Cheney to U.S.: 'Stuff Happens'

By Dan Froomkin
12:20 PM ET, 03/16/2009

In case you thought former vice president Dick Cheney's unhinged interview with Politico six weeks ago was an aberration, along comes more of the same.

CNN's John King did the honors, live, on Sunday. (Here's the video.)

Cheney again accused President Obama of making the nation less safe -- without providing a stitch of reliable evidence. He also ducked responsibility for the financial crisis his team left behind, declared victory in Iraq, and confirmed earlier reports that he found himself at odds with former president George W. Bush after failing to secure a pardon for his onetime chief of staff, Scooter Libby.

Cheney said that in rolling back some of the Bush administration's anti-terror tactics, Obama "is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack."

King then offered him the opportunity to back that statement up. "I want to give you a chance -- and take as much time as you want -- to prove it....I know some of this is classified intelligence, but now that you're out of government, to the degree that you can, tell the American people, because of those tactics, because of those, yes, sometimes extreme tactics, we stopped this."

Cheney's eventual reply: "John, I've seen a report that was written based upon the intelligence that we collected then that itemizes the specific attacks that were stopped by virtue of what we learned through those programs. It's still classified. I can't give you the details of it without violating classification, but I can say there were a great many of them. The one that has been public was the potential attack coming out of Heathrow, when they were going to have several American planes with terrorists on board, with liquid explosives, and they were going to blow those planes up over the United States.

"Now, that was intercepted and stopped, partly because of those programs that we put in place."

But here's a shocker: What Cheney said isn't remotely true. The Heathrow liquid explosives plot isn't even one of the ones the Bush administration historically claimed credit for -- not that any of its claims actually held up under even modest scrutiny.

Indeed, the Heathrow plot -- in which British prosecutors presented no evidence that a viable bomb had been made, that any airline tickets had been bought or that any attack was imminent -- was undone by a British investigation. And the only U.S. role I know of was that, once U.S. officials heard about what the Brits had found out, they messed it all up.

On the disastrous budget picture left behind, Cheney had this to say: "Eight months after we arrived, we had 9/11. We had 3,000 Americans killed one morning by al Qaeda terrorists here in the United States. We immediately had to go into the wartime mode. We ended up with two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of that is still very active. We had major problems with respect to things like Katrina, for example. All of these things required us to spend money that we had not originally planned to spend, or weren't originally part of the budget.

"Stuff happens. And the administration has to be able to respond to that, and we did."

Did you get that? We "ended up" with two wars. And: "Stuff happens."

As for Iraq, Cheney said: "I guess my general sense of where we are with respect to Iraq and at the end of now, what, nearly six years, is that we've accomplished nearly everything we set out to do....

"The defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq, the writing of that democratic constitution, a series of elections that involve power sharing among all the various groups, the end of sectarian violence. I think a major defeat for the Iranians living next door to Iraq, who tried to influence events there."

Do please keep in mind that there was no al Qaeda in Iraq until after the invasion; that the al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11 has regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan; that sectarian violence is arguably just in a lull; and that Iraq is virtually an Iranian client state.

So, were his arguments with Bush about Libby angry? Tense? Was there shouting? "Those kinds of details, I think, are best left to history. Maybe I'll write about it in my book," Cheney said. "I was clearly not happy that we, in effect, left Scooter sort of hanging in the wind, which I didn't think was appropriate. I think he's an innocent man who deserves a pardon."

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