This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," April 21, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST: It is the interview that everyone was talking about today. Now on last night's program, former Vice President Dick Cheney challenged President Obama to release the CIA memos that prove that America's interrogation techniques used against the terrorists actually worked.
Now today the Obama White House left open the possibility that CIA operatives could be prosecuted for torture after they previously had said they would not pursue these charges. We're going to have reaction and analysis from Karl Rove in just a few minutes. But first here is more of my exclusive interview with the former Vice President Dick Cheney.
HANNITY: The Obama doctrine, which is now the term being used in just the last week here, what do you — how do you define the Obama doctrine?
I mean, throughout history we have seen many instances where the free world didn't seem to understand the nature of evil or the battle against evil in their time. We've watched Nazism and fascism and imperial Japan and communism and totalitarianism, and now it seems to be we're all battling against terrorism.
There have always been those people during those very important periods of history that thought that we could get along with the enemy if only we would reach out. Peace in our time is a philosophy.
RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
HANNITY: Is America adopting that mentality now?
CHENEY: Well, I think it would be unfortunate if we fall into that trap because...
HANNITY: Do you suspect we are? Maybe it's a better question.
CHENEY: Well, yes. Admittedly, look, we're what, three months into the new administration?
HANNITY: A lot has happened.
CHENEY: A lot has happened. I'll give Obama — President Obama credit that he's dealing with big issues. I've seen administrations come to town and only deal with the little ones. You know, he's confronting a lot of major concerns here, and he's the only president we're going to have for the next four years, so we hope he's got some degree of success.
On the other hand, if you sit down and you look at the policies, and analyze where this administration's going and what they seem to be dedicated to trying to achieve, I think a lot of Americans, myself included, certainly, have major questions about that, or major views that don't think those are the proper courses of action that we ought to be following. And I think we need to speak out on that.
I think there needs to be a national debate. There should be a national debate. I've been criticized because I've had the temerity to speak out and done a couple of interviews since I left office. I don't find anything surprising about that.
I don't say — I've been careful not to get personal in terms of my criticisms for my comment, but I think these issues are simply too important to the future of the nation for us to operate as though those of us who disagree somehow shouldn't speak out and be heard. I think we need to be heard.
HANNITY: The debt is going to be tripled in 10 years. We're going to be paying $806 billion a year to service that debt, interest on the debt. $4 trillion is the Obama budget. We have omnibus, we have had TARP I, TARP II stimulus.
What do you think, your overall analysis, of where they're taking the country economically from where we are and where we're going?
CHENEY: Well, I'm very concerned about it. I thought the tea parties were great. I think when you get that kind of grassroots sentiment being expressed, thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people all across the country, that will have an impact on Capitol Hill. It will have an impact, I think, on the political process. And it's basically a healthy development.
I worry very much that we're in a situation now where there doesn't appear to be any limitation whatsoever in terms of the spending commitments that this administration wants to make. Vast expansion in terms of the deficit, but it also says a lot about what they intend for the role of government in this society.
I'm one of those people who believes that the greatness, part of the greatness of the United States is our private sector. It's what we do as private citizens for ourselves and our companies. And our economy is essentially the wonder of the world because, in fact, it's produced so much for us over the years.
That's not government that does that. That's the private sector. And in the course here of trying to fix the downturn in the economy, that admittedly a lot of people are concerned about, we need to address — although we have had downturns before — I worry that we're seeing a situation or this administration not only committing us the huge deficits for the future, but is also redefining that relationship between government, on the one hand, and the private sector on the other.
And I think we have to be very, very cautious. I think we've gone beyond what reasonably we could expect by way of intrusion into the private sector.
HANNITY: It's not limited government, bigger government. It's capitalism, socialism? Has the debate changed?
CHENEY: Well, I think it has if you've got programs of this size and dimension. I mean, we started out — last year, of course, we had the issue on the financial institutions and we put together the TARP, and everybody said that's big. Well, it was big.
But the one thing you could say about it is that the financial institutions are the responsibility of the federal government. The Federal Reserve, the Treasury, all the regulator agencies — if there's a problem of the financial mechanism in society, the only one who fix it is government. They've got a legitimate role there.
Now when we get into talking about bailing out individual companies and so forth, you know, or big expansion of governmental programs without addressing the huge expansions that are already built in — I mean, before we had any of this we've got problems down the road with Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid.
And now we're dumping, if all of this comes to pass, a huge additional burden on future generations. I think it's very dangerous.
CHENEY: I think so. I think over the long term, economically, it's devastating for our society.
HANNITY: It's definitely — that's...
CHENEY: When you start to talk about having to see the burden on society grow with respect to the size of the federal programs that are being talked about here, we — already we're in trouble, as I say, with Medicare and Medicaid, but now we're adding trillions of dollars of debt of additional government spending in a few-year period of time here.
There isn't any way that adds up to anything other than a very, very dangerous situation for our economy.
HANNITY: And we continue now with more of my exclusive interview with vice president Dick Cheney.
HANNITY: If we were to examine once again the 9/11 Commission report, the thing that I was able to glean from that more than any one other thing was that they were at war with us, we weren't at war with them. Now Barack Obama says it's either a man-caused disaster or an overseas contingency operation.
How dangerous is that to not call it what it is? Is there still a war on terror? He just doesn't have the courage to say it's a war on terror?
CHENEY: I think you hit on a key point, Sean, because 9/11 was absolutely crucial. And I think one of the most important things we did in the aftermath of 9/11 was to decide that you could no longer deal with an attack of terror upon the United States as a law enforcement problem.
You didn't just plow through the rubble, for example, in Oklahoma City and find the identification number on the U-Haul truck, the rental truck that McVeigh used to blow up that federal building. That's the way we did it in the past. You'd go out and investigate the crime and punish the criminal.
Once we got hit by — on 9/11 and lost 3,000 people that day, we recognized, and it was one of the key decisions President Bush made, that this is not a law enforcement problem. It is a strategic threat to the United States. It's a war. And based on that, we then adopted a whole set of policies that flowed out of that proposition.
We were prepared to use military force. We were prepared to go after not only the terrorists, but those who sponsor terror and provide sanctuary and safe harbor for them. We were prepared to use our intelligence assets the way we would against an enemy that threatened the United States itself, to put in place, for example, things like the Terror Surveillance Program and to have a robust interrogation program on detainees.
Those are the acts you take when you feel you're at war and that the very existence of the nation is threatened.
Now I worry when I hear the new administration knock down those policies and imply they're not going to use them, but also when they now say that the war on terror has been changed. It's now overseas contingency and operations.
HANNITY: Does that seem like a weakness? Is that telegraphing weakness?
CHENEY: I think it does. And I think it says to — well, to the world out there that this is no longer a war, this is law enforcement. And our most important obligation responsibility is to read their rights to the people we capture, that we're going to treat them — we're going to Mirandize them before we do anything else.
And I — really, I just — I spent so many mornings sitting in my office, and then in the Oval Office with the president, going over the briefings, looking at Al Qaeda, looking at what their plans were, knowing that they were seeking nuclear weapons, knowing that the next deadly attack could well be Al Qaeda in the middle of one of our own cities, not with airline tickets and box cutters, but with a nuclear weapon or a biological agent.
The threat is there. It's very real and it's continuing. And what the Obama people are doing, in effect, is saying, well, we don't need those tough policies that we had. That says either they didn't work, which we know is not the case — they did work, they kept us safe for seven years — or that now somehow the threat's gone away.
There's no longer a threat out there, we don't have to be as tough and aggressive as the Bush administration was.
I think that's a mistake. I just think that's a misreading of the circumstances we find ourselves in. I thought, you know, yesterday, this whole exercise on detainees and on releasing the legal memos, you note all of the professionals, the...
HANNITY: Four CIA director.
CHENEY: CIA directors — former CIA directors.
HANNITY: Including Leon Panetta.
CHENEY: Including Leon.
HANNITY: He said it was dangerous.
CHENEY: All said it was dangerous, that this is something we shouldn't do. I worry about that. I also notice yesterday we didn't have any national security figures out there explaining the new policy on why we were scrubbing these old programs. It was the political spokesmen that were out there.
That bothers me. I think that says something about the mindset that this is being done essentially to appease a certain element of the Democratic Party, or because of campaign commitments that were made in last year's campaign.
But, it's not being done nor is it being accepted and sorted and explained, based on the views of the experts who deal with national security in the administration.
HANNITY: Sum it up in saying you think they're naive, that they don't — is it that they don't understand the nature of evil in the world? I mean — and we'll get into maybe some of the specifics.
Would you shake hands with Hugo Chavez? Would you sit through a 50- minute diatribe of Daniel Ortega? Would you go to Mexico and apologize as if America caused Mexico's problems? Would you bow before the Saudi king?
There seems to be a lot of instances here, a very different philosophy. You know, he said we're at war with the Muslim world, just to give you a few.
HANNITY: I thought we just liberated 50 million people in the Muslim world between Iraq and Afghanistan.
When you put all these together, you know, what do you conclude? Do you conclude it's they're naive, that maybe they don't understand the nature of the war on terror?
CHENEY: Yes, basically. I think there's — the assumption seems to predominate on the other side that the reason there's been problems in the world is because of U.S. activity, U.S. conduct. We're the bad guys. We're the ones that lead people to become terrorists. We're the ones that generate the kind of criticism that has given Al Qaeda an excuse to come attack the United States.
I don't think that's true. I don't think they needed any excuse when they came here on 9/11, killed 3,000 of us. I don't think as we strip ourselves of important capabilities in terms of our interrogation program for detainees. I don't think there are members of Al Qaeda out there around the world this morning that saying, oh, gee whiz, isn't that great?
Barack Obama and his administration are no longer going to ask our guys tough questions when they are captured. Now, maybe we won't behead their people when they capture them. I mean, it's just — it says something about a mindset that I worry about very much.
And I think there's a problem out there nationally in the sense that we are 7 and a half years, almost 8 years, now away from 9/11. And a lot of people would like to forget it and believe that the threat is gone, it's diminished, it's disappeared.
Unfortunately, that's not the case. And one of the worst things we could do is start to act now as though the attack of 9/11 is a thing of the past and will never be repeated. That's just not true.
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