Former Vice President Dick Cheney on 'Hannity'
This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," December 8, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST: And tonight, my exclusive interview with the former vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney. You will hear his thoughts on the Afghanistan troop surge, the KSM terror trial, and much more. As usual Vice President Cheney spoke very candidly about Barack Obama and his performance as commander-in-chief.
Let's take a look:
HANNITY: Mr. Vice President, good to see you. Welcome back.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: It's good to be back, Sean.
HANNITY: Enjoying vacation?
CHENEY: I am. It's — getting more hunting and fishing done these days, and it's true before, but I'm also working on a book, spending time with my family.
HANNITY: Is it going to be a tell-all, name-names, kind of book or...
CHENEY: It's not. It's more a matter of covering the 41 years I spent in Washington. I went down to stay 12 months.
HANNITY: Went a bit longer than you thought.
CHENEY: And — but there are some fascinating stories and interesting things I was involved in. That's not sort of the definitive history of the era, but what it is is a history of what I saw and what I did during that 41-year period of time from the beginning of the Nixon administration up until last January.
HANNITY: You gave a recent interview to the Politico. And you said about Barack Obama, he is projecting weakness to America's enemies. Expand on that.
CHENEY: Well, I think most of us believe, and most presidents believe, and talk about the truly exceptional nature of America. Our history, where we come from, our belief in our constitutional values and principles, our advocacy for freedom and democracy. The fact that we provided it for millions of people all over the globe, have done so unselfishly. There's never been a nation like the United States of America in world history.
And yet when you have a president who goes around and bows to his host and then proceeds to apologize profusely for the United States, I find that deeply disturbing.
That says to me, this guy who doesn't fully understand or share that view of American exceptionalism that I think most of us believe in.
HANNITY: You talked before his address to the nation last week about him dithering on a decision in Afghanistan. You also used that — in another interview the term "agonizing" over the decision. And you said that has consequences for the forces in the field.
CHENEY: Well, it does. This is a situation in Afghanistan where he made a decision last March based in part on some things we provided him up at the end of the Bush administration. Then he came around and appointed General McChrystal to implement it.
Then in August he defended it and said he'd give them whatever they needed before the VFW. And then he came around this fall and couldn't decide on McChrystal's request and had nine separate meetings of the National Security Council to finally come to a conclusion.
Now, admittedly, these are important decisions. I don't want to downplay the significance of it all and any president is going to weigh very heavily in those kinds of decisions that put American lives at risk.
But the fact that he spent so much time agonizing over it is the way I would think about it. Everybody is watching. The Taliban are watching. The Al Qaeda are watching. The Afghans who are on our side are watching.
And when they see hesitation, uncertainty, lack of clarity from an American president, they begin to think that the Americans aren't going to be here very long. They begin to think that the Americans are going to bail out sooner or later, and when that happens they'll be left behind with the forces of the Taliban, for example.
So then you see governments in that part of the world start to shift their alliances and their friendships. For example, just in the last two weeks the prime minister of Kuwait has gone to Iran on an official visit — first time in 30 years.
Why did he do that? Well, he wants to make sure he's got a foot in all camps. And they worry about declining U.S. influence and the U.S. is uncertain and hesitant, the conclusion they draw from that is that the United States is not going to be there for the long term.
HANNITY: So he was asked — the request came from General McChrystal, whom he appointed...
HANNITY: For 40,000 troops. Takes months to make a decision. You were critical of the time he was taking too long.
HANNITY: And then he only gives three-quarters of what General McChrystal was asking for — 30,000 of the 40,000 troops. And then he definitively says after 18 months our troops will begin to come home. How do you interpret that?
CHENEY: It adds to the damage, in my mind. That is to say that the troop levels, that commitment, I think is fine. It's what we ought to be doing. I think General McChrystal is a superb officer. He's been asked to head up the effort. And I certainly would have great confidence in his recommendations.
But it also says to our adversaries out there that if you just wait long enough, the Americans will leave. And what has worked so well in Iraq when we did the surge there was when the president went against all the public advice he was getting and all the conventional wisdom and said no, we're going to put surge, we're going to do it for as long as we need to do it. We're going to win in Iraq.
That changed the whole landscape out there in terms of how people were willing to line up. And we had a lot of folks previously involved in the insurgency who became friendly to the government.
HANNITY: Well, you suggested in one interview that this might be about politics. You know, he didn't really make a lot of executive decisions before he became president — voted present a lot.
Is this one of these moments where he's trying to thread the needle, vote present, appeal all sides of, you know, the political debate or did he just — did he make the right decision?
Some people said well, you know, Hannity, you're a conservative, give him credit. How do you view the ultimate decision that he made with the 18-month withdrawal date?
CHENEY: Well, it's better than withdrawal now, is the way I put it. Putting extra troops in, I think, you know, taking it that far, is a plus. But this notion of uncertainty, the difficult time he has putting it together, all of this feeds into sort of the basic Al Qaeda strategy.
Remember the way Al Qaeda operates and what their underlying plan is, is if you kill enough Americans, you can change American policy. And they've done it. You know they did it in Mogadishu in '93, the World Trade Center in '93. Terrorize us enough so that what you get out of that is a change in U.S. policy.
And when they see him announce in advance that there's going to be a withdrawal 18 months down the road, they come to the point where they feel like their strategy, their world view, has been validated.
And in the meantime, your task of trying to control the situation, trying to put down the Taliban and so forth has simply gotten hard because we're weak and indecisive when you made the decision to do it. And then at the end of the day you set this date when you're going to begin withdrawal. And that's not an impressive way to deal with the threat that the Taliban represents.
HANNITY: You're saying that if we have an exit date, an exit strategy, announced at the time of the troops surge, we're not going to get the support that we would need to ultimately be successful in Iraq? A fair statement?
CHENEY: I think that's a fair statement. It's harder to get what you need. I would like to see them also talk about victory. Talk about winning. The task for when you accomplish the mission, is when you stabilize Iran — Iraq — in this case, you've got a government established that's capable of control their sovereign territory, you've trained and equipped Afghan forces to be able to deal with all of that.
HANNITY: And coming up, more of my exclusive interview with former vice president, Dick Cheney. So what does he think about the Obama administration's decisions to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a New York City courtroom? That answer and much more straight ahead.
HANNITY: And we continue now with more of my exclusive interview with former vice president Dick CHENEY:
HANNITY: You said that the president's cerebral approach projects weakness and that the president is looking far more radical than you expected. I was, during the campaign, criticized a lot because I was warming, I thought of the president's radical associations.
How radical do you view him now? How radical do you view his opinions?
CHENEY: I saw him when he got elected as a liberal Democrat, but conventional in the sense of sort of falling within the parameters of the national Democratic Party. I think he's demonstrated pretty conclusively now during his first year in office that he is more radical than that.
That he's farther outside the parameters, if you will, of what we have traditionally had in Democratic presidents in years past.
HANNITY: In the speech, he said — I want to transition to the KSM trial a little bit. He said — again, he goes back to this I prevented — prohibited torture, I'm closing Guantanamo Bay. Now they're going to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and some other collaborators in a civilian court.
Your reaction to that?
CHENEY: I think it's a huge mistake. The precedent exists for us to use military commissions. It was done by Roosevelt in World War II, it was done in connection with the plotters in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Set up a military commission, try these individuals and if they're guilty, then you execute them. And the Supreme Court had upheld that.
Now we have a situation in which they're going to use the commissions for the Cole bombers, and they're going to bring KSM and his associates up to New York and put them in a federal civilian court.
The danger of that, in my mind, is that it's going to give KSM a huge platform.
He'll have the opportunity to go in there — excuse me — and do battle over the evidence, try to get his hands on classified material. Beyond that he'll be able to go in, whenever he's up on the stand, and proselytize, if you will, millions of people out there around the world, including some of his radical Muslim friends, and generate a whole new generation of terrorists.
HANNITY: Beyond proselytizing, is there a worry that you would have that he may want to send a message to his fellow terrorists? I mean do we have to worry about that?
CHENEY: I think we have to worry about it all the time anyway. And...
HANNITY: Regardless of this?
CHENEY: Well, this is may add to it a bit.
This is a man who said — who, first of all, has admitted his crime. He said he expected to be tried before a military commission and executed down in Guantanamo. He wants to die for Allah. He's proud of what he did when he came to the U.S. or organized the efforts of 9/11 and killed 3,000 Americans.
And the more visibility he gets for his continued activities, the more he's going to encourage others to think as he does and to embark upon the same religious jihad that dominated his life.
HANNITY: But this is what's odd to me, because he admitted that he was responsible, that he was the mastermind — in his words — from A to Z.
HANNITY: How likely is it that the evidence that they accumulated is now going to be inadmissible because it is a civilian trial but they didn't give them Miranda rights?
CHENEY: I'm not a lawyer, Sean. So I don't want to make predictions. But I don't know what's going to happen in those trials. The thing that's disturbing is, I don't think the Justice Department does either.
And if — you know, if it's an absolute certain thing, then Holder has the problem of saying well, we're going to have a balanced trial and they'll have an opportunity to defend themselves and so forth.
If it's not a certain thing, why are you bringing him here? I mean we know he's guilty. He's one of the most evil men in history. He is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans and he ought to be punished as such.
HANNITY: You said in an interview that New York City is great, this trial in New York City is great for Al Qaeda. It's a pretty strong statement. What did you mean by that?
CHENEY: I mean that the — I think it'll give aid and comfort to the enemy. I think it will make Khalid Sheikh Mohammed something of a hero in certain circles, especially in the radical regions of Islam around the world.
It will put him on the map. He'll be as important or more important than Usama bin Laden. And we will have made it possible. We will have given him that platform, that opportunity, to come here and there is absolutely no need to do that. There's all the precedent in the world for prosecuting him with a military commission at Guantanamo and so forth.
HANNITY: You could bring it back to the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, you mentioned Lincoln, World War II, and they changed the policy in this particular case.
Is all of this predicated on the president's belief — although he did seem to shift in his speech the other night — because for a long time the administration wouldn't even use the term "War on Terror." They were redefining it as a man-caused disaster.
Do you think it's predicated on the belief that maybe Barack Obama, his administration, doesn't believe there's a War on Terror?
CHENEY: I think so. I'd state it slightly differently, but it's very consistent with your concept. I think the key that happened on 9/11 is we went from considering terrorist attacks as a law enforcement problem to considering terrorist attacks, especially on the scale we have on 9/11, as being an act of war.
When you lose 16 acres of downtown Manhattan, people jumping out of 80th story of the Trade Center to avoid being burned alive, the attack on the Pentagon, the possible attack on the White House, the Capitol Building — this is an act of war. And that changes your whole strategy, it should, in terms of the means you're prepared to use in order to defend against that kind of attack in the future.
What I see happening here is the Obama administration is now going back to that old pre-9/11 concept that this is all about individual crimes and a problem for law enforcement. It's not a war to be fought and prosecuted as we ordinarily would prosecute it.
HANNITY: Do you think part of this is to put our CIA on trial? To put you on trial? To put President Bush on trial? Or maybe if it's not designed to do that, ultimately will that happen?
CHENEY: I don't know. I don't know whether that's a motive for them or not. It could be. It could be that Holder expects to be able to use this to go back and sort of review in depth the Bush-Cheney administration policies in terms of what we did to prevent attacks against the United States.
I think that's a loser for them. I think the vast majority of the American people appreciate the fact that we had good, tough policies. We had great people carrying them out and we succeeded.
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