Managing Dangerous Times
Vice President Cheney spoke by phone with U.S. News's Chief White House Correspondent Kenneth T. Walsh about Iraq, the war on terrorism, and the need for a muscular presidency. Excerpts:
Americans' patience. For a lot of Americans, 9/11 has sort of receded into the past ... and I think there are a lot of people out there that don't think about it every day ... . That's not really an option the president and I have. We think about it every day. We're briefed on it every day.
On today's threats We're talking about the possibility of a handful of terrorists--a relatively few individuals--able to get their hands on, say, a biological agent or a nuclear weapon and do enormous harm inside the United States. That's sort of the ultimate threat we face today. And it's a different kind of threat than we've ever faced before .... And it forces us to think in new ways about how we defend the nation.
On a strong presidency. I think in terms of the general proposition of the importance of a strong executive. That's something I've believed for a long time, certainly at least back to the Ford years: the feeling I had then, and I think it's been borne out by history, that in the aftermath, especially of Vietnam and Watergate, that the balance shifted, if you will, that, in fact, the presidency was weakened, that there were congressional efforts to rein in and to place limits on presidential authority--everything from the Hughes-Ryan Act, for example, that placed limits on what the president could do in the intelligence area; the War Powers Act that attempted to limit his ability to commit U.S. military forces overseas.
How Congress shaped his thinking. I felt that the Iran-contra controversy to some extent was an effort by the majority to criminalize what was really a policy difference in terms of how we dealt, for example, with the situation in Nicaragua.
On the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan. The president's decisions and the actions of our military will fundamentally change the course of history. When we get all through 10 years from now, we'll look back on this period of time and see that liberating 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq really did represent a major, fundamental shift, obviously, in U.S. policy in terms of how we dealt with the emerging terrorist threat--and that we'll also have fundamentally changed circumstances in that part of the world.
The terrorists' goals. We found that these guys really were serious about trying to get their hands on anthrax, biological agents of various kinds, or trying to acquire nuclear weapons and that this was a very significant threat to the United States .... Iraq also was a safe haven and a sanctuary for terrorists, Saddam Hussein funding suicide bombers and providing the grounds for Abu Nidal and so forth.
History's judgment on his role as vice president. I'll let somebody else worry about that, Ken. [Laughs.] It's a little early at this stage, I think.
This story appears in the January 23, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.