11 years ago today
... we were one day away from the invasion of Iraq. Dick Cheney appeared on Meet the Press. Here's a little bit of what he said that day:
MR. RUSSERT: How close are we to war?
And when you hear people beating the drums for war, and talking about American "weakness" think of this:
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think we are still in the final stages of diplomacy, obviously. That’s one of the main reasons for the president’s meeting today with the British and Spanish prime ministers in the Azores. But there’s no question but what we’re close to the end, if you will, of the diplomatic efforts. We have done virtually everything we can with respect to trying to organize a second resolution in the U.N. Security Council. And, clearly, the president is going to have to make a very, very difficult and important decision here in the next few days.
MR. RUSSERT: Many Americans and many people around the world are asking one question: Why is it acceptable for the United States to lead a military attack against a nation that has not attacked the United States? What’s your answer?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Tim, we have, I think admittedly, a new and unique set of circumstances we’re trying to deal with here. If you think back to the way we were organized in the last century, the 20th century, to deal with threats to the United States, or to our friends and allies, we had to deal with large states, significant military forces, intercontinental ballistic missiles, the kinds of threats we dealt with throughout the period of the Cold War, all of that changed on September 11 of a year and a half ago. Since that time, we’ve had to deal with the proposition that truly deadly weapons could be delivered to the United States by a handful of terrorists. We saw on 9/11 19 men hijack aircraft with airline tickets and box cutters, kill 3,000 Americans in a couple of hours. That attack would pale into insignificance compared to what could happen, for example, if they had a nuclear weapon and detonated it in the middle of one of our cities, or if they had unleashed weapons of mass destruction, biological weapons of some kind, smallpox or anthrax, on a major attack on the United States. That’s a whole different proposition for us to think about, how we deal with that.
And at the front of our concerns as we try the deal with these issues is the proposition that the al-Qaeda organization is absolutely determined to do everything they can to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. We found ample evidence of that in the camps and the tunnels and the caves in Afghanistan. We see evidence of it in the interrogations that we have been able to do now on many of the al-Qaeda members that have been captured. We know that they have done everything they could to acquire those capabilities over the years, and we also are confident that if they ever do acquire that kind of capability, there’s no doubt they’ll use it. There’s absolutely nothing to restrain them from doing that.
If you look back at our strategies that we used in the 20th century, specifically, say vis-a-vis the Soviet Union during the Cold War, we had a policy of containment, alliances, NATO in particular very successful at containing the Soviet Union, a policy of deterrence we could hold at risk, those things that they valued with our ballistic missiles and we were able to forestall a conflict throughout that whole period of time; enormously successful policy.
Then you look at the proposition of a handful of terrorists operating in a part of the world where they find sanctuary and safe haven in a rogue state or in an area that’s not even really governed by anybody, developing these capabilities to use against the United States. And how do you apply containment to that situation? How do you deter a terrorist when there’s nothing they value that they’re prepared to defend, when they’re prepared even to sacrifice their own lives in the effort to kill Americans and there’s no piece of real estate that they value highly enough so that a concept of deterrence works.
We have to think new thoughts about how we deal with that threat, and so when we look at the kind of strategy we want to pursue, we do a number of things. We, obviously, want to defend the homeland, so we spend an enormous amount of time and effort trying to make it a tougher target, but we know defense isn’t enough. You’ve got to have good offense, and we’ve gone aggressively after the terrorists wherever we can find them. We worked the financial circuits and the intelligence and law enforcement efforts. We’ve had great success there recently; Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and others.
But we also have to address the question of where might these terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, biological weapons, nuclear weapons? And Saddam Hussein becomes a prime suspect in that regard because of his past track record and because we know he has, in fact, developed these kinds of capabilities, chemical and biological weapons. We know he’s used chemical weapons. We know he’s reconstituted these programs since the Gulf War. We know he’s out trying once again to produce nuclear weapons and we know that he has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al-Qaeda organization.
Now, if we simply sit back and operate by 20th century standards with respect to national security strategy, in terms of how we’re going to deal with this, we say wait until we are hit by an identifiable attack from Iraq, the consequences could be devastating for the United States. We have to be prepared to prevent that from happening. I have argued in the past, and would again, if we had been able to pre-empt the attacks of 9/11 would we have done it? And I think absolutely. I think the American people would have supported it. We have to be prepared now to take the kind of bold action that’s being contemplated with respect to Iraq in order to ensure that we don’t get hit with a devastating attack when the terrorists’ organization gets married up with a rogue state that’s willing to provide it with the kinds of deadly capabilities that Saddam Hussein has developed and used over the years.
MR. RUSSERT: The Los Angeles Times wrote an editorial about the administration and its rationale for war. And let me read it to you and give you a chance to respond: “The Bush administration’s months of attempts to justify quick military action against Iraq have been confusing and unfocused. It kept giving different reasons for invasion. First, it was to disarm Hussein and get him out. Then, as allies got nervous about outside nations deciding ‘regime change,’ the administration for a while rightly stressed disarmament only. Next, the administration was talking about ‘nation-building’ and using Iraq as the cornerstone of creating democracy in the Arab/Muslim world. And that would probably mean U.S. occupation of Iraq for some unspecified time, at open-ended cost. Then, another tactic: The administration tried mightily, and failed, to show a connection between Hussein and the 9/11 perpetrators, Al Qaeda. Had there been real evidence that Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, Americans would have lined up in support of retaliation.”
What do you think is the most important rationale for going to war with Iraq?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think I’ve just given it, Tim, in terms of the combination of his development and use of chemical weapons, his development of biological weapons, his pursuit of nuclear weapons.
MR. RUSSERT: And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I disagree, yes. And you’ll find the CIA, for example, and other key parts of our intelligence community disagree. Let’s talk about the nuclear proposition for a minute. We’ve got, again, a long record here. It’s not as though this is a fresh issue. In the late ’70s, Saddam Hussein acquired nuclear reactors from the French. 1981, the Israelis took out the Osirak reactor and stopped his nuclear weapons development at the time. Throughout the ’80s, he mounted a new effort. I was told when I was defense secretary before the Gulf War that he was eight to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon. And we found out after the Gulf War that he was within one or two years of having a nuclear weapon because he had a massive effort under way that involved four or five different technologies for enriching uranium to produce fissile material.
We know that based on intelligence that he has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He’s had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency and this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re any more valid this time than they’ve been in the past.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back with the vice president. Front page in The New York Times: “Anger On Iraq Seen As New Al-Qaeda Recruiting Tool.” The Arab street will rise up, recruit more people. The president has embraced a new road map of the Middle East. Some say that was a political calculation to help with the war in Iraq. What will happen in the Arab street? And will more young Arabs, Muslims sign up to attack the United States?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I can’t predict that, Tim. It’s possible. There’s another point of view, though, that I think is very valid here, important not to lose sight of, and to some extent the United States has established over the last several years, going back at least to the ’80’s, an unfortunate practice that we’ve often failed to respond effectively to attacks on the United States. And I think the impression has grown in that part of the world—I think Osama bin Laden believes this and I think Saddam Hussein did, at least up until 9/11—that they could strike the U.S. with impunity, and we had situations in ’83 when the Marine barracks was blown up in Beirut. There was no effective U.S. response. In ’93 the World Trade Center in New York hit; no effective response. In ’96, Khobar Towers, in ’98 the east Africa embassy bombings, in 2000, the USS Cole was hit, and each time there was almost no credible response from the United States to those attacks.
Everything changed on 9/11 when we got hit here at home and we had a different president in place, who was bound and determined to go forward. And I firmly believe, along with, you know, men like Bernard Lewis, who’s one of the great, I think, students of that part of the world, that strong, firm U.S. response to terror and to threats to the United States would go a long way, frankly, towards calming things in that part of the world. People who are moderate, people who want to believe in the United States, and want to support us will be willing to stand up because the United States is going to stand with them and not pull back and disappear when the going gets tough.
One of the keys, for example, with respect to Iraq is our friends in the region have been willing to step up now and be supportive of what we need to do from a military standpoint because they believe this president will do exactly what he says he will do. They don’t want to stand up and stick their necks out if the U.S. is then going to fade as we have so often in the past, so...
MR. RUSSERT: But a lot of countries, Mr. Vice President, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the neighbors of Saddam, other than Kuwait, are not supportive.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think we will find, Tim, that if in fact we have to do this with military force that there will be sighs of relief in many quarters in the Middle East that the United States finally followed through and deal effectively with what they all perceive to be a major threat, but they’re all reluctant to stand up if Saddam’s still in power and if there’s a possibility he will survive once again to threaten them and to threaten their region. So for the United States to follow through here, be determined, be decisive, do exactly what we said we were going to do, I think we’ll find we’ve got far more friends out there than many people think.
MR. RUSSERT: And Jordan and Pakistan and countries like that will be stable?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think so. I think weakness, vacillation, and unwillingness of the United States to stand with our friends, that is provocative. It’s encouraged people like Osama bin Laden, as I say, to launch repeated strikes against the United States, and our people overseas and here at home, with the view that he could, in fact, do so with impunity and now he knows different.
If only we'd be tougher nothing bad would ever happen.
I urge you to go and read the whole thing. It's absolutely shocking in its arrogant mendacity. We now know that at least 80% of what he said was a lie. In fact, it was pretty obvious even at the time (although the degree to which this man in particular --- cosseted as he was by Villagers like Tim Russert --- had altered the intelligence was hard to imagine at the time.)
And after you read that interview again, ask yourself why we --- or anyone else --- should automatically trust the US Government to be telling us the truth. A little humility is called for before the people of this world --- and this country --- will have confidence in its integrity again. Indeed, if there was one thing that this administration was tasked with doing, it was that. The ongoing scandals around CIA torture and the NSA surveillance prove that it's still a long way from achieving that goal.
Oh, and you have to love this:
MR. RUSSERT: In order to pay for this war, would the president consider suspending his proposed tax cut?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We don’t believe that’s the right course of action, Tim. This is one of those times when as important as the war on terror is and as important as the problem of Iraq is, we’ve also got a lot of other balls in the air. And an American president these days doesn’t have the choice of focusing on only one thing. We’ve also got to deal with the Middle East peace process, with Israelis and Palestinians which we did this week. We’ve got to deal with the domestic economy. It’s very important to get the economy growing again. And one of the reasons we’ve had a fall-off in revenue, obviously, is a slow economy and we need to get growth started again. We can’t wait until after we’ve dealt with our military problems to get the economy growing again. So we believe the tax cut is good, long-term growth policy for our economy. And that’s the best way for us to be able to afford the kind of things we’re going to have to do internationally.
That's right. National security issues all come down to the US being "strong" and there's never been an economic problem that can't be solved with a tax cut. It must be nice to live in such a simple world.