Dick Cheney Transcript

Taped September 30, 2014

Table of Contents

I: Secretary of Defense Cheney 00:15 – 10:37
II: The Gulf War 10:37 – 35:14
III: From Nixon to Ford 35:14 – 53:23
IV: President Gerald Ford 53:23 – 1:10:09
V: The Reagan Years 1:10:09 – 1:23:48
VI: Dick Cheney on 9/11 1:23:48 – 1:39:33
VII: Threats We Face 1:39:33 – 1:51:39

I: Secretary of Defense Cheney (00:15 – 10:37)

KRISTOL: Welcome back to CONVERSATIONS. I’m Bill Kristol, and honored to have with us today Vice President Dick Cheney.

CHENEY: Good to be here, Bill.

KRISTOL: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. And you’ve had such a distinguished career from working in the White House as a very young man, becoming White House chief of staff as a young man, and then serving in Congress and becoming whip in Congress, Secretary of Defense, Vice President, staying involved in public life even when you weren’t in public office. I’m just curious, which of these many interesting jobs that you’ve had, which of them did you enjoy the most?

CHENEY: Well, I don’t want to offend any of my former bosses.

KRISTOL: Yeah, right. You loved them all but –

CHENEY: No, I, if I had to pick one job that stands out and I can think of all reasons why the Ford experience, the being there for the transition from the Nixon to the Ford White House starting on August 9, ’74. Or I loved being in Congress, putting my own name on the ballot for 10 years and so forth. Vice President, those are all phenomenal jobs.

But the one that stands out, the one I probably enjoyed most of all was Secretary of Defense. It was a time when we had a magnificent force and being because of the Reagan Administration the investments that had been made in our equipment and training and the quality of the people that were involved. Because it was the end of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was going out of business; the Berlin Wall came down. We had major military operation in Desert Storm in the Gulf when Saddam when invaded Kuwait.

And most of all, the people, there were 4 million people then working in the Pentagon, 2 million active duty military, a million reservists and a million civilians. And I as the Secretary of Defense, it was a very special privilege to be there. But it also happened at a time when sort of everything was right in the sense of the support of the American people, the capacity of our military, the quality of the folks I worked with in Bush 41 – George H. W. – Jim Baker, Brent Scowcroft. It was a very unique time and team, and that was probably the highlight.

KRISTOL: That’s interesting. What would surprise people who’ve obviously never been Secretary of Defense or maybe never been in the Pentagon about that job? I mean, it’s such a daunting job, the idea of supervising the entire armed forces, the huge civilian personnel there, all the responsibilities you have in defense and foreign policy. I mean, you were familiar with it, having been White House Chief of Staff and a congressman, but I’m sure some aspects of it surprised you when you actually took over.

CHENEY: Well, first of all, I was surprised when I got the job. Remember the first choice was Senator [John] Tower from Texas, he had been a strong supporter of President Bush when he campaigned. I was pursuing a career in the House, I really wanted to be the speaker of the House or the Republican leader, and I’d gotten to the number two slot and I was on that track, and all of the sudden, the Tower nomination went down. I got a phone call from the White House; one thing led to another and the President offered me the job and I signed on.

KRISTOL: I think people would be interested. How does that happen exactly? So John Tower gets as I recall –

CHENEY: It was defeat –

KRISTOL: Get to the floor and defeated in committee –

CHENEY: No. It went all the way to the floor. Yeah, he’d been – there were questions about his personal conduct and so forth.

KRISTOL: So then what, that day, the next day, two days later, who calls you, how does it work?

CHENEY: That morning, the morning of the day, the committee had already voted and had reported it out but it was his committee – he had been chairman of that committee before. No senator had ever been rejected by the Senate before; it was total shock in effect. But they reported it to the floor and the –

KRISTOL: The negative – negatively, right?

CHENEY: And the Senate voted that evening but before the vote, I got a phone call from Brent Scowcroft and John Sununu at the White House, and they asked me if I could come by.

KRISTOL: The Security Advisor and the Chief of Staff.

CHENEY: The Chief of Staff. And they invited me to come on down and wanted to talk about what to do next. This was a few hours before the vote, and I told them I couldn’t get there at the time. They wanted me to do Evans and Novak talk show. So on the show, it was interesting because Bob Novak and Evans – really, Evans – were speculating about who the next Secretary was going to be because it was clear Tower was going down. And Novak said, “I’ve got it on the highest authority it’s going to be Bobby Ingram,” from – had been in the Navy, Admiral and had been heavily involved in intelligence business and so forth.

But, of course, I was sitting there waiting to go to the White House, I couldn’t say anything, I didn’t say anything. I went down to the White House after that, had a meeting with Scowcroft and Sununu and they, I assumed they wanted to consult with me because I was part of the leadership. But after one question, they asked me if I had any recommendations, and I did, in fact, recommend somebody. And they said that will never work, what about you, would I be interested? It was all an effort to recruit me to the effort, to the job. I said I’d have to think about it. We talked about it a bit. We left it that I would go home that evening and the next day if I was interested in pursuing the matter, then they’d set up a meeting with the President. They sort of wanted to screen me first and see if I actually was interested in it.

So that night, I went home and when I got home, I got a phone call from Jim Baker. Jim was the new Secretary of State, was an old friend of mine, we’d worked together back in the Ford years, and were fishing buddies. He called and urged me to take the job. I talked with my family that night, and the decision I had to make really was to give up a career in elective office because I’d worked for 10 years at that point and moved up to the number two slot and I was in a position to succeed Bob Michel, a leader when he retired or even run for speaker if we captured the majority. And that was my career path and I’d worked hard to get there. And going to the executive branch and giving all of that up was a significant decision to make.

But I decided I definitely wanted to pursue it. I had a vital interest in national security matters and defense; to be Secretary of Defense, a brand new administration with Baker and Bush and Scowcroft sounded like a remarkable opportunity. So the next morning, I called Sununu, and he set up a meeting at noon for me in the White House with the President. I came in the Southeast Gate so the press couldn’t see me, and I had a car and driver then as the Republican whip. But walked into the south diplomatic entrance, got in the elevator and rode upstairs to the second floor and went to the President’s private office that’s inside the residence itself.

I can remember as I walked in looking up on the wall, and there was a famous painting, I think it’s called The Peacemakers. It’s Abraham Lincoln, William Tecumseh Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, and Admiral David Porter on a ship, a steamer off Richmond just as the Civil War is ending, a few days before Lincoln was assassinated. My great-grandfather had served under William Tecumseh Sherman throughout the war, and it occurred to me as I was in the room as I walked in to talk to the President about becoming Secretary of Defense, I wondered what he would have thought that his great-grandson would someday be in the White House with the President talking about taking over the reins of the U.S. military. But I signed on and never regretted it. It was a tremendous opportunity, and I loved every minute of it.

KRISTOL: That’s a terrific story about the painting. I remember people subsequently, who were younger, you know, think of you as Secretary of Defense, Vice President or –

But I remember being surprised in the sense that you were – Bob Michel was only going to serve probably another term or two – as leader, you were, would have been a total consensus choice to succeed him as Republican leader. Republicans at that time hadn’t been in the majority in what 35 years in the House but there was – people had the sense that it might one day happen, and you would have been Speaker. And I remember being surprised actually when your name was floated – I don’t think it was floated much, I think it was pretty much announced.

So you met with the President at noon?

CHENEY: Met with the President at noon. He didn’t offer me the job but we talked about it. Talked about what needed to be done at Defense and so forth and some of the issues. And then I left, and he and I had spent about an hour together. Sununu showed up right at the end, and I got –

KRISTOL: Just the two of you though?

CHENEY: Just the two of us up until that point. And then Sununu arrived. We ended the meeting. I got in my car and was driven back to Capitol Hill, and I had been back there about 15 or 20 minutes, and the phone rang and it was the President. And he said, “Dick, I’m offering you the job. I want you to be my Secretary of Defense.” And I said, “Yes, sir, I’m happy to accept.” And he said, “Well, come on back down here, and we’ll announce it.”

So I went right back to the White House and that afternoon just 24 hours after Tower had gone down in defeat, we, he and I went into the press room in the West Wing of the White House and announced that I was the next nominee to be Secretary of Defense.

KRISTOL: That’s pretty fast.

CHENEY: It was fast and it was, part of it was, I think, the committee had been through a very difficult time with the battle over Tower and my confirmation from the time the President announced me until I was finished with confirmation was about 7 days, it was nearly a record but I’m sure there have been some shorter than that. But it was a unanimous vote. They were eager to get somebody else onboard.

I think I benefitted by the fact that I’d spent 10 years in the House, and the new leaders and members both in the House and the Senate, Sam Nunn was chairing the committee, and we were good friends that worked on various things. So it moved very smoothly from that point on.

[Log in to read more.]

Sign Up to receive free access to subscriber-only content, including additional footage, podcasts, transcripts & more.

Not a Member? Register Now!

Already a Conversations member? Login