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The Cheney Interview


In a recent upbeat interview the vice president was quoted as confident that Iraq would stabilize by the end of the administration’s tenure, and that he had no major objections to the current intelligence report about Iran.
That seemed to startle the interviewer.
But I think that is an accurate reflection of his thinking, which also reflects the consensus of senior ground officers in Iraq, who are concerned about Iranian meddling, but not to the extent that they would want a massive bombing campaign over the skies of Iran, with all the implications of waves of Iranian terrorists streaming into Iraq. Instead, they are concerned about our capabilities in the region and the dubious wisdom of opening a third theater.
I had a recent short interview (on foreign-policy issues) with the vice president — well prior to the recent release of the latest intelligence report — and it seemed to go about the same way as the present published one.
And despite the popular media and opposition’s charge that he was hell-bent on preempting Iran,about three weeks ago I got exactly the opposite impression — that he was, like everyone, concerned about their enrichment process, and reports about infiltration into Iraq, but was in a process of fact-gathering only.
He most certainly did not advocate preempting anything — especially with an evolving and hopeful situation in Iraq.
At this late date, caricatures are hard to dispel, but it seemed to me that the vice president was never Strangelovian about Iran. I think he would prefer to contain the complex and ever-changing problem, not let it damage the progress in Iraq — and wait and watch as intelligence evolved. That seems also to have been the gist of his May 2007 speech.
That seems confirmed by talks with a few people in Washington and elsewhere, in and out of government, that are determined, I think wrongly, to force Iran’s hand militarily as soon as possible. The vice president didn’t seem to me ever to be one of them, which explains why a few of these harder-liners said they were already impatient with him.
Containment with diplomatic and economic pressures, not preemption, I think were his preferences, at least for the present — especially when no one knows either the ultimate mitigating effects should a successful constitutional government stabilize in Iraq, or the ripples from the enormous transference of wealth into the region as a result of $95 a barrel oil.
So things are in a state of flux, and what is already in play could work out far better for us than we think if we keep patient and our vigilance extends to the next administration. Then there are also a lot of up-in-the-air variables out there that seem mutually incompatible, but might not be so in the long term: a rising Sunni coalition against Iran, even though our promotion of constitutional government would seem at odds with their almost exclusive authoritarian regimes; the verdict out on the idea that Shia/Sunni splits as of yet trump pan-Islamic antagonism of the Middle Eastern street toward the U.S., and the actual degree of leverage we have with touchy oil rich autocracies that we nag and hector over their dismal regimes, even as our imports grow, our dollar falls, and we fight in two theaters.
I would think the real worry is not that this administration would rashly preempt, but that Iran now thinks they are off the hook, accelerates its enrichment, and then waits for a new liberal administration, whose likely members have already gone on record for muscular diplomacy, engagement, and confidence building — thus allowing them in a blink and without fear of repercussions to use their stockpiles of fuel to quite rapidly make a bomb, Pakistani style, without consequence.
One suggestion?
He does very well in interviews and comes across as candid, fact-centered, and careful — in other words, exactly the opposite as he is portrayed in the popular media.
His staff should encourage far more, not fewer, meetings with the press, since it would in aggregate finally end many of the caricatures and mischaracterizations. There have many inept but showy figures, ironically involved in public relations, that should have never been let anywhere near the press — but the VP is not one of them.


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