For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
March 24, 2008
Interview of the Vice President by Martha Raddatz, ABC News
4:12 P.M. (Local)
Q Mr. Vice President, I want to start with the milestone today of 4,000 dead in Iraq, Americans, and just what effect you think that has on the country. Your thoughts on that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it obviously brings home, I think for a lot of people, the cost that's involved in the global war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. It places a special burden, obviously, on the families. We recognize, I think -- it's a reminder of the extent to which we're blessed with families who have sacrificed as they have. The President carries the biggest burden, obviously; he's the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans. But we are fortunate to have the group of men and women, the all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm's way for the rest of us. You wish nobody ever lost their life, but unfortunately it's one of those things that go with living in the world we live in. Sometimes you have to commit military force, and when you do, there are casualties.
Q When you talk about all-volunteer force, some of these soldiers, airmen, Marines have been on two, three, four -- some of them more than that -- deployments. Do you think when they volunteered they had any idea that there would be so many deployments? Or stop loss -- some of those who want to get out can't because of stop loss.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, my experience has been, going back to my time as Secretary of Defense, the all-volunteer force is a tremendous national asset. A lot of men and women sign up because sometimes they'll see developments -- for example, 9/11 stimulated a lot of folks to volunteer for the military, because they wanted to be involved and defend the country. I am struck continually, as I make the rounds and visit with troops, as I did on this trip, by the caliber of people that are willing to do what they do.
One of the experiences I think you saw -- you were there that night when I decorated the young 19-year-old woman with the Silver Star; only the second time since World War II that that award for bravery has been given to a woman. Just a very, very remarkable young lady. And if you spend as much time as I do, whether it's out here with the troops or back home on bases around the states, the thing that comes through loud and clear is how much they are committed to the cause, to doing what needs to be done to defend the nation. They sign up to reenlist.
Q You have to know how difficult these --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Of course it is, Martha.
Q -- how difficult these multiple deployments are.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So what would be the solution to that? I mean, how would you deal with that?
Q Well, I don't know. I mean, there are lots of plans out there. But it's certainly --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But the fact of the matter is that we've got, as I say, these remarkable folks that volunteer to serve, that deploy over and over again, that reenlist. The other night after I decorated the young woman with the Silver Star, I reenlisted six soldiers on the spot who had signed up for four more -- for another four-year tour in Afghanistan, after they had been out there numerous times, and were so committed that -- our reenlistment rates, for example, in the combat zones, is higher than what we ordinarily get in peace time.
Q Okay, we won't go back and forth with the figures, but for instance, captains -- you've lost a couple thousand captains who didn't reenlist because of deployments and because of these redeployments.
Q THE VICE PRESIDENT: Martha, I fundamentally believe that the force is in great shape; that the men and women who serve deserve the thanks of all of us, as do their families who oftentimes bear a heavy, heavy burden. And I can't say enough good about them or their commitment or the repeated demonstrations of their loyalty and their honor to go participate in whatever they're called upon to do.
Q Okay, just a couple more Iraq questions. General Petraeus has talked about having a pause after the drawdown in July. Do you think it's important after that -- and I think he's talked about six to eight weeks after that, or eight to 10 weeks for a pause -- do you think it's important to continue a drawdown in the fall, if possible?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: To say it's important to continue the draw down, that isn't the way I think about it. It's important to achieve victory in Iraq; it's important to win, to succeed in the objective that we've established. The question about what force level that takes is a judgment that's made based upon the recommendations of the commander in the field. Obviously, we look at the advice, for example, from Ryan Crocker, our ambassador that's there, as well, too. All of this goes up through the chain of command in the Pentagon. The Joint Chiefs have an opportunity for input and advice. The Secretary comes in. All of this goes to the President, the set of recommendations.
But the criteria that will be applied is, how do we make certain we succeed in Iraq? It may be that we can make judgments about reductions down the road, and the President will make those when the time arrives. But I don't think he's likely to want to try to say now what the force level ought to be at the end of the year. Conditions on the ground will determine that.
Q I guess the only thing I would say is to put more pressure on the Iraqi government, is that not the solution for --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't buy that analysis. That argument I've heard made by several of our Democratic friends. As I look at that, I don't think that's the way to achieve what want to achieve here. Having made the commitment and the sacrifice, and spent five years now, we're on our way to achieving our objective. The surge has been remarkably successful, and there's no reason now to decide what the force level is going to be in December of '08. What you do want to do is we'll see whether or not we should continue the current effort to get down to pre-surge levels, which everybody expects we'll do, and then based on conditions at the time, that I'm sure the President -- in the future -- will make judgments about further draw downs.
Q Speaking of the President --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The last time we came to one of these points, we had all this wisdom that obviously he's going to want to reduce troop levels, and he didn't, and added five more brigades. That was the right call to make. He didn't follow conventional wisdom, and I doubt that he will this time, either. He'll make a decision based on what he thinks it takes to succeed.
Q How do you plan for a policy in Iraq, given that you'll have a new President in January? Do you put in place a plan that you have to look at withdrawing all troops, as you've heard -- in a particular amount of time -- which you've heard Barack Obama say, or do you stick with John McCain - I mean, how do you plan for these different contingencies, given what's going to happen in January?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, you have to be careful there, because that's a little bit like trying to make judgments based on the polls. The President will do what he thinks is right for the country. And in terms of the way forward, I'm sure he will leave in place and recommend to his successor what he thinks is the right course of action in Iraq. He doesn't control who the next President is going to be any more than you and I do. The American people will decide that next November. But you can't reduce your level of effort because you think a particular candidate might win. You really have to look at it in terms of what you think is the right call for the country, and that's exactly what he'll do.
Q One of the major issues you've discussed on this trip is Iran. And you talked about Iran and some other places as a "darkening shadow on the region." In what ways is that manifesting itself of late?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I hear about it virtually every place I go. The concerns that leaders in the region have for what they see happening in Iran, and what they see Iran doing in the region is perhaps not universal, but it's close to it. And that goes with everything from their support for Hezbollah, their efforts -- working through the Syrians, for example, to interfere with the political process inside Lebanon, they've supported Hamas with the intention, I believe, of trying to disrupt the peace process.
Obviously, they're also heavily involved in trying to develop nuclear weapons enrichment, the enrichment of uranium to weapons grade levels. So if you put all of that together, and you see that range of activity that Iran is engaged in, it's very disturbing to many of the leaders in the region, because they believe that if Iran stays on the course that they're on, that it does offer the prospects for instability, and it's a threat to the regimes in the area.
Q You said today that Hamas is doing everything they could do with the support of Iran and Syria to torpedo the peace process. Are Iran and Syria trying to torpedo the peace process?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I believe they are.
Q Independent of Hamas, through Hamas?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Through Hamas in the case of Gaza, obviously, but I think they have in the past through Hezbollah. They provided significant additional weapons now to Hezbollah. Hezbollah went through the dust up with the Israelis in '06, they've been completely resupplied by the Iranians, oftentimes providing materials through the Syrians and then flying materials into Damascus and then taking them by road into Lebanon.
The headquarters of Hamas and Hezbollah and Palestine and Islamic Jihad, they all have significant representation in Damascus; that's where they operate from. There's been a very close relationship over the years, obviously, between Iran and Hezbollah. I don't think there's any question but what Iran and Syria have no interest in seeing the peace process succeed. That's a conclusion that I arrived at not just on my own, but also from talking with people in the region.
Q In the Mideast, our swing through Israel, the West Bank, it didn't seem like there had been a lot of progress certainly since the President was here; in fact the list that Abbas went down of grievances with the Israelis seemed longer than the one he had before, certainly. Where are we with that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's a process, for starters. There isn't any sort of magic solution to this, and there isn't a U.S. solution that can be imposed, and say, there, do it this way, and this represents the final settlement.
What we can do is try to facilitate the process. We can help provide financial support and assistance, which we do both to the Israelis and the Palestinians; we can provide a forum and opportunity for there to be discussions, as we did at Annapolis, for example; we engage on a continuous process -- Annapolis last fall, in January the President was in the region, went to Ramallah and talked to the Palestinian leadership as well as the Israelis. I'm here this week. Condi Rice, the Secretary of State, will be here next week, the President will be back in May. So we're doing everything we can to nudge them and move them along.
Q The President always talks about two steps forward, one step back; that's what happens in the Mideast. I --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think that's right.
Q I can't see the two steps forward. Are there two steps forward?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think if you look, for example, at the President, I think, broke new ground when he came out, and subsequently has continued to support the proposition of two states, a Palestinian state. No other President has ever supported that publicly, he has, the idea of two states side by side, Israelis and Palestinians living in peace with one another. That's a step forward. That's progress. However far we get --
Q But that's not --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: -- obviously our successor -- well, it's never been a situation in which all of a sudden the heavens open and peace descends upon the Middle East. It is the Middle East. This is a conflict that's gone on for many, many years. We're going to mark the 60th anniversary of Israel here in May, and of course in 1948, when they were declared an independent, sovereign state, when the U.N. passed its resolution, Harry Truman recognized the state of Israel. Almost immediately the war began, and there have been numerous conflicts since. It is a very, very difficult, complex, complicated problem, with a lot of different facets to it.
Q Saudi - in Saudi, did you ask for an increase in oil production? Tell us what you can about the increase in oil --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: What I did was I talked with Minister Ali Naimi. He's the Saudi oil minister, used to be the head of Aramco, the Saudi oil company. I've known him for many years. Before I came back to government I knew him. And what we did was review a commitment they made to us in 2005, as I recall. They came to the States. We had a session. We then encouraged them to increase their productive capacity. They agreed to do that, and they agreed to add a million barrels a day to their production. They started it at 10.5 million barrels a day. They're up now to 11.8 million. They'll get to 12.5 million, which was their objective, by the end of next year. They've spent about $90 billion to increase their capacity, so they could produce more crude oil, obviously. And they also are investing in refineries in the United States, one down at Port Arthur.
So they've done a lot.
Q Is there a short-term solution, sir?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, one thing to remember here is there aren't any short-term solutions about energy. It takes a long time to bring on additional capacity. Now if we had acted back in the '90s on ANWR, when Congress approved it twice but Bill Clinton vetoed it, we'd have an additional million barrels a day of production today online that would have a big impact on prices in the United States. But that decision got made back in the '90s that we weren't going to do that, so we don't have that million barrels a day. That means we're having to import that equivalent, and that makes us more vulnerable to foreign prices. But the idea that there's some switch you can turn and next week gasoline prices are going to drop, that's not really the way the world works. It takes a long time and huge investments to expand your capacity.
Q I want to look briefly at Afghanistan. Your administration has been defined by 9/11, and you will likely leave with Osama bin Laden still at large. Zawahiri put out a new audio tape. What effect does that have on you? Do you think about that? Does that make you angry that he's still out there?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: First of all, we've got 10 months to go. I think that we've had major success against al Qaeda. I think if you look, for example, at what we've been able to accomplish in terms of the people captured and killed in the al Qaeda organization, and the fact that we put them on the run; the fact that we have successfully defended the country now for going on seven years against any further attacks -- there have been no additional attacks like 9/11 on the U.S.. That's not an accident, that's because we've been very successful at going after bad guys, searching them out wherever we find them; because of the measures we've put in place at home - the Terrorist Surveillance Program, the Patriot Act, and so forth.
Q Is Iraq more of a threat to our homeland now than Afghanistan, in your view?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, it's not at this point, because we're there in such force, and because the Iraqis are rapidly building up their own security forces. And you don't have at this stage the kind of safe haven in Iraq that existed in Afghanistan before 9/11.
Q Do you think it still exists?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: In Iraq?
Q If bin Laden is still out there -- no, in Afghanistan? Bin Laden is still out there, Zawahiri is still out there.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't think it's in Afghanistan.
Q It's in Pakistan.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Clearly, that area --
Q The safe haven -
THE VICE PRESIDENT: --is a problem. But you've got to remember what happened in Afghanistan, and it's relevant for Iraq, and that is after we'd been engaged in Afghanistan in the '80s, supporting the Mujahadeen against the Soviets, and that was a successful policy, then everybody walked away. And what you got in Afghanistan was a civil war, the Taliban, and the emergence of Osama bin Laden in '96, when he moved into Afghanistan, set up training camps, trained thousands of terrorists, some of which came and killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11.
Now when I hear my friends in the States, candidates and so forth, wannabees, announce that the solution in Iraq is to withdraw, take our forces out, I say that is exactly what happened in Afghanistan that produced a safe haven that generated the terrorists that came and killed 3,000 Americans. We don't have the luxury of saying we don't care what happens in Iraq, or we don't care what happens in Afghanistan; we have to be engaged in that part of the world. We've got to work with others so that they can control their own sovereign territory. But the idea that we can walk away from Iraq is, I think, terribly damaging on its face.
And to say that, well, that's the only way we can get the Iraqis to take on responsibility, I don't believe that's the case. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have stood up alongside us and enlisted in their security services, have run in elections, have taken on responsible post, been threatened with assassination and car bombs, operated under very difficult circumstances. And all of that --
Q So a candidate that would do that, you believe is -- you believe is putting the homeland at risk?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do, and is seriously, seriously misguided. A belief that somehow we can walk away from Iraq, and it won't have lasting consequences --
Q Are you talking about Barack Obama?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm talking about any candidate for high office who believes the solution to our problem in that part of the world is to walk away from the commitments that we've made in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
Q Okay, a couple of questions - the kind you don't like -- and that's talking about yourself, and looking at yourself as Vice President, and the impact you've had as Vice President, and the way some people view you. Can you talk about that a little bit, and your impact -- you have, without question, been one of the most powerful Vice Presidents in history. You were talking about that a bit today, and how you view that and the next Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I've been tremendously privileged to serve as George Bush's Vice President. I had spent 25 years in government when I finished my tour as Secretary of Defense, and then left and went to private life, and thought I had finished my political career, when he invited me to join him on the ticket -- eight years ago now.
And I'm very glad that I did. It's been a remarkable period of time. It's been a, as I say, a privilege to serve with him. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. In terms of trying to forecast forward, and the debate -- the discussion that we participated in earlier today, that's really impossible to do. I can't say, well, in the future Vice Presidents will operate the way I have. It will depend very much upon the President, what he wants in a Vice President, what he expects. It will depend upon the times in which they govern, what kind of qualities the future Vice President brings to the job. Sometimes Vice Presidents are selected for purely political reasons, to help win a key state in an election campaign. Sometimes it's to bind up the wounds in the party -- you go after whoever the nominee defeated in the primary process.
Those weren't calculations that George Bush made when he picked me. He picked me, he said, because he wanted me to be a part of his administration, to be a member of the team. And that's exactly what he's done. He's kept his word and I've been the beneficiary of that.
Q Well, you've been pretty accessible on this trip, I'll say, I'll say that. Normally you aren't -- we don't hear from you very often. I think I said to you that I'd covered the White House two-and-a-half years and I've never really met you before. Is that really fair to the public? Because you've been so powerful, shouldn't you be out there answering questions more?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Martha, the way I look at it, and the reason I am less visible in this job than, say, I was when I was Secretary of Defense -- there I was out all the time -- this is a different job. My job really here is as an advisor to the President, as a counselor, in effect. I don't run anything. I'm not in charge of a department or a particular policy area. And for me to be out all the time commenting on the issues of the day, pontificating, if you will, about what's going on, to some extent infringes upon everybody else in the administration, especially those people who have got specific responsibilities.
So I do it rarely. I've agreed to do this today because we've done this trip. That involves a certain amount of visibility, and so forth, and so I've done that. But it's a very conscious decision my part that the job I've had as Vice President can best be done if I'm not out publicly commenting on all of these issues. The question you and your colleagues in the press always ask is, well, what did you advise the President; did you support that policy; did he do what you recommended? Those are questions I won't answer. My value to him is the fact that we can talk privately, I can tell him what I think. Sometimes he agrees, sometimes he disagrees. He doesn't always take my advice, by any means. But the contribution I make, and my value to him I think is greater because he knows and everybody else knows I'm not going to be in the front pages of the paper tomorrow talking about what I advised the President on a particular issue.
Q You have been on the front page of the papers this week.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: On this trip, with the President's approval. He wanted me to come make these various stops. We worked out the schedule together on who I would see and where I would go. We're in Turkey doing this interview. He specifically added Turkey to my schedule as a stop he wanted me to make. So I'm here to some extent at his behest.
But ordinary actions, most of the time, the day to day basis of doing my job as Vice President, I think I'm more effective when I don't talk about what I do when I'm not out trying to generate press coverage of my activities.
Q You got a lot of press coverage this week on the comment you made in an interview with me earlier this week. Do you understand how that was perceived? Do you understand that people looked at that comment and looked at the message it sent?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, you didn't really ask me a question, Martha, as I recall. What it had to do with was polls. And the point I wanted to make, and I would make again, is the President of the United States, under these circumstances, dealing with these kinds of issues, can't make decisions based on public opinion polls; he shouldn't. George Bush believes very deeply, and I think absolutely correctly, that he has to do what he thinks is right for the country; that he cannot make judgments based upon what the polls say.
I had the experience, for example, of working for Jerry Ford, and I've never forgotten the travails he went through after he had been President for 30 days when he issued the pardon of former President Nixon. And there was consternation coast to coast. The President had to go up -- chose to go up before the Judiciary Committee of the House and testify in order to put down the rumors that somehow there had been a deal between he and President Nixon, that if he would pardon Nixon then he would get to be President himself. I rode up there with him that day and sat in the hearing room while he answered all those questions. I know how much grief he took for that decision, and it may well have cost him the presidency in '76.
Thirty years later, nearly everybody would say it is exactly the right thing to do; that if he'd paid attention at the time to the polls he never would have done that. But he demonstrated, I think, great courage and great foresight, and the country was better off for what Jerry Ford did that day. And 30 years later everybody recognized it.
And I have the same strong conviction the issues we're dealing with today -- the global war on terror, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq -- that all of the tough calls the President has had to make, that 30 years from now it will be clear that he made the right decisions, and that the effort we mounted was the right one, and that if we had listened to the polls, we would have gotten it wrong. You can disagree with me, but that's what I believe; I know that's what he believes. My comments the other day should be taken in that light.
Q But you understand that some people, that they thought, aha, that Dick Cheney, he doesn't care about --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Look, there are a lot of people out there who don't agree with me, Martha, about a lot of things. But I'm -- if I wanted to be loved, I ought to be a TV correspondent, not a politician. (Laughter.)
Q Believe me, we're not always loved either. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right.
Q Thank you, sir.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
END 4:40 P.M. (Local)