BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS News' Chief Washington Correspondent: Today on Face the Nation, Vice President Cheney on war with Iraq. President Bush's diplomatic efforts seem to be in flux as he left this morning to meet with the British and Spanish allies. How close is war now? What will it mean for America if we have to go it alone in the face of widespread international opposition? And will we really do that? We'll ask the vice president.
Then we'll get analysis and perspective from Tom Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times. Finally, I'll have some thoughts on the president's Middle East peace plan.
But, first, Vice President Cheney on Face the Nation.
ANNOUNCER: FACE THE NATION, with CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.
And now from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.
SCHIEFFER: Good morning, again.
And we welcome back this morning the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney.
Mr. Vice President, thank you for coming.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Good morning, Bob.
SCHIEFFER: You are saying today that in the next few days the president's going to have to make a very difficult decision. Is war now inevitable?
CHENEY: Well, the president, of course, is on his way to meet in the Azores with the Spanish and British prime ministers. We're coming, I think, to the end of the -- the diplomatic phase, if you will.
We've -- the president's done everything he could, gone the extra mile, to try to get this matter resolved through the United Nations. And -- but he's made it abundantly clear that if the UN is not willing to enforce its own resolutions, that we may then be left with no choice but for the United States and others who agree with us to proceed to -- to disarm Saddam Hussein. And we are prepared to do that. And, obviously, given where we are, both diplomatically, as well as in the -- in the region, we're getting close to the point where the president's going to have to make an important decision.
SCHIEFFER: Well, short of leaving, is there anything that Saddam Hussein can do at this point to avoid military action?
CHENEY: It's hard to see anything other than his departure that would give the international community any confidence that he would, in fact, live up to those requirements and obligations that -- the difficulty -- we've seen it in the past, inspectors go in -- after the Gulf War, for example.
We stripped him of a lot of that capability, defectors told us where it was. We were able to get a lot of his chemical and biological, nuclear program, pulled down. But as soon as they were gone, he was back in business again.
And if he stays in power, has that flow of significant sums coming off oil production, some three million barrels a day, he will devote those resources to rebuilding his biological, chemical and nuclear program as soon as nobody's watching any longer. That's been his pattern for over 20 years and there's no reason to believe it will be any different in the future.
SCHIEFFER: What if he did leave? What if he left this afternoon? Would we still go in?
CHENEY: Well, if -- if he left -- obviously I'm going to be careful here not to speculate. I think our goals and objective, and I think the objective of many of the Iraqi people, and the opposition, as well, too, is to establish a broadly represented government in Iraq that has new regard for the various groups and for the human rights -- protects the territorial integrity of Iraq, all of those kinds of considerations would go into what comes next. And the United States and the international community, both folks in the region as well as around the world, have a vested interest in seeing to it that if, in fact, Saddam Hussein leaves that a new government is stood up that meets those and satisfies those various standards.
It would not be enough, for example, for him to turn it over to one of his sons, both of whom are bad actors, and -- and then depart. It would have to be a new truly representative government that represented a fundamental break with the past with respect to Iraq and the Iraqi people, and how that would come about, I think, at this stage, is difficult to speculate on. Clearly, the United States would want to help in that effort.
SCHIEFFER: But what you seem to be saying this morning is that we have come to the point here where he leaves or we're going in.
CHENEY: We're getting close to that point, I think. Obviously, the president will be heard from later today after he completes his meetings in the Azores, and we are coming down to the end of the diplomatic phase, if you will. The president's gone the extra mile; he's done absolutely everything we can think of in order to avoid military action, but it may -- may in fact come to that.
SCHIEFFER: Well, I mean, do you think that the president will announce some sort of timetable today from the Azores?
CHENEY: Bob, I don't want to be in a position where I predict what my boss is going to do.
SCHIEFFER: I understand.
CHENEY: He'll be heard from, I'm sure, over the next few days, and those are decisions for him to make and announce.
SCHIEFFER: Well, what you seem to be saying is that we should be prepared for war, maybe as early as this week.
CHENEY: I wouldn't...
SCHIEFFER: Is that what you're saying?
CHENEY: I'm -- I said exactly -- I was precise, Bob, and I want to leave it exactly where it was.
SCHIEFFER: Well, say that again, just so I make sure I understand.
CHENEY: That -- that we are approaching the end of the diplomatic phase here and that the purpose of the Azores meeting is for the president to sit down with the other two sponsors of the most recent effort of the United Nations, Spain and -- and the UK, and decide on -- on what comes next; that is, what is left to be done, for example, from a diplomatic standpoint, and they'll have, I'm sure, comments on what lies ahead once they finish their meeting today.
SCHIEFFER: Well, Mr. Vice President, do you think that this meeting in any way will be to try to find some new kind of resolution that perhaps could bring the United Nations into support behind us, or are we past that?
CHENEY: I don't want to predict that, Bob. I -- again, the president's going to sit down with his close friends, the prime minister of Spain and -- and the UK, and they'll decide what comes next. But the fact is, obviously, we've -- the French, for example, have made it clear that they will veto virtually any effort here to come up with a second resolution, and they've consistently over the years refused to hold Saddam accountable for his past actions. It's been a standard pattern for them since the mid-'90s, and at this late date it does not appear that they're prepared to change that in any way. They will oppose, have said they will oppose, virtually any new resolution.
SCHIEFFER: Well, as I'm sure you're aware, Mr. Chirac -- President Chirac said this morning that -- and he's been talking about some sort of 120 days for a deadline. He's now saying that if the inspectors told him that -- or told the UN that they could get their work done in 30 days, he might be willing to consider that.
CHENEY: You know, come back again to how we got here. Inspectors will not work unless Saddam Hussein is willing to cooperate. We've got ample evidence now that goes back many, many years that inspectors all by themselves are not the answer. The very system that Jacques Chirac is now saying ought to be relied upon to solve the problem France refused to support in 1999 when it was set up. They would not vote for the establishment of UNMOVIC, that they now want to place sort of the fate, if you will, of whether or not we deal with these issues in Iraq in the hands of that process. And I -- so it's hard to treat that as a credible response.
We've had 12 years of resolutions, of speeches, of pronouncements, of meetings, and the UN has yet to enforce any of those resolutions, and the French have consistently -- in 1995, for example, refused to find him in material breach; in '96, refused to criticize Saddam Hussein for what he was doing to the Kurds; in '97 refused to block the travel of Iraqi intelligence officers; in '98 declared Saddam was free of all weapons of mass destruction; in '99 refused to support UNMOVIC, the very institution now they want to entrust this important responsibility to.
So it's difficult to take the French serious and believe that this is anything other than just further delaying tactics.
SCHIEFFER: Mr. Vice President, at -- well, you said just a second ago you didn't want to pre-empt the president who will obviously be talking later today as will Prime Minister Blair, but what are the president's options at this hour?
CHENEY: Well, we've continued to work very aggressively on the diplomatic front. The president wanted to go to the United Nations, properly so, to try to build international support and to have the United Nations be effective.
We've got a lot of big issues, if you will, ahead of us in the years coming up, especially in the area of nuclear proliferation. If the Security Council can't deal effectively with the Iraqi problem, which involves a rogue nation developing weapons of mass destruction, then it's difficult to see how they're going to deal with other problems of a similar nature.
So it's important to try to have the UN Security Council be effective. And the president went to the UN to say, 'Look, these are your resolutions. This is the problem. You know, you've got to step up and address it.' So far after the passage of 1441, which was important last fall, unanimously, now some of those very people who voted for it, such as the French, are refusing to follow through on 1441 and take that next step which guarantees serious consequences if Saddam fails to comply.
SCHIEFFER: But am I hearing you correctly when you're saying -- what you seem to be saying to me here is that the only option now is whether Saddam Hussein leaves. Otherwise...
SCHIEFFER: ...military action appears all but inevitable.
CHENEY: I don't want to go any further than I already have, Bob.
CHENEY: Clearly, the president's made it -- made it abundantly clear to everybody, if the UN will not deal with this problem, then the US and our coalition partners will have no choice but to take action and that's clearly a possibility.
SCHIEFFER: If we do have to take action, do you think it will be a long war or a short war?
CHENEY: My own judgment based on my time as secretary of Defense, and having operated in this area in the past, I'm confident that our troops will be successful, and I think it'll go relatively quickly, but we can't...
CHENEY: ...we can't count on that.
CHENEY: Weeks rather than months. There's always the possibility of complications that you can't anticipate, but I have great confidence in our troops. The men and women who serve in our military today are superb. Our capabilities as a force are the finest the world has ever known.
They're very ably led by General Tommy Franks and Secretary Rumsfeld. And so I have great confidence in the conduct of the military campaign. The really...
CHENEY: ...challenging part of it to some extent may come in the aftermath once the military segment is over and we move to try and stand up a new government and turn over to the
Iraqi people the responsibilities to their nation.
SCHIEFFER: What do you think is the likelihood now that Saddam may strike the first blow?
CHENEY: I don't know. That's a possibility. It's a risk that some extent increases as you allow more and more time for debate, dialogue, diplomacy. That's one of the reasons I think we've about run out the string with respect to diplomacy. Clearly, he has done everything he could to manipulate the process. He continues to do that, but after 12 years, we're getting close to the point where action has to be taken if, in fact, we're going to deal with this problem.
SCHIEFFER: Should the American people be prepared for terrorist attacks in this country if we do take action against Saddam?
CHENEY: I think that's clearly a possibility, but remember, we've had terror attacks against us without our doing anything militarily. I mean, we didn't do anything in advance of 9/11 and still got hit. We know al Qaeda's out there, for example, doing everything they can to try to organize strikes against us. Saddam tried in '91 to organize terrorist attacks and failed dismally. These, I'm sure, will try again. They may be more effective this time around at trying to use terrorist attacks against US interests, various places around the globe and possibly here in the United States itself. So we have to consider that as a possibility.
Well, one of the things I'm convinced of, Bob, is if you look back at our track record, I think our failure to respond adequately to terror attacks in the past has, to some extent, encouraged the terrorist organizations.
I think Osama bin Laden, for example, saw that we didn't really respond effectively to the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in '83 or the World Trade Center attack in '93 or the Khobar Towers attack in '96 or the East Africa bombing in '98 or the USS Cole in 2000, a whole series of attacks there where the US didn't really have an effective response. And I think he felt he could launch attacks against us with impunity.
He found out different obviously. This Bush administration is different than the ones that have gone before. And 9/11 clearly was a significant event. The American people are now prepared to support more aggressive posture to deal with those threats and to eliminate them before they can be used against the United States.
SCHIEFFER: You seem to be saying that the longer we delay, the greater the possibility of terrorist attacks and that increases the possibility that he might strike first.
CHENEY: Well, I think we are rapidly approaching the point where, having done everything we can diplomatically and the president clearly has, I think, managed to convey to the American people that he's taken every possible step that was conceivable before he resorts to the ultimate use of force, that having done that, having worked as aggressively as we know how with the international community, that time is not on our side. That if we allow additional time to lapse here, Saddam Hussein is likely to continue to try to develop nuclear weapons, for example, may in fact try to mount terrorist attacks of various kinds against us and we need to get on with the business of solving this problem and eliminating this threat.
SCHIEFFER: If Saddam should choose to leave, obviously, we would grant him safe passage. Do we guarantee him anything beyond that?
CHENEY: I'm not sure we -- that we would want to do that. It's a decision the president would have to make. Obviously, he...
SCHIEFFER: We would guarantee him safe passage -- we would let him leave?
CHENEY: If he were -- if -- I assume we probably would, yes, Bob, but I don't want to -- I don't want to forecast how that ultimately would be handled. If he were to depart, that would solve an immediate problem with respect to Iraq. But you wouldn't want him, for example, to relocate someplace out there with billions of dollars in assets, which he has developed, and be free to plot further terror attacks against the United States or our allies.
SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you something, because it raises an interesting point. Have we given him some indication of where we would allow him to go, or is there a place that we have in mind for him to go?
CHENEY: No, we've not given him any such indication. Although I'm sure if, you know, he were to announce that he's leaving Baghdad tomorrow, we would welcome it and not interfere with that.
SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this question: Here we are taking on one of the great criminals in the history of the world, a mass murderer, and I don't think there's anybody who would disagree with that characterization, and yet around the world there seems to be this rising hatred against us. Why do you think that is?
CHENEY: There's no question but what -- there are a lot of folks out there who oppose U.S. military action in this case. I think it has to do with the fact that we're going through a -- what I think of as a watershed period here, Bob. If you look at our threats that we had to deal with in the last century: The possibility of all out global nuclear war with the Soviet Union, having to deal with states that had significant military power, strategies of containment and deterrence and building alliances and so forth, worked very effectively to forestall that, then we had a 9/11 and on this side of 9/11, if you will, as we get into the 21st century, threats have changed dramatically.
Containment or deterrence doesn't work against the terrorists. They don't have anything they choose to defend. They're prepared to die in simply the pursuit of the death of as many Americans as they can. And we now face -- are faced with the prospect of a terrorist using perhaps a nuclear weapon against us. And we know as a result of 9/11 that we are vulnerable. They -- it is possible for them to get through our defenses and launch a devastating attack against the US.
And under those circumstances, I think we're faced with, and to some extent have been through this watershed that most of the rest of the world hasn't been through yet. They didn't face the attacks of--of 9/11. They didn't suffer the death of 3,000 of their people in a matter of hours. And I think eventually a good part of the world, especially our allies, will come around to our way of thinking. But there's no question, but what there is a difference between those of us who suffered and were present for the attacks of 9/11 and the rest of the world that didn't face that threat.
SCHIEFFER: Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for coming this morning.
CHENEY: Thank you, Bob.
SCHIEFFER: We hope you'll come back.
We'll be back in a minute with Tom Friedman of The New York Times.
SCHIEFFER: And we're back now for some analysis and perspective with Tom Friedman, foreign affairs columnist of The New York Times. I must say, Tom, this, for me, was a very sobering interview because what the vice president seemed to be saying was 'The time has come. We're about to embark on this.'
TOM FRIEDMAN, The New York Times: I do believe, Bob, the diplomacy, basically, is over, barring some last-minute hail Mary. My guess is, talking to my own sources, that the president will address the country as early as tomorrow night...
FRIEDMAN: ...to lay out, basically, what's at stake here. And whether you are for the war, Bob, or against the war, it's too late. There's going to be a war. And now really the question is 'Will the administration be right?' In many of the bets that it's been making, and you certainly heard the vice president lay them out here -- and let me just go through a quick...
SCHIEFFER: Yeah, one of the things he's said today, he does believe it will be a short war, a matter of weeks.
FRIEDMAN: Right. Well, that's certainly number one on the checklist. They're predicting it will be a short war; weeks, not months.
Second, I think what they're counting on is that the war itself will be self-legitimating. OK? We couldn't get the UN to do it before the war, that when we see Iraqis celebrating in the streets, which I think there's a good chance we will, and if we can produce a decent alternative to Saddam in a reasonable amount of time, the war will be self-legitimating.
The third is that they'll get Saddam. As some -- because if he is still out there -- again, as the vice president suggested, if he is still out there in some way still functioning with his resources and his megaphone, that's going to be a real problem for getting people to side with us.
Fourth, that France and the other reluctant allies, once they see success, they'll want to line up with us.
I'd say fifth that General Shinseki, the widely respected head of the Army, who predicted this could take up to 200,000 men to run this place, after the war, that he will be wrong, and that it will take fewer.
And last couple things, one that I would say they've argued is that we can still go ahead with the tax cut. We can have guns, butter and war with Iraq at the same time. And, last, that the threat from al Qaeda and the terrorists of 9/11 will be diminished not exacerbated by this war.
This is a huge bet, Bob. This is the biggest shake of the dice that any American president has made, certainly in my lifetime, from the standing start. I think there's a good reason to believe that some of those might come true. And really the question is: If more or not less come through, then you'll be able to call this a success, but it's going to be the balance that's going to be important.
SCHIEFFER: You know, one thing that the vice president seemed to me left open was we may go in even if Saddam leaves because he was saying, 'Look, if he turns it over to his son, that's not enough.' What he seemed to be saying was `If he leaves and leaves in such a fashion that there is a chance or the possibility is that we can set up a democratic or at least a government that has some sort of connection to the people, fine. But if not, we're going to go in and take...'
FRIEDMAN: I think it's very clear. Right.
SCHIEFFER: '...make sure those conditions come about.'
FRIEDMAN: The question is does Saddam leave in a two-seater Piper Cub or does he leave in a 747, with the -- taking the whole top of the regime with him. If he basically leaves in a two-seater plane, and leaves, in effect, his regime intact, I think we're going in. Frankly, Bob, I think we're going in whether he comes or goes, stays or leaves.
SCHIEFFER: I think that's exactly right.
I'll be back with a final word in just a minute.
SCHIEFFER: One thing overlooked in all of this, the president says he will finally publish the long-delayed American plan for settling the Arab-Israeli conflict, maybe as early as this week.
At first that doesn't sound like much, but brush away the diplomatic jargon and what it means is that once and for all, the United States is not only endorsing the concept of a Palestinian state and a homeland for the Palestinian people, but is now on the record to make it happen by a specific date, 2005.
That is a big deal. It is what British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been pushing, and there's little doubt the president spoke up mainly to help Blair, in big trouble back home for siding with the United States to disarm Saddam.
But whatever the reason, this is right and humane thing to do, and good for us as well as the Palestinians.
I've never been neutral on the Middle East. I have long taken the Israeli side when they say Israel has a right to exist, and that its people are entitled to live in safety, but so do the Palestinians.
Putting the United States squarely behind the concept of a Palestinian homeland now, before an attack on Iraq, if there is one, and promising to follow through, is the best way to demonstrate to the Muslim world that we intend to be even-handed in a post-Saddam era, and that we understand there can be no true peace until all who live in the region have some hope of a better world for their children.
If we can convince them that we are sincere about that, we will be far safer from terrorism than barricades and metal detectors can ever make us.
That's it for us. We'll see you right here next week on Face the Nation.