WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday that Americans are less safe now that President Barack Obama has overturned Bush terrorism-fighting policies and that nearly all the Republican administration's goals in Iraq have been achieved.
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"There is no prospect" that Iraq will return to producing weapons of mass destruction or supporting terrorists, Cheney asserted, "as long as it's a democratically governed country, as long as they have got the security forces they do now and a relationship with the United States."
Fulfilling campaign pledges, Obama has suspended military trials for suspected terrorists and announced he will close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as overseas sites where the CIA has held some detainees. The president also ordered CIA interrogators to abide by the U.S. Army Field Manual's regulations for treatment of detainees and denounced waterboarding, part of the Bush program of enhanced interrogation, as torture.
Preventing further attacks
Asked on CNN's "State of the Union" if he thought Obama has made Americans less safe with those actions, Cheney replied, "I do."
"I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11," Cheney said.
"I think that's a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles," he said. "President Obama campaigned against it all across the country. And now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack."
Some Democratic lawmakers and other administration critics have denounced those and other Bush programs, such as warrantless surveillance, as counterproductive and illegal. In defending these policies established by President George W. Bush following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Cheney said he had seen a report itemizing specific attacks that had been stopped because of the intelligence gathered through those programs.
"It's still classified. I can't give you the details of it without violating classification, but I can say there were a great many of them," he said.
Defends Iraq invasion
Cheney said the U.S.-led invasion on March 19, 2003 (March 20, Iraq time) has led to democratic elections, a constitution and the defeat of al-Qaida in Iraq, and undermined Iran's efforts to influence events in Iraq.
"We have succeeded in creating in the heart of the Middle East a democratically governed Iraq, and that is a big deal, and it is, in fact, what we set out to do," he said.
Asked if he was declaring "mission accomplished" — those words graced a banner aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln that heralded Bush's overly optimistic declaration on May 1, 2003, that major combat operations had ended in Iraq — Cheney replied: "I wouldn't use that, just because it triggers reactions that we don't need."
He added: "But I would ask people — and the press, too — to take an honest look at the circumstances in Iraq today and how far we've come."
In a wide-ranging interview, Cheney also:
- Agreed that Obama had inherited "difficult" economic circumstances but rejected efforts to blame the Bush administration.
"We are in the midst of a worldwide economic period of considerable difficulty here," he said. "It doesn't do just to go back and say, 'Well, George Bush was president and that is why everything is screwed up,' because that is simply not true."
- Contended that Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Democrats with top positions on congressional banking committees, blocked Bush administration efforts to reform lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. "I think the collapse of those two institutions, as much as anything, contributed to the financial difficulties we've been living with since," he said.
- Worried that Obama was using the economic crisis "to justify a massive expansion in the government and much more authority for the government over the private sector, and I don't think that's good."
- Dismissed criticism from some conservatives that Obama is taking on too much and too quickly.
- Criticized Obama's choice for ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, as lacking experience in the region. Cheney said he didn't support Hill's work in dealing with North Korea on nuclear issues during the Bush administration.
- Called his former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby "an innocent man" who deserved a pardon from Bush. The issue of pardoning Libby was a subject of intense disagreement with Bush at the close of his presidency, Cheney said.
Libby was convicted of perjury and obstructing justice in the investigation of the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. Bush commuted Libby's sentence and saved him from serving time in prison, but Libby remains a convicted felon.
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