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 hope that what will happen is they sit down every day now and avail themselves of the same intelligence information the president and I have been looking at for eight years; that they will come to understand the enormous importance of continuing to collect that intelligence; and that they will resist the temptation to automatically take their campaign rhetoric and make that policy. Now, will they do that? I don't know.

TWS: Was the campaign rhetoric then something born of naïveté?

CHENEY: Absolutely--or, well, I can't say it was malicious; it was the stuff that a lot of Democrats and a lot of people in the press have hammered us with for years. And I think on the left wing of the Democratic party, there are some people who believe that we really tortured and--then in the course of the Democratic primary process, he rode that issue pretty hard.

He's now going to be President of the United States, and two weeks from today we swear him in. And it would be a tragedy if he let his policies be founded on nothing more than the rhetoric of his campaign. It's got to be based on knowledge and experience.

To that end, Cheney says he's heartened by Barack Obama's decision to retain Robert Gates. The vice president, who also said that Obama had assembled a "pretty good team" on national security, believes Gates will push the new president to continue the controversial programs.

I'm hopeful, for example, that his decision to keep a guy like Bob Gates means he's at least open-minded enough on these issues, to sit down and find out the facts, find out what we've really done, find out what we've learned from it, before he automatically closes down those operations, because there's--you know, as I say, if you believe, as I do, that those programs have been instrumental in keeping us safe, then the conclusion would be if you cancel those programs, you may well enhance the danger to the nation.

I asked Cheney for his thoughts on Obama's election. He recalled the racial tension in the country when he first arrived in Washington in 1968 and noted, with a bit of wonder, perhaps even emotion, in his voice:

Forty years later we're swearing in the first African-American president in our history. There are going to be millions of people down there on the Mall to celebrate. That's great and that's--talk about change.

But he went on,

I didn't support Barack Obama; I wouldn't vote for him. He and I have got pretty radically different views of the world. I'm a conservative Republican and nobody ever accused him of that.

Stephen F. Hayes, a senior writer at
THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is the author of Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President (HarperCollins).