Pressed on some of the foreign policy missteps and shortcomings of the Bush administration, Dick Cheney, even with just days to go in his time in public office, pleaded for more time.
Asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer why President Bush had been unable to "capture or kill [Osama] bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No. 2 al Qaeda leader," the vice president replied:
Well, we've got a few days left yet, Wolf.
He later expanded his answer, arguing that bin Laden's reclusion in the hills of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border had greatly limited his effectiveness as a terrorist leader.
"My guess is at this point he's operating in an area that's very difficult, very hard to get to, that he's not an effective leader at this stage," said Cheney. "He can't really engage his organization without coming out of whatever hole he's hiding in. And the key thing for us, even if we got bin Laden tomorrow, is to take down his organization. And that's what we've been actively doing."
The interview, one of many that the vice president has provided in the waning days in office, was largely a retrospective on the Bush years. And, in course, a number of contentious assessments of history were offered. Among them: Cheney insisted that the president did not base his decision to invade Iraq based on "any connection to 9/11" and argued that the CIA was responsible for the false notion that Iraq and al-Qaeda had an operational connection.
Here is the transcript as provided by CNN.
CHENEY: Well, the question on Saddam Hussein, I think, can be and should be considered separate and apart from 9/11. But if you're talking about whether or not there was any information connecting Iraq to 9/11, initially there was. The CIA produced the first report that came in, oh, a week after 9/11 that said, in fact, Muhammad Atta had been in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and met with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service at that time.
... BLITZER: So when you launched the war against Saddam Hussein, did you know then that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11?
CHENEY: We did not base going after Saddam Hussein on any connection with 9/11. There was a history of a relationship with terror. He'd been a prime state sponsor of terror, as designated by the State Department.
In fact, the text of the original 2002 authorization for the war in Iraq included the text, "Whereas members of al Qaida, an organization bearing responsibility for attacks on the United States, its citizens, and interests, including the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, are known to be in Iraq..."