Few Americans have had more of an impact on our life and times that Vice President Dick Cheney. At the center of power for decades, Cheney was instrumental in many of the country’s most important policy decisions and continues to arouse strong feelings to this day. Universally acknowledged as one of the most intelligent and informed statesmen to have held office, even by those who disagree with him, Vice President Cheney spent an exclusive two hours in a wide ranging discussion with The Octavian Report to talk about his current views on the world and the greatest risks he currently sees facing America. Cheney discusses his concerns about Iran and North Korea, emerging terrorist threats, Obama’s foreign policy, and, with a notable prescience considering our conversation took place prior to the explosion of ISIS, about the deteriorating outlook in the Middle East.
The Rising Global Risks and American Policies
The Octavian Report: If you look out over the next ten years, what do you think are the mosat significant threats for the United States and the Western World?
Vice President Cheney: Well, I remain very, very concerned about developments in the Middle East, about terrorism, about the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and the extent to which we have rouge states now like North Korea with a rapidly developing inventory of nuclear weapons – apparently now with the latest technology, which supposedly they acquired from the Pakistanis.
I worry about what’s happening with respect to Iran. I am convinced that in the end they will end up with a nuclear capability and that that will trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
I worry very much about the growth and expansion of al-Qaeda. Contrary to what the administration likes to say that once we got bin Laden, the al-Qaeda problem was solved, that just simply isn’t true.
There is a huge vacuum that has been created by the Obama administration. They have withdrawn from Iraq. Terrorists now occupy parts of Iraq that we had liberated and stabilized.
I think our friends in the region no longer trust us. They don’t believe that they can count on us, and I think our adversaries in the region no longer fear us. The policies of the Obama administration are doing enormous damage to our ability to influence events in that part of the world just as things like nuclear proliferation and the growth of terrorism is on the increase.
OR: You have been pretty outspoken about your concerns about some horrific event happening. What do you worry most about?
Cheney: I do believe that if we are not successful in stopping the Iranian program that there will be a number of states in the Middle East that will have nuclear capability. Very different kind of era than we had when it was the US and the Soviet Union. That day is gone. So I worry about the possibility of a weapon falling into the hands of terrorists.
Think about Iran, which has been one of the prime sponsors of terror in the world, Hezbollah, Hamas, and so forth, and look at where we are today in Syria. We have got chaos and everybody is worried about chemical weapons. But if it hadn’t been for the Israeli attack in 2007 on the nuclear reactor the North Koreans had built for the Syrians, we would have a lot more at stake than just chemical weapons in Syria. We would be worried about who has got the nukes.
Similar situation in Libya: when we took down Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi got religion and surrendered all of his centrifuges and weapons design and uranium feedstocks to us. Then the turmoil subsequently followed. If we hadn't been able to get our hands on those nuclear materials, then you might have had another situation where a government had attained that capability and then fell and the radicals take over and the rules of the game are dramatically different. I think we have to continue to be concerned about that.
And it becomes very, very hard for us to keep track of all that or to influence it if, in fact, we are absent from the area, out of Iraq, out of Afghanistan. And Obama doesn’t care. If you go to Egypt these days, they all believe deeply that Obama pulled the rug out from under President Mubarak and supported the Muslim Brotherhood. Nobody in Egypt today trusts us.
In Syria we talked about doing something about their chemical weapons inventory. A number of our friends, the Saudis, the Emiratis and others were very supportive of an effort by the United States to take action. And then at the last minute Obama pulled the plug and left them high and dry.
So if you live in that part of the world today, you may have been a friend of the United States in the past, but I don't think our friends any longer trust us, and I don't see any prospect for a change in that situation as long as Barack Obama is President of the United States.
OR: Do you feel that a future administration could repair that or do you think there has been irreparable damage done to the United States’ standing and credibility?
Cheney: Well, I think it’s conceivable in the future that we have an administration that understands why it's important to the world for the United States to be strong militarily and to be a reliable ally and to be prepared to use force when it’s necessary. That would go a long way towards beginning the process of recovery. On the other hand, they may well inherit a world that’s dramatically different than the one Obama inherited.
OR: Let's talk about Iran. Do you think that there can be a diplomatic solution to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?
Cheney: I am a skeptic. I certainly hope that that happens. But I really don't think the Iranians are all that concerned. I think they use negotiations to buy time, they have done it repeatedly now over the years. They have built a significant capability to create nuclear weapons. They have got great enrichment capability.
I can see them in a situation where they get right up to the breakout stage and do whatever they have to do to relieve the sanctions. But I don't think we are likely to succeed diplomatically. I wish the administration well, I hope they are successful, but I don't see anything that's really changed fundamentally in the basic Iranian attitude.
I think they believe that having a nuclear weapon will guarantee their long-term security and survival, and I think the regime is tough enough and brutal enough that they are not going to allow any kind of uprising from within that's likely to change the regime. Short of a regime change, I am not sure how you change that course of action. And I think it's going to be increasingly difficult to use military force to deal with the problem.
Dick Cheney served as the 46th Vice President of the United States.