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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But this is just a vital point for us to keep in mind, that this is a global struggle, that the terrorists have bet from the beginning their only strategy is to be able to break our will. They can't beat us in a stand-up fight. They never have. They go back and they cite evidence of Beirut in 1983 and Somalia in 1993, when they killed Americans and then Americans withdrew. They believe based on their experience in the '90s they could strike us with impunity, and that if they killed enough Americans, they could change American policy. They're trying to break our will. They think we don't have the stomach for the fight.

For us to do what the Democrats -- some Democrats -- have suggested in Iraq would simply validate that strategy, would simply say to al Qaeda, you're right. And all it would do is encourage more of the same.

TIME: Isn't what's happening in Iraq, though, not about al Qaeda principally, but about sectarian war and civil war, the potential for civil war? Aren't we on the verge in Iraq of occupying a country that's being torn apart in a civil dispute, a civil war?

Cheney: There's no question what there is sectarian violence now, but remember how we got to sectarian violence: al Qaeda. That was their strategy to launch attacks against the Shi'as, to kill Shi'as until they could generate some kind of a response. And there's no question but what there's sectarian Shi'as-on-Sunni violence today. But just because it's tough doesn't mean it's not worth doing.

And the lesson we should have learned with 9/11 is that there may have been a time in our history when we could withdraw behind our borders and be safe and secure here at home. That day passed on 9/11. When we saw the damage that a handful of men could do -- trained in Afghanistan in the remote training camps of Afghanistan, aided and abetted -- a planning cell in Hamburg, Germany, and end up here killing 3,000 Americans that morning, and when we think of the ultimate threat of deadlier weapons than they had that day, the idea that we can turn our back on the Middle East and walk away from a state that could conceivably become a safe haven for terrorists or another area where they can train and plot and plan, that went out the window on 9/11. We have to be concerned with what's going on in that part of the world. And going on offense, as we have, I'm convinced is one of the things that has kept us safe here at home.

TIME: Mr. Vice President, to take your point about the Iraqi people, are you surprised or disappointed that the Iraqi people have not done more, more quickly or been more grateful to the United States?

Cheney: Well, I talk to a lot of Iraqis, and the ones I talk with have been very grateful and expressed their gratitude. They also -- I think it's a measure of the extent to which they've been beaten down during Saddam's years in power, especially the Shi'as, who are the majority -- roughly 60 percent of the population, who are clearly very heavily engaged now in the new government, but who were denied their role all those years Saddam was in power, governed by a Sunni minority, if you will -- and so beaten down, especially after the '91 episode where they rose up against the regime and then were slaughtered in large numbers that it has been hard, I think, for them in some cases to step forward and take on responsibility. But now they're doing it. And it's risky business.

And you look Mr. Hashimi, who is one of the vice presidents, who has lost two brothers and a sister to assassination, just in the last few months. It's very risky business for people to step up over there and take on major political responsibilities. We have to admire them for being willing to do it. We need to help them and support them in that enterprise. And I think ultimately they'll pull it off. They're tough people. They're bright. There's a lot of work that needs to be done. But I have -- I like Maliki. I think he's a good Prime Minister. I think he's got what it takes to make this all work. And I think we've got a lot invested as a nation in seeing that they're successful. The world is going to be a safer and more secure place, including right here at home in the United States if we get it right in Iraq.

TIME: Mr. Vice President, what do you want from Secretary James Baker's Iraq Study Group?

Cheney: Well, Jim is a good man. He's a close friend. The President and I have a lot of confidence in him. Lee Hamilton is a good man, too. I served with Lee on the House Intelligence Committee back in the '80s. And I think they've got a good panel. My old friend Al Simpson is a member of the group. They've been doing a lot of work to study events in that part of the world, and we'll see what they produce. I haven't seen the report.

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