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Dick Cheney on Obama's foreign policy failures, GOP race

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," September 21, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: To the former vice president of the United States, you might have heard of him, Dick Cheney.

He's co-author of yet another good -- this was a page-turner, "Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America."

And in it, Mr. Vice President, you talk about how we have to be mindful of that obligation. And you talked about back on the president's inauguration that he indicated he was going to drop the ball. You were concerned that he was dropping the ball. And it occurs at a time you and I are talking about this Iran deal.

The administration is saying this Iran deal looks like it's a good deal, critics have been proven wrong. I don't know how they know that.  But we do know that Vladimir Putin was meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu today to calm him down, to assure him that all was well and good.

How do you feel about all that?

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the Iran deal is a terrible proposition. I can't think of anything that equals that.

It's -- in -- from my standpoint, it's unexplainable why you would want to take the world's most deadly state sponsor of terror, you're going to lift the embargo on ballistics missiles, lift the embargo on conventional weapons, lay out a way for them ultimately to acquire nuclear weapons, give them $150 billion, and do that as though you can ignore the wishes and desires of our traditional allies in the region or even the threats to the United States.

This is a very, very serious potential threat.

CAVUTO: Excuse me.

But there are some of the presidential candidates who I know, as you have said, rip up this agreement, start from scratch. Others advocated, Lindsey Graham among them, you can't do that. It is an agreement. We lose our sort of global influence when we do stuff like that, however nefariously this was done.

Which side do you take?

CHENEY: Well, the way I look at it, we lay out in the last chapter of the book a set of priorities, what we think the agenda ought to be for the next administration.

And front and center in that is to rebuild our defenses, our Defense Department.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But you would stick to this agreement as it is, because...

CHENEY: I would -- no, I would -- what I would do, if I had my druthers, is I would scrap the agreement, I would go back immediately and lay down a list of non-negotiable demands, no nuclear weapons for the Iranians, no uranium enrichment for the Iranians, et cetera.

I would put together a serious military option and I would be prepared to go to war if necessary. If you look back at the history, Neil, of the last several years in the Middle East, we dealt with nuclear proliferation before. This isn't our first rodeo.

CAVUTO: But isn't there a military option in this? A number of Democratic senators talked to me...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: ... who said that this military option is there and was a key reason why they ultimately support it, because, if Iran plays fast and...

CHENEY: I think that's not true.

CAVUTO: You don't think it's there?

CHENEY: Because if you look at the status of our military today, I don't think there's any way in the world Barack Obama was ever going to use military force.

I think it became clear to the Iranians when he backed off on the Syrian deal, and when he later went to Israel and announced there was no military way to do this. The Iranians knew they had him from that point on. He would give anything, virtually anything...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: So, what happens in these next 17 months or so before, I'm sure, you hope a Republican takes the White House? What is Iran going to do in the interim?

CHENEY: Well, I -- they have already, for example, violated the agreement.

Suleimani, the head of the Quds Force, has already been to Moscow.  He's supposed to not even travel yet. He's been to Moscow to do a deal with Putin for the S-300 anti-aircraft system. So it's a -- they're ignoring it already, if you talk -- look at their defense minister.

That's the job I used to have here in the U.S. He's already made statements that we're not going to pay any attention to those. We will buy what we want to buy whenever we want to buy them.

CAVUTO: But that's not nuclear. They always argue, we're not doing anything nuclear.

CHENEY: It's -- we will see whether or not they're doing anything nuclear. But the deal doesn't just deal with nuclear. The amazing part of it is, at the tail end, they went in and threw in all of this other stuff with respect to lifting the embargo on ballistic missiles. That was never part of the negotiation.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: You think they have gone too far.

Now, Russia and Iran were seen coordinating the defense for Assad in that entire region. Russia has denied that, said whatever it is doing on behalf of Assad is to help Assad deal with ISIS. You say what?

CHENEY: Well, I see Mr. Putin taking advantage of the situation to move back in and try to reestablish a Russian presence in the big way in the Middle East.

We ran him out years ago out of Egypt after the '73 war. Now he's -- as he did with Ukraine, as he did with Crimea, I think he's trying to reestablish a Russian presence in the Middle East, and he is getting away with it. And on the one hand, my guess is, when Suleimani went to Moscow to talk about the S-300 missiles, he also had discussions about the geostrategic situation.

And the Iranians are working closely with the Russians. The Iranians are working closely the Syrians. The Russians are working closely with the Syrians. You have got a Russian military base being built now not far outside Damascus. And a lot of that is directly traceable to the fact that we have withdrawn, that Obama has pulled back, that they no longer are concerned about a U.S. presence in the region, and they're taking advantage of that.

CAVUTO: Have you heard that the president and/or John Kerry could win a Nobel Prize for this deal?

CHENEY: Well, I didn't think Obama deserved it when he got it in his first few months in office. And I don't think John Kerry deserves it either.

CAVUTO: So, you think that this deal -- we will rue the day for this deal?

CHENEY: I think so, absolutely, Neil.

It's -- it's beyond me why the administration would think this makes sense, to do this with the premier terror-sponsoring state in the world today, and all that they have done.

One of the things that has come out recently, for example, is the fact that there has been now an agreement between the government of Iran and Al Qaeda, and they have had operating inside Iran since 2005 and up until at least 2014 a pipeline moving for Al Qaeda weapons and money, personnel and so forth, through Iran into Afghanistan and into Iraq, where obviously they were involved in going against...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Do you think it involves the United States then having to toughen up in this region? Lindsey Graham is among those saying we need at least, I think, 20,000 troops in the region to police what is something going haywire.

CHENEY: I think we need to rebuild and restore our presence in the region, but...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But do you think the American appetite is for that right now?

CHENEY: Well, there have been times in the past when he have had serious threats and faced a situation where there was a strong isolationist trend in the country.

It's a question of presidential leadership. It's to make people understand what the problem is and why it is that we have to take action.  But the situation with respect to Iran at this point is -- absolutely requires us to reestablish a presence, reestablish relationships with our friends and allies. You have got the...

CAVUTO: The president says he has. It's better than it's ever been.

CHENEY: Yes, right.

I talked to one of the leaders over there a year-and-a-half ago in the Middle East, somebody I have known quite a while. He said he would like to come to the United States, but he can't politically because it's so damaging at home because of what the Obama administration has done to support the Muslim Brotherhood.

So, General Issi -- Sisi has been to Moscow now at least a couple of times. The Saudis are prepared to talk with him. The folks over there that have been our friends and allies for decades are now absolutely convinced they can no longer trust the United States, especially as long as Barack Obama is president.

CAVUTO: Mr. Vice President, if you will just stick around, we're going to take a quick break here.

"Exceptional" is the book, "Why the World Needs a Powerful America."

He normally doesn't comment on things political, but I'm going to try my darndest to get him to right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAVUTO: All right.

As you might have heard, Scott Walker is dropping out of the presidential race. He's suspending it. That's the actual term we use.

Back with Dick Cheney.

What is the distinction there, Mr. Vice President? When they say suspending a campaign, that means they could always go back, right?

CHENEY: Well, they have still got whatever papers they filed and reports they have done and so on. So, there's still, presumably, a lively organization and it would be relatively easy to turn it back on again.  

CAVUTO: But rarely when that happens does it turn back on.

CHENEY: Rarely, yes.

CAVUTO: OK.

What do you make of this race with so many candidates? I know security issues are front and center to you. They don't get as much play, maybe with the exception of Lindsey Graham, as a veteran in the race, who constantly mentions it, but not so much the others.

Does that bother you?

CHENEY: Well, I -- the way I look at it, that is the most important issue.

It's the most important duties and responsibilities of the president of the United States. There is nothing that exceeds that, and -- in terms of his responsibilities in office. So I think when it's time for me to make a decision on a candidate, that's what I'm going to look for.

And we did the book in part because we think those issues need to be front and center in the debate.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But not even everyone in your party agrees, right?

CHENEY: Of course not.

CAVUTO: I'm sure you have seen this New York Times story that, back in 2004, I think it was, when there was a back and forth with John Ashcroft, the attorney general, when he was in the hot spot.

What truth was there to that, that George Bush personally intervened to force the issue of continuing NSA surveillance that it's only been years later became such a controversy?

CHENEY: Well, this is in '04, as I recall.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Right. Right.

CHENEY: But we set that program up starting the week after 9/11, moved very rapidly. I was involved, George Tenet, Mike Hayden.

CAVUTO: But some at Justice thought it had gone too far, according to this report?

CHENEY: No, Justice 23 times approved the extension. The president set it up so that, every 30 to 45 days, he had to approve continuation of the program.

CAVUTO: Right.

CHENEY: And he had to have the signature of the attorney general on...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: So, what was the problem? It got -- it sounded like it got heated.

CHENEY: It got heated.

From our perspective, I think you had different attorneys. You had one group of attorneys who approved it initially.

CAVUTO: Right.

CHENEY: And then, when you got a new deputy A.G. in there, then he raised questions about it. I always felt it was copacetic. It was a good program.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But do you ever think it went too far?

CHENEY: No, absolutely not.

CAVUTO: No, that -- collecting 120 million Americans' phone records, to what end?

CHENEY: Do you -- can you cite for me a single instance where any American's civil liberties were violated by that program? I don't think you can. Nobody can.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Well, a lot of people feel violated when that happens, right?

CHENEY: It is a very crucial piece of process, that and enhanced interrogation that helped to save lives, helped us find out a lot more about Al Qaeda, what their plans were, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and so forth.  It was that, plus...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: So, you wouldn't give anything back all these years later?

CHENEY: Absolutely not. I defend the heck out of it. It was the right thing to do.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: So, what about all these candidates who stumble over themselves justifying whether Iraq was worth it, including Jeb Bush?

CHENEY: They need to read the book.

CAVUTO: Now, Jeb Bush has said that his brother kept us safe.

CHENEY: Yes.

CAVUTO: Democrats quickly countered and said, 9/11 occurred under your brother's watch.

CHENEY: Yes.

CAVUTO: What do you think of that?

CHENEY: No, it's not true.

Anybody who has spent time there, who was there, or was involved in the history and looked carefully at it, the situation we had inherited from the Clinton administration was that there hadn't been any effective response really to the bombing of the USS Cole the year before.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Right.

Who has been the most forceful on this issue?  

CHENEY: Part of it was...

CAVUTO: Chris Christie pounded it at the debate, said he'd do it again, but the others not so much.

CHENEY: Right.

But a key decision here was 9/11 -- before 9/11, terrorism is a law enforcement problem. After 9/11, it's a war. And that's the decision we made. And that, in turn, moved us in the direction of going with these programs. And I think you have to treat it that seriously, or you're not doing your job as president.

CAVUTO: When you hear -- and I know you have been asked this before - - all those who died in these battles, did they die for the right thing, seeing what is happening now in Iraq, seeing what is happening now Afghanistan, seeing what is happening now in Syria?

CHENEY: People that I find most supportive as I get out around the country -- and I travel a lot and do some things with the wounded warriors and so forth -- and the people whose opinion I respect the most are the ones who served, who were proud of their service, and felt very strongly that what we did was justified.

CAVUTO: I think, when you were advising President Bush Sr., the first Iraq War, you were among those who noted that people's patience wears thin with these sort of things.

And I'm wondering if it extended to this, that now people have just, for whatever reason, Mr. Vice President, they want the hell out of the world, engagement with the world. They're just not into it. Get us out, that that's it, that's it.

What do you say to that?

CHENEY: It's not an option. Remember 9/11. Remember that 9/11 is worse than Pearl Harbor. We had more people killed on 9/11.

And all you have to do is go down here a few blocks, Neil, and there's the memorial to what happened on 9/11. But that was a handful of hijackers, terrorists armed with airline tickets and box cutters. And they killed 3,000 of us and blew up the World Trade Center, put a hole in the Pentagon. It was the worst attack ever on the United States of America, and that...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: You think that could happen again?

CHENEY: Absolutely.

CAVUTO: Something bigger?

CHENEY: Something bigger next time, possibly.

CAVUTO: What is bigger?

CHENEY: Well, a deadlier weapon, chemical weapon of some kind, or somebody gets hold of a nuclear weapon.

If you look now, we have had a problem of proliferation of nukes in the Mideast. And we had -- excuse me -- had it with Iraq in '81 or '91.  When we took down Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gadhafi turned over his nuclear materials to us. He had a nuclear program.

You had A.Q. Khan, who founded the Pakistani problem. He was black market selling that technology to North Korea, to Iran. Iran got its first diagram for centrifuges from A.Q. Khan. So, that had been going for years over there. And we came that close both in Libya, where Gadhafi had nuclear materials and a program under way. Imagine if he had not given that to us back before the ISIS took over Libya.

CAVUTO: Dick Cheney, thank you very much, not dialing back one bit.

"Exceptional" is the book. It's a scary book, but it's one, I think, whether you agree or disagree, you should read, because it does make you think. And after this 9/11 anniversary, it really makes you think. All right.

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