Dick Cheney- Corporate Criminal


Mondale: VP needs balance
Former vice president says office should be supporting role and that Cheney 'stepped across a line'

Pioneer Press

Walter Mondale, the man who transformed the vice presidency from a ceremonial job to a position of power, thinks Vice President Dick Cheney wields too much power and may be undermining the president.

But Mondale is increasingly impressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and believes she is steering the Bush administration toward more cooperative relations with other countries.

Mondale, 77, a former Minnesota attorney general and U.S. senator, was vice president under President Jimmy Carter from 1977 through 1980. He was the first vice president to have an office in the White House, have access to all presidential information and play a meaningful role in running the country.

Retired after 50 years in public life, he remains deeply involved in public-policy debates, and "of course I keep a constant interest in politics," he said during an interview in his Minneapolis law office last week.

He said he is deeply troubled by the war in Iraq and advocated a change in policy to bring U.S. troops home faster. He believes Cheney and other so-called neo-conservatives exaggerated the threat Iraq posed to the United States but Rice is steering the administration back to a more pragmatic foreign policy.

Here are excerpts from our interview.

Q. You have called Vice President Cheney the most powerful vice president in history, and you set the stage for him becoming that by making the vice presidency a more influential office. How do you assess his performance?


I think Cheney has stepped across a line. The so-called "executivizing" of the vice presidency, which we did, strengthens the vice president's ability to help the president if the president wants it. That's what Carter did, and that's what's happened under most presidents since that time. But I believe Cheney has moved beyond what I think Carter or any of the other presidents would have tolerated.

He organized his staff to almost substitute for the (National) Security Council. He's gone deep into the agencies to pressure opinions and advice. I think that a vice president has to be careful not to intimidate the rest of the government. Otherwise, the president doesn't get honest advice from the other agencies.


How responsible do you think Cheney is for getting us into the war?


Cheney's record on the facts leading up to this war is pretty appalling. He's the one who talked about imminent nuclear weapons delivery systems, chemical laboratories, the al-Qaida connection, and the Niger yellowcake and aluminum tubes. We now know he was making most of those points long after the agencies of our own government were saying, "This stuff is not true." But he kept doing it. I think that's outrageous.

I don't think we'd have gone into this war if we hadn't been persuaded that America was in imminent danger from these various facts, and they weren't true. So I think the vice president has a lot of explaining to do.


Does the vice presidency have too much power?


I think the vice presidency is about right, but I think it should be understood the vice president is not the prime minister. He does not carry the presidential authority with him. He works to help the president in ways that the president wants it done.

I think the idea of moving the vice president into the White House to help the president is still a very good idea, and I think it's settled now as American institutional policy. But I think what the vice president does inside that office that has the potential to undermine the honesty of the advice the president gets from elsewhere in the government raises questions that ought to be considered.


You have criticized the administration's go-it-alone approach in foreign policy. Do you still think the administration has to work harder at getting international support?


I do. I think the neo-conservatives did a lot of damage because their idea was that we were the only big power in the world, and other countries just had to go along with us. If they didn't, it didn't hurt us. In fact, almost everything that is important to us requires that we work with others as best possible.

I think the neo-cons have lost. They're not out of there completely yet, but you don't hear much about them anymore.

I think Condoleezza Rice is moving away some from the old neo-con line and restoring some balance. So maybe we're moving in the right direction. I hope so.

I think Rice is heading the State Department in a sounder, safer way. The more I watch her, the more I think she knows exactly what she's doing.

What she did last month in Gaza (brokering an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on security controls at a border crossing) may sound like a little thing, but I don't think that other (neo-conservative) crowd would have done it. They just had attitudes.


What do you think the United States should do in Iraq?


I don't believe we can just walk out of there. But I do believe we have to have a plan for reducing the American presence in a way that will give the Iraqi government a decent chance to step up to the plate to do what they have to do to defend and govern themselves.

Some Iraqis want us to stay. But the fact that we are substituting for what a state and people should do for themselves is delaying the time when they should act on their own. I think it's time for Americans to reach a decent bargain with the Iraqi government that allows us to push more of this responsibility off onto the Iraqis. Give them time to do it, but tell them, "We're not just going to walk away and leave you alone, but this is something you increasingly have to do, and Americans will be around less and less to do it for you.''

How long it would be or what kind of presence it would take are practical issues that would have to be decided. But I think there ought to be that change in approach.

That may be going on right now. If they (the Bush administration) are taking 20,000 or 30,000 troops out of there next year, that is the beginning of the step out. That is not cutting and running. It is doing the one thing that gives the Iraqis an honorable chance to protect and govern themselves.

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