Cheney: Iraq Handover Has 'A Long Way to Go'

Cheney in October 2006

Listen to a selection from Juan Williams' interview Tuesday with Vice President Dick Cheney.

Cheney in May 2005

On CNN's 'Larry King Live,' Cheney said the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes."

Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledged Tuesday that the violence in Iraq is not yet abating, and that the process of handing over security to Iraqi forces has "a long way to go." In mid-2005, he had declared that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes."

"I would have expected that the political process we set in motion — the three national elections and so forth — would have resulted in a lower level of violence than we're seeing today," Cheney told Juan Williams. "It hasn't happened yet. I can't say that we're over the hump in terms of violence, no."

In an interview focused on the Iraq war, Cheney also said that Democrats urging a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq are playing into Osama bin Laden's hands.

"When we see the Democratic Party recommending that we withdraw from Iraq, that basically is validating the al-Qaida strategy," Cheney said. "It says, 'Yeah, Osama bin Laden's right. The American people don't have the stomach for the fight.' We can't afford to let that happen."

Cheney said that reducing the U.S. military's presence in Iraq hinges on establishing an effective Iraqi security force.

"We're about 75 percent of the way there in terms of getting an Iraqi force that's able to provide for their own security," Cheney said. "The sooner we do that, the sooner we can reduce our own presence and turn things over to them. But we've still got a long way to go before they'll be in a position where they can take over prime responsibility themselves."

Below is a transcript of Williams' interview with Cheney.

Interview Transcript

As you've been traveling around the country this campaign season, you've been making the case for why Iraq matters. And here I quote you. You say, "The terrorists want to seize control of a country in the Middle East so they have a base for launching attacks. They've declared an intention to arm themselves with weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to cause mass death here in the United States." If the threat is that serious, why not send hundreds of thousands of troops to defeat them?

Well, the problem we're faced with out there — obviously there have been problems in Afghanistan, problems in Pakistan, problems in Iraq, problems in Saudi Arabia — you know, and the key to success is getting the locals into the fight on the right side. That means both from the standpoint of political systems in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we've had to stand up new governments. It also means training and equipping their own forces. In the final analysis, the U.S. cannot take on direct military responsibility for all of those countries. It would not be sound policy or sound strategy.

But I was talking about Iraq specifically. Why not put a larger force on the ground?

Because the judgment has been up till now that the key for us in Iraq is to get the Iraqis into the fight. And we've got 140,000, roughly, troops there now, U.S. and coalition forces, and we've worked very aggressively to stand up — and we're about 75 percent of the way there in terms of getting an Iraqi force that's able to provide for their own security. The sooner we do that, the sooner we can reduce our own presence and turn things over to them. But we've still got a long way to go before they'll be in a position where they can take over prime responsibility themselves.

Do you think you're getting good advice, good estimates from the generals who tell you that they have enough men on the ground, men and women on the ground, to get the job done?

I think we get honest advice from 'em. I think George Casey gives it to us straight, in terms of what he thinks he needs. And if he thinks he needs more troops, we'll send him more. We have, in fact, beefed him up on a couple of occasions in connections with holding elections, for example, or moving in a brigade we had positioned in Kuwait and sent it up to Iraq to help, or recent adjustments we made in terms of putting more troops, U.S. troops, into Baghdad to help with the Baghdad security problem.

But given what you say about the threat that's posed by the chaos in Iraq and continuing, in fact, rising death tolls we've seen, you've got to wonder if the generals are telling you the right information about what they need.

I spent some time as secretary of defense myself, Juan. The men that we've got serving at the upper levels of the U.S. military today, I think, are some absolutely outstanding individuals — George Casey, John Abizaid sort of have the lead responsibilities in Iraq and for that region, are outstanding officers. They know the region very well. Abizaid even speaks the language. They are, I think, very good advisers to the president and they're the guys on the ground who have to, in fact, execute on the policy.

So they're not telling you what you want to hear, you don't think?

No.

Same thing with intelligence, with CIA, and with the relationship, the quality of intelligence that you're getting here?

Well, the quality of intelligence... is a different proposition. It's rarely 100 percent in terms of accuracy. And obviously there were problems with intelligence in Iraq early on. We get a lot better intelligence now, I think, that we're inside Iraq. We've got a lot of people on the ground. The Iraqis have got an intelligence service, stood up themselves. We've got a lot of people obviously working that account as well, too.

There was a story about you sending coordinates over to David Kay about where to look for weapons of mass destruction. And when I saw that, I thought, is it the case that you think you have separate sources of intelligence as opposed to what's coming through our central intelligence and established intelligence networks like that?

I didn't send any coordinates. Somebody on the staff may have been in touch with him. But I wasn't in the habit of calling David Kay at 3 o'clock in the morning to give him coordinates that where he needed to go look. We may have... there may have been a request come in through a congressional office or something like that that somebody had heard from somebody or somebody suggested that there were weapons hidden in a particular spot and that would have been passed on to the appropriate people to check it out. That kind of thing. But I have not been involved in making those kinds of those calls.

You have accused the Democrats of self-defeating pessimism. And the whole question about what is "cut and run." And given the conversations that have been taking place here at the White House over the weekend, looking for new strategies, have you redefined what that means, "cut and run?"

I would define it in terms of what the strategy is of our opponents. Keep in mind that —I think, Gen. Casey made this point this morning in his briefing — we've never been defeated in a stand-up fight in Iraq in over three years. What the enemy's banking on is that they can break our will, that the American people don't have the stomach for the fight. And Osama bin Laden's believed this for years. He goes back and cites the experience of Beirut in 1983, where after we lost 240-some people, we then withdrew from Beirut and so forth. He cites these examples to validate his strategy. When we see the Democratic Party recommending that we withdraw from Iraq, that basically is validating the al-Qaida strategy. It says, "Yea, Osama bin Laden's right. The American people don't have the stomach for the fight." We can't afford to let that happen.

Do you think, you've said... famously, this business about "last throes of the insurgency." Do you think they're in the last throes now?

I can't say that. I would have expected that the political process we set in motion — the three national elections and so forth — would have resulted in a lower level of violence than we're seeing today. It hasn't happened yet. I can't say that we're over the hump in terms of violence, no.

And in terms of civil war, would you call it that?

No, I don't think it's a civil war. You've got a united government, a unity government in place. You've got united military forces, in terms of the army. And to some extent the security force, when I think civil war, I think Antietam, Gettysburg. I don't think we're there yet.

Thank you, Mr. Vice President, I appreciate the time.

Thanks, Juan.

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