Exclusive Interview: Cheney on Elections and Iraq

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Vice President Dick Cheney during an interview with TIME magazine.

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TIME: Mr. Vice President, if we could turn to Iraq. How long do you think it will be before the average American sees going to Iraq as a good idea?

Cheney: I think that will all depend upon the final outcome. I think it's difficult to judge, for people to judge week to week. I think we've done the right thing. I think we're doing the right thing now. I firmly believe that. The President firmly believes it. I think the world is better off with Saddam Hussein in jail, on trial than it would be if he were in power, especially in light of the fact that right next door today in Iran, of course, you've got Mr. Ahmadinejad off and running trying to develop nuclear weapons. The only thing that would be more volatile is if you also had Saddam Hussein trying to develop nuclear weapons in Baghdad.

So I think the results we've achieved to date -- establishing a democratic government, getting rid of the old regime, closing down a major state sponsor of terror, shutting off Saddam Hussein's practice of making payments to the families of suicide bombers, et cetera. I think we've done good work to get this far. It has been tough. We've got more to do. It's going to be tough to finish the task, but I think it's very important that we complete the task.

TIME: Mr. Vice President, do you think that in your lifetime going to Iraq will be seen as visionary -- widely seen as visionary?

Cheney: I do. And this is part of the debate we get into about can you look at Iraq without looking at the broader context; and you can't. I don't see any way you can argue, for example, that what happens in Iraq isn't going to have an impact on Musharraf in Pakistan, or Karzai in Afghanistan.

They key to a workable strategy in that part of the world against al Qaeda, and the Islamic radicals that we're at war with, is to get the locals into the fight. They've got to take responsibility for their own governments. They've got to take responsibility for their own security. That's what's happened in Afghanistan and in Pakistan where, obviously, we work closely with President Musharraf, having them come down on the side of combating al Qaeda, and working with us in the intelligence arena and so forth to capture and kill al Qaeda has been absolutely essential -- same thing in Saudi Arabia.

You could imagine what happens if we were to do what some of the Democrats want, withdraw from Iraq, to a man like Karzai or Musharraf, who in effect -- there have been three assassination attempts on Musharraf. He puts his life on the line every day when he goes to work. The hundreds of thousands of men in Afghanistan and Iraq who signed on for the security forces to fight on our side, in effect, against the evil ones; the overall attitude of the millions of people in Afghanistan and Iraq who have gone to the polls and risked their own lives in order to vote and participate in a newly created democracies, and suddenly the United States says, well, gee, it's too tough in Iraq, we're going home -- you cannot separate out Iraq from that broader global war on terror. Bin Laden has made the point repeatedly that Iraq is now the central front in the war on terror.

TIME: But hasn't he made that point because we're there? If we weren't there, would he be making that point?

Cheney: The fact of the matter is we are there, and it is the central struggle at this point. But there's no reason in the world we can't succeed. There's no reason in the world this government -- which has only been in business five months -- can't ultimately be successful. It's our job to stay there as long as we have to help them get it right. But we don't want to stay a day longer than necessary.

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