Cheney says U.S. military is underfunded, overtaxed
Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney accused the Clinton-Gore White House on Monday of spreading America's armed forces thin across the globe while equipping them with ill-maintained equipment. Sounding a familiar refrain, Cheney also suggested Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore has a hard time sticking to the facts.
Cheney appeared Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live." The following is a transcript of his appearance.
KING: We now welcome Dick Cheney to LARRY KING LIVE,
the Republican vice-presidential candidate. He was on
this show the day it was announced that he was the
I would gather, Dick, that you hadn't debated in a
long time. What was that like?
RICHARD B. CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:
That is true, Larry. I guess the last real debate I
had been involved in, in an electoral sense, was
probably running for Congress from Wyoming.
Well, it was a very comfortable set. It was a lot like
doing your show. It -- Joe Lieberman and I, I think,
both enjoyed it. I know Bernie Shaw, I think, did a
great job as the moderator. So it was -- it was a very
enjoyable experience for both of us. Time flew. It
went very fast.
KING: All right, the thing most
pressing: the Middle East. You are a veteran of these
sort of things. What do we do if conflict breaks out -
- in a large scale?
CHENEY: Sure, it really is worrisome, because it is
clear that the situation has gotten very tense there.
There had been a real sense of progress after the Gulf
War that the situation was teed up so that we could
make major progress. The -- a lot of Arab states had
fought alongside the U.S. The Israeli main enemy - Iraq -
had been defeated. You had strong leadership in
Israel, as we do today with Mr. Barak.
But -- and there has been progress: progress clearly
with Jordan, progress in terms of interim agreements
with the Palestinians. But now it appears that it is
at risk. And I'm not sure what the answer is, Larry.
And I'm not confident, at this point, how it is going
to sort out. I assume there is a lot of behind-the-
scenes activity underway. President Mubarak oftentimes
is very helpful at a time like this. The Saudis, lots
of times, will weigh and can be very influential as
I hope they can end the violence and return to the
KING: Do you agree that we play a big role -- we, the
CHENEY: We do play big role. We cannot dictate a
settlement. It is very important to understand that
the only settlement that will survive has to be one
that the parties of the dispute can agree to. But we
clearly are in a position, given our relationships on
both sides of the dispute -- our historic ties to
Israel, as well as our great relationships with many
of the Arab states involved -- that we do have a
special role to play, as we have for years, for
example, in the Sinai, where we still have U.S. troops
deployed now for well over 20 years.
CHENEY: There is a major role for the U.S. here. And
we are about the only ones who can perform it.
KING: Military preparedness has come up in this
campaign. In the debate, Joe Lieberman criticized that
it -- that should be off the boards for awhile,
because it deals with national security. Is it -- is
it -- do you think we are militarily unprepared? And
is it fair game?
CHENEY: I think -- I think we have to talk about it
during the course of a national campaign, Larry. I
can't think of a more appropriate time for us to
discuss the state of the U.S. military. And I must
say, there is a big disagreement between my view of
what kind of shape our military is in today and the
view we are getting from Al Gore and Joe Lieberman.
I just had the experience today, for example -- I just
spoke, before I came here, in Bend, Oregon. I had a
man stand up in audience when I got through and say
that his son is a pilot in United States Air Force. A
third of the planes in their squadron are grounded for
lack of maintenance, lack of spare parts. The pilots
are getting four or five hours flying time a month,
instead of the 25 or so that are really optimum.
I met a woman on a rope line in Yakima, Washington,
this morning. Her son, a Naval Academy graduate, a
Marine captain, is getting ready to get out of the
service because of his dissatisfaction with the level
of support they are receiving -- the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, before Congress just two weeks ago, testifying
they have been robbing Peter to pay Paul, in terms of
trying to support and sustain the force in the field.
There is a problem. It is serious. This is an all-
volunteer force. We have an obligation to provide the
troops with everything they need to do the job we ask
them to do for us. And I don't think this
administration has been doing that. I think they have
overcommitted the force and not provided sufficient
KING: And you think the examples you heard today are
CHENEY: I run into it every place I go. And I can -- I
can look at the data generated by the Defense
Department itself: some 40 percent of our Army
helicopters not combat ready, the fact that money is
now being drained out of the procurement budget to
support a lot of the deployments overseas, the fact
that the force has gotten as small as it has.
Clearly, some reductions were justified with the end of
the Cold War. But we have gone way beyond that now.
KING: And why, Dick, is it fair game, since one could
say: People could look at this and profit from it?
CHENEY: Well, the -- I think the fact of the matter is
that the national election is a time you hold people
accountable for their performance in office, and as
well as talk about what your priorities are for the
future. Al Gore has been vice president for eight
years. He wants to run on the basis of his service in
the Clinton administration as vice president.
And the post that is being contested here, in terms of
the contest between Al Gore and Governor Bush is, as
president, is to be the commander in chief of our
armed forces. It's maybe the single most important
responsibility that a president undertakes, is to
serve as commander in chief, to make life-and-death
decisions about when we commit forces and when we
don't -- and has a very special obligation under those
circumstances, I think, to make certain that the
American people understand the state of the force and
that he provides the leadership and the resources they
need to do the job for us.
If he -- if there's a problem and he refuses to
recognize it or misrepresents it, that's a very
KING: Senator Lieberman is making a sweep through
Texas to hit the Bush record. What do you make of
CHENEY: Well, I think he's wasting his time, but
certainly if he wants to do it, that's probably as
good a place as any from our standpoint to have him.
The fact is, of course, the people of Texas re-elected
Governor Bush overwhelmingly with 68 percent of the
vote last time out, just two years ago. He has been
one of the most successful governors that we've ever
had in Texas. He received nearly half of the Hispanic
vote, over a fourth of the African-American vote when
he ran for re- election.
He's got a great track record in Texas in tort reform,
in taxes, in education. He's done a superb job down
there. The people of Texas recognize it, and I think
they will probably not take kindly to Joe Lieberman
coming down to mess with Texas, so to speak. But it's
a free country, and if he wants to campaign through
Texas, more power to him.
KING: We'll be back with some more questions for Dick
Cheney. We expect to have him on quite a bit in the
next month, as we head toward the wire.
We'll be right back.
KING: Dick Cheney, the other night, John McCain was
here. He was very angry. He says the Republicans in
the Senate are holding up a bill that passed through
his committee unanimously that would make it tougher
on the tire companies, force them to report, keep
statistics better. He was alarmed that over 100
Americans have died on the roads due to defective
tires. Should you call on your fellow Republicans to
let this out of the Senate and into a vote?
CHENEY: Well, I don't know who put the hold on the
bill, Larry. I've got a lot of respect for John
McCain. We're good friends. We served together in the
House many years ago. And I'm sure he's got legitimate
concerns, but that strikes me as an internal Senate
matter that they'll work out. I would hope, certainly,
that it will get resolved. I don't see any reason to
believe it won't.
KING: Do you generally support the fact that the
government should be involved if defective tires are
CHENEY: Absolutely, I think -- I think there's no
question but what there is a legitimate government
role there, that it is appropriate certainly for the
Congress to be looking at it, holding hearings, trying
to find out what happened. And there is an obligation
there to try to protect people against defective
KING: Also, some statements are being made about the
vice president with regard to statements he's made in
the debates and other kinds of things. Are you, in a
sense, to be blunt, calling him a liar?
CHENEY: Well, I've been very careful in my choices of words, Larry.
I think the question of credibility is extraordinarily
important in a president. It's the coin of the realm.
When a president looks the American people in the eye and
asks them to undertake a difficult task or accept
difficult decisions, they have to know he's telling
them the truth.
But I've always in the course of this debate tried to
avoid words like the one you used, specifically
because it is emotion laden. I try to be precise and
accurate in what I'm saying. And what I've said is
that I do think there's an unfortunate problem here in
the sense that the vice president seems to have a
tendency to want to embellish the facts, to make up
facts to try to make a point. And that's especially
worrisome when you think about how important
credibility is from a president.
KING: So credibility is an issue, certainly.
CHENEY: I think it is. I think it's legitimate to ask
-- ask questions about that, especially if somebody
has a track record, where in -- on so many different
occasions over the years he has, in fact, embellished
his resume or embellished the facts in ways that
KING: One of the news magazines is calling Madeleine
Albright a winner today over the results in
Yugoslavia. Do you share that view?
CHENEY: I'm certainly pleased, like I think everybody
is, with what's happening in Yugoslavia, and she's
been heavily involved there. I expect she does deserve
some of the credit for the successes there and the
departure of Mr. Milosevic.
KING: All right, how goes the next four weeks, Dick?
Are you going to key certain states? Give me a little
CHENEY: We are. We're focusing very much on the swing
states. I was in Oregon and Washington today, I'm in
Nevada tonight, New Mexico tomorrow, on to Missouri
and Illinois later this week. We'll be focused on the
battleground states. I think it's going to be a very
close election that will be determined in the end by
what happens in those handful of states. And that's
where Governor Bush and I will spend the bulk of our
time over the next four weeks.
Do you think we'll be up very late the night of
CHENEY: Well, I hope we know early on that evening
that it's been a great Bush-Cheney victory. But I
won't count on it. I've been involved in other races
that went all night, so we're prepared if that's what
KING: And, frankly, should we have another vice
presidential debate, do you think?
CHENEY: Well, we originally...
KING: It was exhilarating to hear issues discussed
CHENEY: Sure, it was. No, we really enjoyed it.
And I know my brief conversation with Joe Lieberman on
the stage afterwards, I think we both felt very good
about it. And that's certainly the response I've
gotten around the country as I travel and talk to
We originally suggested two debates. In the end, when
the campaigns got together with the commission and
negotiated it, we ended up going with the original
commission schedule. And so, you know, if there were
opportunity for another, that's fine. But I -- I think
the focus now will be on the two remaining
presidential debates, and that's probably as it should
KING: And your health is OK?
CHENEY: It's great. I'm thriving out here on the
campaign trail, eating good food, working hard...
KING: That's the way to do it.
CHENEY: ... getting up early in the morning, going to
bed late at night. So it's been -- it's really been
fascinating, Larry. It's been an amazing process to go
through these last few months. It's an immersion,
really, in America. You see the enormous sweep and
diversity of the country. It's a great privilege.
KING: Thanks, Dick, always good seeing you.
CHENEY: OK, Larry.
KING: Dick Cheney.
Tomorrow night, George Mitchell, Jack Kemp, Bob
Woodward and Michael Beschloss.
I'm Larry King in Washington. We're out of time. Good
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