PROVO The war in Iraq was the news of the day in Washington, D.C., as Vice President Dick Cheney jetted to Utah to serve as the commencement speaker Thursday at Brigham Young University.
Cheney didn't mention the war during his speech but he had plenty to say about it in an exclusive interview before he addressed the crowd at BYU.The Deseret Morning News sat down with the vice president for a brief question-and-answer session in the moments between his arrival at the Marriott Center and the start of commencement.
DMN: The House and now the Senate have voted for a war spending bill that requires that troops be pulled out by Oct. 1. The president has said he will veto the bills. What is your reaction?
Cheney: Well, this is something that has been expected. We need the urgent supplemental to fund our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's vital for the troops. It's been long planned. It's been about 80 days now since the president asked for it. The Congress opted to take a vacation in the middle of it instead of finishing the work. Now they're back and they passed the bill. There are a couple of problems with the bill. It places restrictions on the president's ability as the commander in chief to deploy the force, basically. It sets deadlines for our operations in Iraq. It, in effect, mandates a withdrawal, retreat; defeat is another way to look at it. Obviously, we won't accept that. The other part of it is the excess spending in it. In order to get enough votes to pass, they've loaded it up with a number of questionable spending provisions. The president's made it clear from the beginning he will veto it, and he will. So, when it lands on his desk next week, he'll veto it, send it back to the Congress. They can try to override, but they don't have the votes.
DMN: How will the impasse end?
Cheney: Well, there'll have to be another bill passed. The troops are still in the field, still in combat, still need the funds. I think there is a majority in Congress in both houses to pass a clean bill that's acceptable to the president.
DMN: Dana Perino (a White House spokesperson) said today the president is determined to win in Iraq. Is the surge working, and will it ultimately be successful?
Cheney: The surge is part of the new strategy we put in place after the first of the year. One was to send Gen. (David) Petraeus over as the commander over the operation but also to send additional U.S. forces to secure Baghdad. Basically, what we're trying to do, obviously, is buy sufficient time and space so the Iraqis can stand up their own government, which they've done now, as well as get their own security forces in the field. Ultimately, they've got to take on responsibility for the future of Iraq, but they need our help in the meantime. It's also a fact that al-Qaida is very heavily involved in Iraq, the same al-Qaida that attacked us on 9/11, and that's obviously struck a number of other places around the world. It's very, very important they not succeed there. Everybody's got to remember what happened in Afghanistan a few years ago. We'd been involved there helping the Mujahedeen against the Soviets. After the Soviets withdrew in '89, everybody walked away from Afghanistan. The net result of that was a civil war inside Afghanistan. The Taliban came to power and offered a safe haven, sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, which he accepted in '96. He set up training camps, trained somewhere between 10,000 to 20,000 terrorists in late '90s, some of whom came here and killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11.
DMN: Long term ...
Cheney: It's long-term proposition here. If we were to walk away from Iraq, the consequences would be enormous. There may have been a time when we could retreat behind our oceans and be safe and secure, but that's long past. We have a vital interest in terms of what happens in that part of the world. It's very important we prevail in this conflict. What the majority of the Democrats in Congress offer is defeat, in effect to quit before we're through. Remember, al-Qaida's strategy, it isn't that they can beat us in a stand-up fight, because they can't they know they can't but rather that they can break our will, they can persuade the American people to quit. That's the only way they win, is if we quit, and that's not going to happen on our watch.
DMN: Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich filed articles of impeachment against you Tuesday, and Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and others have been calling for your impeachment. What's your reaction to that?
Cheney: I don't take it seriously.
DMN: You're a Wyoming man ...
Cheney: I am, grew up in Wyoming.
DMN: Cougars or Cowboys?
Cheney: (Laughing) Today I'll be neutral since I'm in Cougar territory. It's always a great rivalry with the University of Wyoming. I have certain loyalties I can't deny or walk away from. BYU always fields great teams.