions against the country, at a moment of greatly increased tensions between Washington and Tehran. . . .
"Coming on the heels of the Bush administration's accusations that Iran's Quds Force is sending deadly bombs and other weapons into Iraq, the report heightens what has become a growing confrontation.
"Since the last energy agency assessment of Iran's progress, President Bush has ordered a second aircraft carrier group into waters in striking distance of Iran, an unsubtle reminder that, if diplomacy fails, Mr. Bush could order a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. But senior administration officials have insisted in recent days that the show of military force is intended only to remind Iran of Washington's options, and they have dismissed the idea that Mr. Bush is considering an attack. . .
"Iran's leaders have continued to reject Mr. Bush's condition for talks -- a suspension of nuclear activity -- which would essentially undercut their only real leverage in negotiations. Unlike North Korea, which agreed in principle in recent days to freeze its production of new nuclear material, Iran is not believed to possess nuclear weapons, meaning that the uranium enrichment is its main bargaining chip."
David Ignatius writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "Iranians are signaling through various channels that they want to restart dialogue.....
"'We're getting pinged all over the world by Iranians wanting to talk to us,' Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said in an interview yesterday. The problem, says Burns, is that the Iranians haven't yet said the 'magic word,' which is that they will actually suspend enrichment in exchange for the suspension of U.N. sanctions."Cheney on China
This didn't come up in the ABC interview, but in his speech yesterday in Australia, Cheney said China's recent anti-satellite weapons test and a rapid military buildup were "not consistent" with its stated aim of a peaceful rise as a global power.
Rohan Sullivan of the Associated Press has more.
Mark Silva of the Chicago Tribune has been exhaustively (if interviewlessly) chronicling the Cheney trip.Iraq Watch
Michael Hirsh writes in Newsweek: "The British are leaving, the Iraqis are failing and the Americans are staying--and we're going to be there a lot longer than anyone in Washington is acknowledging right now. As Democrats and Republicans back home try to outdo each other with quick-fix plans for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and funds, what few people seem to have noticed is that Gen. David Petraeus's new 'surge' plan is committing U.S. troops, day by day, to a much deeper and longer-term role in policing Iraq than since the earliest days of the U.S. occupation. How long must we stay under the Petraeus plan? Perhaps 10 years. At least five. In any case, long after George W. Bush has returned to Crawford, Texas, for good."
Ann Scott Tyson and Joshua Partlow write in The Washington Post: "Insurgents in Iraq are employing a variety of new tactics -- from an unprecedented string of helicopter shoot-downs to unusual chlorine bomb attacks and direct assaults on U.S. military bases -- that American commanders say are intended to create chaos and undermine the U.S. and Iraqi military push to quell violence in Baghdad."Not Exactly According to Plan
The Washington Post's Bill Murphy Jr. visits an Iraqi police station in Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, and find baffled U.S. troops doing all the work and coexisting fitfully with their Iraqi colleagues.
"Most of the troops . . . said they had no idea how their work might contribute to a larger effort, or even who the enemy is. And they said they do not trust the Iraqi police officers living one floor below them. At least one U.S. soldier stood guard with his rifle at all times, ensuring that none of the Iraqi police ventured into the American living area."
Richard A. Oppel Jr. writes for the New York Times: "It looked like a scene out of a counterinsurgency training video. Dressed in crisp uniforms with a computer-generated camouflage of blue, gray and brown, Iraqi national police officers joined United States troops on searches late last week through relatively calm districts of Shaab and Ur in northeast Baghdad in the first large operation of the Baghdad security plan.
"But appearances in Iraq can often be deceiving. At least two of the national police officers who turned out for the operation were moving ahead of the American troops not to lead the security drive but to warn the residents to hide their weapons and other incriminating evidence. . . .
"The much anticipated effort to wrest Baghdad streets from the control of militias and insurgents has been presented in news conferences and public statements as an Iraqi-led operation. Iraqi officials have been out front, announcing arrests, weapons finds and other details, as well as new decrees intended to halt two years of so-called sectarian cleansing. But on the streets, the joint patrols seemed little different from those of the past few years: A handful of Iraqis, acting at the direction of a larger group of Americans, opening drawers and closets and looking behind furniture as they searched for banned weapons or other contraband.
"For the first few days of the operation, about 2,500 American troops took part, compared with about 300 Iraqi forces, a mix of police and Army personnel, military officials said."
At the risk of repeating myself: Where are the three new Iraqi brigades the White House promised would be in Baghdad a week ago?Iraq Editorial Watch
Atlanta Journal and Constitution: "What the British will leave behind in Basra and other areas they have patrolled since the invasion is a region dogged by warring militias, peaceful only by comparison to Baghdad. It is also increasingly dominated by religious Shiite clerics with close ties to Iran.
"That is far short of what we and the British once hoped to accomplish in Iraq, but they have concluded that it is the best they are likely to do, given the circumstances. Sooner or later -- and sooner is better than later -- we will come to that same sad conclusion."
San Francisco Chronicle: "Blair is taking the time-honored route out of a quagmire: Declare success and go home. Americans can only long for the day when their president -- most likely with an increasingly firm prod from Congress -- starts moving our troops in a homeward direction."
Seattle Times: "President George W. Bush should read between the lines of Britain's decision to withdraw nearly half its troops in Iraq: End the war or go it alone."
New York Times: "With the Pentagon already straining to find enough soldiers for Iraq, a troop drawdown by its most militarily capable ally can only add to the strain -- and to the clamor for bringing American forces home as well."Scooter Libby Watch
The jury is still out.
The Associated Press reports: "In a day and a half of deliberations, the eight women and four men have issued only two brief written notes, which suggested they are methodically reviewing the evidence against the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
"They requested a large flip chart, masking tape, Post-it notes and a document with pictures of the witnesses."
Blogger Jeralyn Merritt has Web-published the notes.
Carol D. Leonnig writes in The Washington Post: "When the jury in I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby's perjury trial returns with its verdict, its decision also will intensify the debate over whether Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald should have brought the case in the first place.
"For Fitzgerald, who has led the CIA leak investigation for more than three years, an acquittal for Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff would be a blow to a reputation as a nonpartisan prosecutor with a record of high-profile successes. Some say it would vindicate critics who think Fitzgerald went too far by charging Libby with perjury when no one was indicted for the original offense investigated, the leak of an undercover CIA officer's name."
Leonnig doesn't say what a guilty verdict would signify.Bush Hits the Ethanol
Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times from Franklinton, N.C.: "President Bush put on a white coat and visited a laboratory here Thursday to promote his goals for making alternative fuels from switch grass, woodchips and other plant waste. . . .
"After listening to company executives describe the role of enzymes in reducing the cost of ethanol, Mr. Bush jumped in to ask a layman's question: 'So is this like a distillery?'
"The trip is the latest event this week in which Mr. Bush has stepped away from grim questions about the war in Iraq to focus on domestic themes like energy and health care."
Barbara Barrett writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "In the Novozymes laboratory, Bush moved from room to room to hear the process of how enzymes can be found, selected and converted. A man showed Bush a bottle of liquid in a glass bottle...
"'Senator, don't drink this!' Bush hollered over his shoulder to [Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.]
"'I quit drinking in `86,' Bush added. He would mention the date twice more in his tour through what is, essentially, a giant fermentation operation with the faint aroma of a brewery."
Here is the transcript of Bush's remarks in a panel discussion.Performance Art Watch
Yinka Adegoke writes for Reuters: "New Yorkers got to kick President George W. Bush's butt on Thursday, sort of.
"Performance artist Mark McGowan kicked off his bid to crawl for 72 hours across Manhattan dressed as the president, offering the opportunity to kick his backside.
"The controversial artist from London began his odyssey from New York's Lincoln Centre wearing a rubber George Bush mask, a business suit, knee pads, work gloves and a sign stuck to his cushioned posterior reading simply: 'Kick My Ass'"
Here is some kick-ass Reuters video.