The Magazine

Cheney--the Exit Interview

On North Korea, the bailout, and Obama's naiveté.

Jan 19, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 17 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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CHENEY: I think the president has worked this one very hard, and properly so. But the Six-Party Talks constituted progress in the sense that we provided a mechanism by which you could get China actively involved, which is crucial because China has got more leverage over North Korea than anybody else. And--but we clearly have not achieved our objective with North Korea, primarily because the North Koreans have refused to keep the commitments they have made in connection with the negotiations that we've had--that they did not give us a full and complete disclosure of their nuclear program as they promised they would.

TWS: Did you expect that they would?

CHENEY: They tested a weapon, obviously, in '06. They have--they've failed to live up to the obligations that they agreed to in those earlier negotiations.

TWS: And yet we continue to provide concessions.

CHENEY: And they also built a reactor to produce plutonium and cerium. There's a major example of proliferation to a terrorist-sponsoring state. So, you know, we've worked very hard on North Korea, but we haven't solved the problem.

TWS: After all of those things--I think this is what I was getting at with my question--after all of those things--

CHENEY: I'm trying to avoid your question.

Cheney laughs.

TWS: Well, I'll try one more time.

CHENEY: All right.

TWS: After all of those things, we went to them and offered to take them off of the state sponsor of terror list, after they were caught red-handed building a reactor in Syria, which is, as we both know, a state sponsor of terror. Was it appropriate to go to them and say, hey, we'll take you off of this list, given the whole range of their activities that you just outlined?

CHENEY: Well--Lea Anne [Foster, the vice-presidential spokesman] is over there saying, what's he going to say? (Laughter.)

TWS: I'm just thinking of the history books here.

CHENEY: Yes. It's not a decision that I was enthusiastic about. I don't make those decisions. I've been involved, obviously, in that ongoing debate, but I think the North Koreans have not lived up to their obligations.

Cheney used similar language in discussing the Bush administration's efforts to prop up the U.S. automobile industry--"it's a decision the president made, and I work for the president"--and he is pessimistic about its future without dramatic change.

I do believe that the industry needs to undergo radical restructuring. And I don't think they're going to. I don't think they've got much prospect of being viable long-term until they do that, until they come to grips with the basic fundamental problems that are now built into their business, like for example, labor agreements and all those kinds of concerns.

Cheney said that the timing of the industry's trouble--coming in the midst of a major financial crisis and a global recession--left the administration with few options.

CHENEY: I think the package that the president came up with, which I supported, is about as good as you could do under the circumstances. And if you were in the beginning of an administration, or if you were operating on this issue at a time when we didn't have a major recession underway or a financial crisis in the markets, it might have been something else.

TWS: You'd just let them fail?

CHENEY: I'll leave it where it's at. I thought I stated it rather artfully.

The vice president is concerned that the Bush administration may have paved the way for a dramatic expansion of the federal government. "I worry a little bit that what we had to do in the financial area has provided cover for folks who want to vastly expand the size of the government. I think it's a problem," he says. "They've always wanted to do this, and now they think they've got a shot at it because they've got the House and the Senate and the White House, and a rationale." He adds: "They can say, 'well, you guys started it, but look what you did for the banks.' I think that's a poor analogy, but it might be a successful political argument."

Cheney is more optimistic about the long-term prospects for those Bush administration national security policies that have kept the country safe for more than seven years. He believes that the incoming president might quickly come to appreciate the value of the Terrorist Surveillance Program and the special interrogation program for high-value detainees--the two Cheney cites as most important.