Dick Cheney is one of the strongest potential contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. He is a man of national and international experience: best remembered for his distinguished performance as secretary of defense during America's Desert Storm victory, he was also White House chief of staff under President Gerald Ford, and then House Republican Whip, one of the top leadership positions in Congress. Elected six times to the House of Representatives from Wyoming, he has proven vote-winning ability in a state that went 26 percent for Ross Perot last year. He comes from the West, a region where Republicans are now in trouble - and which they must recapture if they are to win back Congress and the presidency. He is one of the few Republican leaders widely respected by Democrats and independents. An economic conservative and a moderate on social issues, he probably also would be acceptable - no small feat - to all factions of the GOP.
His greatest challenge, should he aspire to national leadership, is to be a little bolder, a little more imaginative, a little more stirring in his rhetoric. His message is plain, no-nonsense, conventional, center-right Republicanism - lower taxes, limited government, freer markets, a strong defense. This message could prove very attractive to Americans after four years of Bill Clinton. But will it be enough to galvanize the political coalitions Mr. Cheney would need to win - and then to govern effectively? He already has won his countrymen's respect; can he now move them to action to cure America's economic ills and arrest its cultural breakdown?
I talked with Mr. Cheney in late May in his office at the American Enterprise Institute, where he currently is a senior fellow.
Policy Review: It is now two years after the spectacular victory of the United States and its allies in Desert Storm. What objectives were achieved during this war?
Cheney: The best way to evaluate Desert Storm is to consider what the world would be like today if we hadn't fought and won this war. If we had taken a pass on Saddam's occupation of Kuwait, by today he would have the eastern province of Saudi Arabia and would sit astride about 50 percent of the world's oil reserves, which he could control directly when you add up Kuwaiti, Saudi, and Iraqi oil reserves. He'd be able to dominate the rest of the reserves in the Persian Gulf. And he'd have nuclear weapons. We had to stop this from happening. And we did.
We did exactly what we set out to do in Desert Storm. We liberated Kuwait, and we destroyed Saddam's offensive capability. Those were the two objectives we talked about repeatedly in the run-up to the war, and once we achieved those objectives, we stopped operations.
P.R.: What were President Bush's most important contributions to this victory.
Cheney: The president laid out the broad strategy. He took a personal hand in organizing the international coalition that gave us political and military support. He managed the Soviet account. He worked with the United Nations and the major Arab leaders who sent troops to fight alongside U.S. forces. He gave the Defense Department clear direction in terms of the objectives. Then he let us fight the war and refrained from micromanaging the military campaign.
He also deserves credit for having the courage to avoid some of the mistakes that Lyndon Johnson committed in Vietnam. When I told him we wanted to call up a quarter of a million reservists, he never hesitated. He said, "Do it." When we said we needed to put a "stop-loss" order in effect so that everybody currently in the military would stay in for the duration, he said, "Do it." He consistently gave us the kind of political support that we needed to use military force to maximum advantage. That's one of the reasons we were so successful.
P.R.: By contrast, how would you evaluate President Clinton's handling of the …