|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
March 22, 2004
Vice President Cheney Participates in Radio Interview
Telephonic Interview of the Vice President by Rush Limbaugh
The Vice President's Office
1:10 P.M. EST
Q We are always happy to be able to talk to Vice President Dick Cheney who joins us now on the phone. Vice President Cheney, thank you for making time. It's great to have you with us once again.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thanks, Rush. It's good to talk to you.
Q All right, let's get straight to what the news is all about now, before we branch out to things. Why did the administration keep Richard Clarke on the counterterrorism team when you all assumed office in January of 2001?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I wasn't directly involved in that decision. He was moved out of the counterterrorism business over to the cyber security side of things, that is he was given a new assignment at some point here. I don't recall the exact time frame.
Q Cyber security, meaning Internet security?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, worried about attacks on the computer systems and the sophisticated information technology systems we have these days that an adversary would use or try to the system against us.
Q Well, now that explains a lot, that answer right there explains -- (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, he wasn't -- he wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff. And I saw part of his interview last night, and he wasn't --
Q He was demoted.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It was as though he clearly missed a lot of what was going on. For example, just three weeks after the -- after we got here, there was communication, for example, with the President of Pakistan, laying out our concerns about Afghanistan and al Qaeda, and the importance of going after the Taliban and getting them to end their support for the al Qaeda. This was, say, within three weeks of our arrival here.
So I guess, the other thing I would say about Dick Clarke is that he was here throughout those eight years, going back to 1993, and the first attack on the World Trade Center; and '98, when the embassies were hit in East Africa; in 2000, when the USS Cole was hit. And the question that ought to be asked is, what were they doing in those days when he was in charge of counterterrorism efforts?
Q Well, the media finally has what it wants -- I'm talking about the partisan media has what it wants. It's got an independent contractor, a man whose worked for both administrations, now launching full barrels at the President. And one of the claims that Clarke is making is that -- and you just countered it -- he said the President didn't treat al Qaeda as a serious threat before September 11th. He keeps harping on the fact that even before your administration assumed office, you guys wanted to go in and level Iraq.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, that's -- again, that's just not the case. The fact is, what the President did not want to do is to have an ineffective response with respect to al Qaeda. And we felt that up until that point that much of what had been done vis-a-vis al Qaeda had been totally ineffective: some cruise missiles fired at some training camps in Afghanistan that basically didn't hit anything. And it made the U.S. look weak and ineffective. And he wanted a far more effective policy for trying to deal with that. And that process was in motion throughout the spring.
Q Why do you think -- and he's not the first, Clarke is not the first -- why do you think so many opponents of the President -- and what do they hope to achieve by continually attacking Condoleezza Rice?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well -- (laughter) -- it's short-sighted. Condi, is well able to defend herself. She's done a superb job for us, and is extremely knowledgeable National Security Advisor.
Q Well, I guess what I'm getting at --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I've worked with a lot of them over the years. I suppose he may have a grudge to bear there since he probably wanted a more prominent position than she was prepared to give him.
Q Well, I guess what I'm getting at is that whenever it comes to the counterterrorism efforts, foreign policy in general, it seems that elements of the Democratic Party today and their allies attack Condoleezza Rice, which is a matter of real curiosity to me. And, of course, she can defend herself -- as she did today in The Washington Post. But it's just part of the -- what to me appears now to be an obvious attack machine at full throttle. You have this book coming out while John Kerry is on vacation so he doesn't have to say this stuff. The author of this book is associated with Kerry's foreign policy advisor, up at the Kennedy School. You have a Bob Woodward book that's coming in a few weeks from the same publisher. Despite all of these attacks, and by the way, I actually think, Mr. Vice President, if you'll permit me an editorial comment here, you have the Clinton administration -- if they had defended the country as eagerly and with as much fervor as they are attempting to defend themselves in all this, we might have -- and I don't expect you comment, I just -- we might have escaped some of the attacks that we've had.
But with this frontal assault, the President's poll numbers remain up. The administration remains focused. They haven't taken you off your game. What effect -- both in a governing sense and in a political sense -- is this full frontal assault having on all of you in the White House?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we've got to get on with our business. There's plenty of work to be done. The terrorist threat is very real. It continues out there every day. The President and I and Condi Rice, Andy Card begin our day six days a week meeting with the Director of the CIA and the Director of the FBI and reviewing intelligence, and working these problems. And you've got to be able to continue to do that, even if there is a campaign underway out there.
And I think we've done that fairly well. We can't let our guard down. We've got to remain vigilant. We've still got major issues, obviously, in the sense that terrorists have launched many attacks around the world since 9/11 in places like Madrid, most recently -- but Casablanca, Riyadh, Bali, Jakarta, Mombasa. It's a worldwide global problem, and it's got to be dealt with, I think, very aggressively -- just the way the President's dealt with it.
Q Do you believe that this policy of dealing with them aggressively has led to more terrorism?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't. The fact of the matter is, I think we're operating, obviously, with a very different policy. Tending to treat these matters primarily as law enforcement problems prior to 9/11, that in no way slowed down the terrorists. They still launched against us on 9/11 and killed some 3,000 of our people that morning.
This has less to do with what we do than it does with what we stand for. I think the extremists out there in al Qaeda are bound and determined to do everything they can to try to change U.S. policy and to kill Americans, including innocent civilians and women and children. And the only way to deal with the threat -- because you can't negotiate with them, there's no treaty at the end of the day here. You can't deter them. There's nothing they want to defend. The only way to deal with them is to destroy the terrorists before they can launch further attacks against the United States, and that's what we're about.
Q Mr. Clarke, to get back to him for a moment, is saying that actually if we would just take some more time and talk to these people, understand why they hate us, we might be able to forge some kind of peace with them.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think that's totally unrealistic. At least, I fundamentally disagree with his assessment both of recent history, but also in terms of how to deal with the problem. As I say, he was the head of counterterrorism for several years there in the '90s, and I didn't notice that they had any great success dealing with the terrorist threat. I think what we've done since, going into Afghanistan, taking down the Taliban, closing the camps, killing al Qaeda, wrapping up a significant percentage of the total leadership of al Qaeda, that's an effective policy.
Q Now, what would you say to people, though, who may be casual -- or a bit more than casually interested in this because it does appear to the average observer watching the news that terrorist attacks are up around the world, and yet the administration keeps claiming success in the fight against al Qaeda as evidenced by more of them dead, more of their leaders imprisoned, al Qaeda on the run. How are you defining this success against them?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we've been defining it in terms of -- specifically al Qaeda, in terms of our ability to wrap up major parts of the organization, to prevent further attacks against the United States, obviously. I think all of that -- all of those are hallmarks of success. But you've also go to measure it in terms of the fact that we're changing circumstances on the ground in key parts of the world, both in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Afghanistan was basically a failed state. Then with the Taliban in charge it provided a sanctuary, a home base, if you will, for al Qaeda to launch attacks not only against us, but wherever they chose. Afghanistan can no longer be used for that purpose because of what our forces did there.
In Iraq, a similar proposition there. We were concerned not only about the fact that Saddam had hosted terrorists in the past. He'd stimulated and encouraged them by providing financial rewards for suicide bombers that hit Israel, as well as his past involvement with weapons of mass destruction. And all of that put us in the position where we think now with the process begun both in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we're standing up new governments. We've got constitutions written where we're going to have governments put in place, here, hopefully, in the not-to-distant future, where those areas will no longer be threats to the United States or anybody else. In fact, they'll be able to serve, we hope, as models for responsible states in that part of the world.
Q Mr. Vice President, one quick one before we go to the break. Clinton administration officials who are now on television, again, attempting to defend themselves in all of this hubbub, are trying to create the impression that this whole al Qaeda and modern era terrorist problem began on January 22nd of 2001. What exactly was it you inherited?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I go back to the first attack on the World Trade Center in '93, when the man named Ramzi Yousef, together with others, tried to bomb the World Trade Center then. Remember they took a truckload of explosives and set it off in the parking garage underneath the World Trade Center. It didn't do what they hoped it would do. He eventually was captured. He's now doing 240 years in a federal pen.
But what we now know, I think, looking back at that, nobody realized it at the time, but looking back at that, was that was perhaps the first al Qaeda attack on the U.S. homeland. Ramzi Yousef turned out to be Khalid Shaykh Muhammad's nephew. Khalid Shaykh Muhammad is the guy who came up with the idea of using airliners to strike the World Trade Center in about 1996, we believe, when he first suggested that, and who later supervised the attacks of 9/11.
Q You mean that idea didn't come in February of 2001? The terrorists had that idea in 1996?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. There's been some evidence that he, in fact, first briefed Osama bin Laden on that in 1996, when he first suggested that.
Q Richard Clarke away of that by any chance?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I have no idea.
Q We'll take a break and be back in just a second.
Q Welcome back. Rush Limbaugh on the EIB Network. And we continue our conversation with the Vice President, Dick Cheney.
Mr. Cheney, let's go to the campaign. Last week, after your appearance in Simi Valley at the Reagan Library, The New York Times and other media outlets the next day immediately posted stories decrying all of the new negativity and partisanship in the campaign. After your appearance. No mention of what the Democrats have assaulted this administration with for three years. It was your appearance and things like it.
Now, I realize that this is part of the game. But how does this affect you and your strategy as you go forward toward the election?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we've got, obviously, a very important election here, Rush. This may be the most important presidential election in many years because of the issues that are going to be decided here, especially with respect to how we defend the country in this war on terror. And it's very important we get our side of the story out. People talk about negative campaigns starting early. The fact of the matter is, we just recently got started. The Democrats have been out there since last September, roughly -- launching attacks against the President and me. And it's been a good part of what they've spent the money on, on their side, has in fact been primarily negative as opposed to what we've been trying to do. We haven't been engaged --
Q Well, you ran -- your first series of ads were patriotically themed with the 9/11 images, which were designed to cast the election about America's future. And those ads were even said to be attack ads. When you criticize Senator Kerry's record, it is said that you're attacking him and going negative and this sort of thing. I see it's not deterring you, and so forth. But how do you plan a campaign against an opponent who will claim to have said or not said anything he's accused of having said or not said?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, you've got him on tape saying things like, "I actually voted for it before I voted against it," talking about the supplemental for the war in Iraq. That's not anything we dreamed up. That's John Kerry himself, captured on film. So in effect, basically, what we've been talking about here is his own record. He's had 19 years of votes in the Senate. All of us will be judged on our performance in office, certainly the President will be with respect to his four years. And John Kerry should expect to be evaluated, as well, by the voters based on how he's performed as a senator and what that tells us about his capacity for the leadership position he aspires to.
Q Does it frustrate you when you see Senators Hagel and McCain, Republicans, sort of attack the administration's attack on Kerry's voting record and defend it, saying, hey, he's been here 19 years, we're all going to have a lot of votes that we couldn't explain because they're cast in strange ways? Does it bother you to see what some people regard as Republican defections?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, I guess, I wouldn't go that far in terms of how you characterize it. John McCain has been a good guy to work with these last several years. I've known John since we served together in the House of Representatives. He's co-chairman of our Arizona effort. I called him a couple of months ago and asked him to make a run to New Hampshire for us, which he did a very good job on. So I don't have any criticism to offer at this stage. We've got personal relationships involved there, as well, too. And I don't think we'd be critical of that. John has been a good supporter of ours.
Q No, I understand -- I understand. I just -- we see things in the paper, and it irritates supporters of the President who may not understand in a time like this where the administration is involved in a struggle for the future of the country to see some Republicans not totally on board that struggle puzzles people. They don't understand it. It just befuddles them, and they don't quite understand why people would do things that might appear on the surface to undercut the President's efforts, such as Senator McCain toying publicly with being Senator Kerry's Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I saw that interview and I didn't take it that way. I think John McCain was asked if he would entertain such a notion, and he said, well, he'd entertain it, but he didn't think it was likely and went through all the reasons why. He's made it very clear he doesn't want to be Vice President, and that he's not about to leave the Republican Party. So it's early in the campaign, and again, as I say, I think it's a big party. There's room in it for everybody, and we don't have any complaints at this stage about Senator McCain's actions. He's been very supportive of the President. On occasion, they disagree and he expresses those disagreements.
Q What about your health, sir? How are you doing?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm doing well. I'm getting older year by year, I guess. But I don't have any complaints, Rush. They've been taking good care of me.
Q And we have about 45 seconds. Are you planning to stay on the ticket in this election?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: As long as the President wants me, that's where I'll be. And he's indicated he wants me to run again, so that's what I plan to do.
Q All right, Mr. Vice President, I know that you're extremely busy. You've got many things going on. We always appreciate your time here. It's always an honor to speak with you. It's inspirational for a lot of people. And I always say this to you at the close of every conversation we have, just to affirm it because I know you know it, but you really need to be reminded how much love there is and appreciation for you and the President, the whole administration for what you're trying to do against these long odds. And I speak for all these people out there who love you and appreciate it and wish you continued success.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, Rush. That means a lot.
END 1:31 P.M. EST