The Man without Doubt; in a Rare Print Interview, Dick Cheney Talks about Iraq, Iran, Chuck Hagel, His Image as 'Darth Vader' and Bob Woodward
Wolffe, Richard, Newsweek
Byline: Richard Wolffe
A man with a reputation for secrecy and seclusion, Vice President Dick Cheney has spent the past few months out in public. He campaigned in the midterm elections, traveled to Saudi Arabia to talk security and eulogized former president Gerald Ford. Last week the perjury trial of his former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby Jr., exposed what Libby's lawyer cast as tensions between aides to Cheney and President George W. Bush during the CIA press leak in 2003. In his first print interview since the GOP lost control of Congress, Cheney spoke to NEWSWEEK's Richard Wolffe. Excerpts:
WOLFFE: There's a lot of skepticism on the Hill, even inside the administration, about the Iraqi prime minister's ability and desire to take down the militias. What gives you confidence that Nuri al-Maliki is up to the job?
CHENEY: We've got a lot of people who want to judge the success of the Maliki administration after some nine months in office. I think it's a little premature. He has been direct and forthright in responding to our concerns. There is some evidence that he's already beginning to act--for example, Iraqi forces rounding up as many as 600 members of the Jaish-al-Mahdi [Mahdi Army] in the last couple of weeks. His commitment to us is to go after those who are responsible for the violence, whoever they may be--whether they're Baathist or ... Shia militia or criminal elements. At this stage, we don't have any reason to doubt him.
You have spoken about the possibility of regional war in case of American withdrawal. What's the basis for thinking that it would be a broader war?
Well, I think it's a concern that the current level of sectarian violence would increase, and perhaps break out in other parts of the country. It's pretty well concentrated right now in the Baghdad area. It clearly would have, I think, consequences on a regional basis in terms of the efforts that we've mounted not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia ... All of a sudden, the United States, which is the bulwark of security in that part of the world, would no longer--could no longer--be counted on by our friends and allies that have put so much into this struggle.
You have extensive contacts, especially in the Persian Gulf with the Saudis. What are you hearing about their concerns about Iran's rise, its role in the region now?
There's widespread concern throughout the region about Iran, and in particular Iran under [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. A lot of people in the area--I don't want to attribute this to any one particular government--but a lot of people in the area feel directly threatened.
Is there a concern from those allies that America is too tied down, too overwhelmed with the situation in Iraq to deal with Iran?
I haven't seen that. Most of the nations in that part of the world believe their security is supported, if you will, by the United States. They want us to have a major presence there. When we--as the president did, for example, recently--deploy another aircraft-carrier task force to the gulf, that sends a very strong signal to everybody in the region that the United States is here to stay, that we clearly have significant capabilities and that we are working with friends and allies as well as the international organizations to deal with the Iranian threat.
Can you see a scenario where airstrikes on Iran would be justified?
I'm not going to speculate about security action. We are doing what we can to try to resolve issues, such as the nuclear question, diplomatically through the United Nations. But we've also made it clear that we haven't taken any options off the table.
There has been little open support from the Republican Party for the president's plan for extra troops in Iraq. Do you worry that the party has lost the stomach for the fight?
The election results last November obviously represented a blow to our friends on the Hill, Republicans on the Hill--to go from majority to minority status. …