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Parting shots

"Parting shots" Continued...

But I don't agree with those who say nothing good happened before the surge. I think if you go back and you look at what we were able to do in that period from '03 when we entered Iraq until, say, the end of '06, when we basically decided on the surge and we've got a lot done that had to be done, including-mentioned everything from taking down Saddam Hussein's regime, capturing and bringing him to justice and his sons, those constitution-writing exercises, three national elections. All of those things happened before '06. Getting rid of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who's the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq; we killed him in June of '06. All of those things happened before the surge, and they were vital.

A fly. We've got a fly swatter over here. I've been trying to kill him before you came in.

Those were all important pieces of businesses to get done. Also, the question of creating and building and training Iraq-new Iraqi security forces. One of the roles that Dave Petraeus played before the surge was he, in fact, started the training program for the Iraq armed forces. That was his second tour in Iraq, and that was a very important piece of business. And when we did the surge into Baghdad during the course of '07, it wasn't just U.S. forces surging into Baghdad. There were a lot of Iraqi brigades that came in alongside to side with our forces. So there were a lot of important things that happened in that time frame before the surge that made the surge possible.
AP: But things were pretty bad before the surge, and I think that the question-
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, there were problems, without question, because the level of violence had risen and so forth.
AP: So what was the delay, and do you think, was there too long of a delay between, you know, the surge and deciding about the surge, and the decline there, with all the violence? Was there a hang-up?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Too long a delay. I mean, should he have done it in the end of '06 instead of the end of '07? I can't say that should do it when you get to the point where you think it needs to be done. The President sat down in, as I recall, about the middle of '06, and ordered a strategic review of what we were doing in Iraq.

And one of the things that happened, frankly, I think-I think the debate here in the United States about leaving and the active and aggressive commitments of people like Harry Reid, the Democratic leader of the Senate, saying we lost in Iraq. If you look at it today, it doesn't look like we lost in Iraq. Harry was wrong.

But those kinds of statements, I think, had a big impact on the Iraqis. I think there was a belief in many quarters in Iraq that the United States wouldn't stay the course, that we were going to bail out. I think what the President's decision did, when he decided to commit to the surge, was send a very strong signal, a reassurance, if you will, to the Iraqis that among other things contributed to the Sunni Awakening when we had all those folks, Sunnis out in Anbar, many of whom would have been part of the insurgency, decided to turn on al-Qaeda to sign on with us, and, you know, dramatically changed circumstances on the ground in Iraq, in part because of their perception that the U.S. was committed to stay the course.
AP: Do you have any concerns that Iraq could slide back to where it was, say, in '06, when the troops are pulled out?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I think there's still a lot of work to be done there.
AP: But are you worried that it's going to backslide?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Depends in part upon what the United States does under the new administration.
AP: Well, let's-
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I hear a lot of people among our critics who keep saying, Iraq's a mess, pull out. Well, that's not true. It's not a mess. We have had major progress. We have come close to achieving a significant portion of our objectives. And an irresponsible withdrawal now is exactly the wrong medicine.

On the other hand, keeping Bob Gates at the Defense Department gives some of us-make some of us cautiously optimistic that the new administration is going to be more reasoned and responsible in terms of how they proceed, and not take action that would undermine the basic fundamental system that we put in place.
AP: OK, let's go back to this question about what would the axis of evil be today. Obviously Iraq is not in there anymore.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I'm going to pass on that, partly because I don't want the headline, Cheney announces new axis of evil. (Laughter.) I can talk about problem areas that need to be watched and addressed, and I'll try to be brief. But North Korea continues to be a problem partly because they haven't kept their commitment to give us a full and complete declaration, partly because it looks like they have a continuing, ongoing program to produce highly enriched uranium, in addition to what they were doing in Yongbyon at their plutonium reactor. They helped the Syrians build a nuclear reactor, which is a major problem.
AP: For sure?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I'm going to leave North Korea at that point. Move on to-
AP: You said they helped them build one?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: They did, yes.
AP: For sure?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Yes.
AP: OK. OK.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Yes, I'm confident of that statement.
AP: OK, can we move-go ahead.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Iran-we've talked about-is-continues to be a problem.
AP: Can we talk about Pakistan?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Pakistan would be on that list-not as part of the axis of evil-
AP: I understand.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Pakistan is not an evil state.
AP: I understand.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: We've got good relationships with that government. But Pakistan is of concern because of the fact that the central government has not been able to effectively control, for example, the northwest frontier province, because there are elements of al-Qaeda-they're kind of a safe haven in that part of Pakistan up and down the Afghan border; partly because the Taliban operates freely in and out of Pakistan, coming back into Afghanistan to-
AP: -do you think the ISI is tied to the insurgents?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I can't say that.
AP: OK. Let's-can we just run through a couple quick issues here?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Sure.
AP: You think that waterboarding, for example, was warranted in the three cases that it was used. Do you have any qualms about the reliability of that-of the information that comes out of a technique like that?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: No, I don't. I think your question is-I think that it's been used very-with great discrimination by people who know what they're doing and has produced a lot of valuable information and intelligence.
AP: OK. Is there any real contemplation being given to preemptively pardon any of the interrogators, or is that just something that's just been in blogs?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I think you see a lot of it on blogs, but I don't-I don't have any reason to believe that anybody in the agency did anything illegal.
AP: So the administration is not really-has not really been contemplating that or working on that idea? I mean, maybe they thought about it but-
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I can't-you know, I can't speak for everybody in the administration, but my view would be that the people who carried out that program-intelligence surveillance program, the enhanced interrogation program, with respect to al-Qaeda captives-in fact were authorized to do what they did, and we had the legal opinions that-and in effect said what was appropriate and what wasn't. And I believe they followed those legal opinions and I don't have any reason to believe that they did anything wrong or inappropriate.
AP: Wouldn't need one, right? Do you think that we really did miss Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: I don't know.
AP: OK. Here's one more for you. Do you think that President Bush has changed over the eight years? Personally you see him every day or whenever you see him.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, we're both eight years older than we were.
AP: Well, yes. But, I mean, has it changed him?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: His hair is more gray. Mine is a little thinner than it used to be.
AP: Right, right. Do you think-have you seen anything that's changed about him or is he the same guy as you met when you-
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Clearly-I'm sure we've all been affected by the experience; couldn't help but be.
AP: Yes.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: You know, I've been through that before, when I was Secretary of Defense or White House Chief of Staff. But I think, yes, we're more knowledgeable, more experienced today, have a broader understanding of events.
AP: Is he softer around the edges? Is he-
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: No, I wouldn't say he's soft around the edges.
AP: -more confident?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: You know, this is a guy who has been willing to take on tough issues and make very tough decisions and then live with them and-in spite of public opinion or what the critics were saying, but that's the-that's a hard thing for most people to do.
AP: Most people have told me he's pretty much the same guy.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, that's basically-I would say that's a fair judgment.
AP: OK. And what river are you going to fish first?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: The South Fork or the Snake.
AP: Which is in?
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Right on the Wyoming/Idaho border.
AP: OK. All right. I'm OK.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: OK. All right.
AP: Thank you very much. There's plenty of other ones here-
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Good luck. I'm sure you do, but-
AP: -if you want to play a lightning round, we could do that. (Laughter.) Thanks for trying.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, thanks for coming in.
Source: White House press release

Deb Riechmann, Associated Press
Deb Riechmann, Associated Press

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