Former vice president Dick Cheney is plainly worried. In an expansive interview with Right Turn, he outlined the concerns that motivated him and his daughter Liz Cheney to form a new organization, Alliance for a Strong America. Why did he choose to act now? He told me: “It’s stimulated by a lot of things. I generally avoid going out all the time as a typical talking head. I do from time to time. I stick my head up and voice my sentiments. I’ve become concerned — and Liz, too — deeply, deeply concerned about the damage that’s being done to the U.S. from the nation’s standpoint and from the standpoint of our ability to be able to influence events in key parts of the world. Some of it was stimulated by a trip that Liz and I took to the Middle East this March. To a person, everybody we dealt with was deeply disturbed, concerned, upset by the state of affairs vis-à-vis the Obama administration. They had doubts about the commitment of the U.S. They had concerns about the Iranian nuclear situation. They were also concerned about Iran as a force for trouble with support for terrorism and that it wasn’t being addressed by the U.S.”
Drawing on contacts throughout the Middle East, including those in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Cheney listened to the range of concerns. “They saw what happened to Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood taking control,” he said. “Gen. [Abdel Fatah al-]Sissi had responded to the overwhelming sentiment in the country to step in. The Saudis and Emiratis had to make up the shortfall to the Egyptian military because there was a feeling the U.S. was going to put the screws on Egypt because they believed Obama was on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood. You have a situation where Sissi can go to Russia looking for help and that’s acceptable politically, but he can’t go to the U.S. because that is not politically acceptable.” The problem is not Iran per se or Iraq per se but the entire foreign policy of this administration. Cheney said, “Egypt is just an example of the transition that has occurred under this administration. Add that all together and [our allies] get the sense the U.S. is rapidly withdrawing from the region. You see this as a significant diminution of the U.S influence in the region.”
In addition to “a whole combination of problems” around the world, Cheney said, “I worry that we’re at a time when there seems to be a growing sense of isolationism in this country, to some extent in the Republican Party.” The group is not focused on specific candidates, but rather will seek to “try to influence the policy debate and actively raise these issues, encourage the debate and stimulate thought about them in the body politic.” He is obviously trying to change the debate in the country but also inside the GOP. He said, “The best way to do this was to set up this 501(c)4. It is the best procedure, organizationally, to help the Republican Party reclaim and recommit our party to something that has been the cornerstone of our philosophy in the past in favor of a strong America militarily and politically, ready to step up and lead when necessary.”
Dick and Liz Cheney have exchanged words through the media about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and the junior senator’s aversion to projecting U.S. power to influence events in the region. He told me, “I don’t know Sen. Paul. I met him a couple times. I described him yesterday as an isolationist. It’s the notion we don’t have a dog in that fight. I did [an] interview back in April 2001, some months before 9/11, and I was asked the most serious threat we faced. I mentioned terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. And then that was reinforced on 9/11 when we had 19 guys with box cutters, nothing more sophisticated than that, deliver the worst attack ever on the homeland, and killed 3,000 people, brought down the World Trade Center, hit the Pentagon, etc. That reinforced the notion that the threat is especially important when you contemplate the possibility of a terrorist with a nuclear device. I think the whole concept [of] isolationism went out in the ’30s, but if you didn’t believe it then … the fact you had 19 people with box cutters from Afghanistan could come over here and do that kind of damage should have demonstrated to anybody who had questions that we have an interest in that part of the world, that it matters.” But this is not merely about one senator, as wrongheaded as he may be. Cheney recognized, “I worry this is not just a problem with Sen. Paul, but there is public sentiment behind it in the country. We need to explain why there is a danger there and an interest in what happens.”
He is particularly concerned about the creeping inclination to treat the jihadist threat as a criminal justice matter. One sees it in the administration’s inclination to try the Libyan terrorist captured in connection with the attack on Benghazi and in Rand Paul’s fixation with drones, suggesting that we can’t use them against Americans who have taken up arms against the United States. “Before 9/11,” Cheney recalled, “we treated terrorist attacks like the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as a law enforcement matter. Then came 9/11. It was an act of war, and we needed to use all of our capabilities.” He dismissed the concern about droning American jihadists who have joined up with U.S. enemies overseas. “What I hear in Rand Paul’s argument seems to be based on the assumption we have a law enforcement problem. Now, if an American winds up in Yemen recruiting terrorists, he is an unlawful combatant. We don’t capture him and read him his Miranda rights.” Cheney concedes that there is sentiment against a long, protracted war. “As Americans, we have a culture to solve a problem. Then move on. This is going to take a very long commitment. It may be like the Cold War in terms of duration. It requires presidential leadership to help the public understand why it’s necessary and to help build support.”
I will have more tomorrow from the interview, including Cheney’s views on Iraq, Iran, Syria, Vladimir Putin and 2016.