NEW YORK - Former Vice President Dick Cheney said today he feared Iran was expanding its influence in the Persian Gulf region at the same time that the United States is withdrawing forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, and said he has not seen the Obama administration do anything to stop Tehran from building a nuclear weapon.
He also expressed concern that negotiations to retain some U.S. troops in Iraq as security for Americans working there were abandoned.
When asked about reports that Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been consolidating power by rounding up Baathist Party members and that some Western companies have been kicked out of the Green Zone, Cheney replied, "I don't know the details now the way I used to when I was in the loop with the intelligence reports and so forth. I think the Iraqis have got to organize themselves however they want to organize themselves.
"They're a sovereign state and that's partly what the struggle is all about. But I think they've made major progress. They've written a Constitution, they've had a lot of elections. They've got a democracy established. It's not perfect by any means, there's a lot of work to be done. But they're clearly much better off than when Saddam Hussein was in charge.
"But do you see them taking a step back before they take it a step forward?" asked "Early Show" co-anchor Jeff Glor.
"I'm concerned. The thing that bothers me most is when we negotiated the status forces agreement at the end of the Bush administration, part of that was that the bulk of the forces would leave at the end of this year. But part of it was that there was going to be a separate track, a separate negotiation for a stay-behind force, a force of 15,000 or 20,000 troops that would be there to provide security - there's still 16,000 Americans in Iraq - and that they would be there for training purposes and so forth. Those negotiations began in August, but they were broken off in October. The deal was never done."
When asked how concerned about Iran's influence in the region, Cheney said, "I'm concerned about Iran not only because of what they've attempted for years to try to do in Iraq, but also because they're aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons. And at the same time it looks like the United States is coming out of Iraq, we're significantly reducing our presence in Afghanistan, it looks like the Iranians are significantly expanding their influence, at the expense of the U.S."
"How close do you think Iran is to a nuclear weapon?" asked Glor.
"Early Show" co-anchor Rebecca Jarvis noted that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said that if President Obama were to continue in office, Iran will end up with a nuclear weapon. "Do you agree with him?"
"I don't see anything that's been done by this administration that's going to stop that program," Cheney said.
Jarvis referred to comments Cheney made on CNN criticizing the Obama administration for not "You've been critical of the administration for not entering Iran and destroying the drone once it had crashed. "Would not, though, an air strike on Iran have potentially led us into a war with them?" she asked.
"Well, if you look at what Iran has done over the years, they've been the prime backers of Hezbollah, of Hamas, the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 that cost us 241 American lives. These were Iranian-supported ventures. It's not as though they haven't already committed acts that some people would say come close to being acts of war.
"For us to go in and take out the drone that crashed would have been, I think, a fairly simple operation, and it would have denied them the value of the intelligence they can collect by having that aircraft," he said. "But the administrative basically limited itself to saying, 'Please give it back,' and the Iranians said no."
Cheney said the Iranians will presumably study the technology on the downed drone. "They'll try to reverse engineer it," he said. "It's a way the technology spreads. Somebody else may be able to take this and try to build an equivalent system that they can then use against us. It's got stealth capability built into it. It's a significant loss of intelligence."
"With the economy being front and center, do you think the GOP is taking the Iranian threat seriously enough in this election?" Jarvis asked.
"I haven't seen them do anything yet that is going to inhibit the Iranian program. They continue to be actively and aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons. That's a terrible proposition, I believe, to have a terrorist sponsoring state like Iran, one of the world's worst regimes, in effect spending enormous amounts to build the capacity to have a nuclear weapon. I think that their efforts to try to dominate that part of the world, Persian Gulf and all those areas around it. We've got a lot of great friends over there, people have been good allies of ours over the years who are scared to death that the Iranians are going to end up with nukes."
"In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir" by Dick Cheney (Threshold Editions)
Below: Click on the video player to watch Dick Cheney and his daughter, political consultant Liz Cheney, discuss the current GOP presidential field.