On the heels of a tumultuous three-day period that included both the inauguration of President Donald Trump and mass protests attended millions around the globe, former Vice President Dick Cheney, in town for a pair of speeches as part of the Ringling College Library Association Town Hall Lecture Series, outlined what he sees as the challenges ahead during a media scrum held Monday morning.
Cheney largely complimented Trump and offered praise for his cabinet picks, particularly Cheney's "personal friend" Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil and now Trump's pick for secretary of state, and the already-confirmed Secretary of Defense James Mattis. But Cheney also made it clear where he disagrees with the president. In an interview published last week, Trump told The Times of London that the 2003 invasion of Iraq, launched during the Bush administration in which Cheney served, "was one of the worst decisions, possibly the worst decision ever made in the history of our country," adding, "It's one of the worst messes of all time."
"Obviously I disagree with his views," Cheney said when asked about those comments. "I think what we did in Iraq was the right thing to do. I still believe that."
Cheney later argued that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power frightened Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi into surrendering weapons of mass destruction. "If we hadn't taken down Saddam, Gaddafi would not have surrendered his materials. Now Gaddafi's gone, dead, [and] ISIS plays a significant role today in Libya, [and] they would have inherited that material," Cheney said. "So that whole area of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and so forth, everybody wants to say, 'Well, there wasn't any WMD in Iraq,' but that's a small, small way to look at the problem."
Cheney also differed with Trump on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Trump called "obsolete" in the same Times interview. "NATO's crucial," Cheney said. "NATO's maybe the best, or most successful, alliance in history. ... To suggest that it's obsolete is not correct. It's not obsolete. A lot of our NATO allies sent troops to serve alongside ours in Afghanistan after 9/11 and a lot of European soldiers were killed supporting what essentially was our response to an attack upon the United States."
Cheney may disagree with Trump on the Iraq War and NATO, but he still credited the president for "being strong on defense" and said the current military is in disrepair.
"He's going to have a full-time job just repairing the damage that's been done to our military, to our relationships with our traditional friends and allies around the world," Cheney said. Russia, China, North Korea and others represent threats, as well, he said: "The threat levels are going up, the dangers are increasing and our capability to deal with them has gone down because of the way the Obama administration has operated for the last eight years."
The former vice president called the weekend's women's marches "fascinating" and a "significant movement." While admitting he didn't agree with the event's political objectives, he called the protests "part of the American tradition."
"There's something positive ... when we can simultaneously swear in a new president and at the same time have a democratic process of people expressing their views," he said. "It's their right and we shouldn't be surprised by it, or annoyed by it."
Listen to audio from this morning's press briefing here. The Ringling College Library Association Town Hall Lecture Series continues with actress Geena Davis on Monday, Feb. 13. For information on Davis' appearance and other future events, click here.