Friday, January 20, 2006

Vice President Cheney on Hugh Hewitt's Radio Show

If ever there was a concise, comprehensive summary of the major political issues faced by our nation at this moment, it was Hugh's interview of Vice President Cheney this afternoon. (Transcript courtesy of Radioblogger, where the audio is also available)

In ten minutes, Hugh rifled through discussion on the economy, Avian flu, Iran, the NSA program, the housing bubble, and more. As he noted on his show, it just goes to show you how much ground you can cover by coming to an interview prepared with carefully thought out questions, asked within a logically progressing framework.

It also helps to have a guest who is as well informed as they come. Vice President Cheney was spot-on in all of his answers, and to anyone who listened critically, it became clear that he has put a great deal of time into thinking assessing the issues facing our nation.

My two favorite parts of the interview were Cheney's discussion of Iran and the NSA intercept program. First about Iran:
HH: One of the threats to the economy, of course, is oil back above $66, $67 dollars per barrel. A lot of that is related to Iran's recklessness, and the capriciousness and outright strangeness of their leader in his statements, and today reports that they are moving assets around. Have you been involved in planning response to Iran going nuclear, Mr. Vice President?

DC: Well, the Iranian issue has been a problem that's been on the table here for some time now. We've been working, obviously, most recently through the EU3, the Europeans...The Germans, the Brits and the French, in an effort to persuade the Iranians not to go down this road. That effort's still underway. Obviously to date, it has not been successful, and the problem's gotten more pronounced since Mr. Ahmadinejad became president, and began to make some of the more outrageous statements that he's made. One of the things I think about when we talk about the economic consequences of potential confrontation or crisis over the Iranian nuclear program, of course, people start to worry about oil again. The thing I keep thinking about is it would be great if we had ANWAR online. That would be another million barrel a day that would be a U.S. production, that would reduce our dependence on foreign sources. And it's unfortunate that in spite of the effort of several years, and passage through the House, we've not yet been able to get ANWAR approved through the Senate. That's exactly one of the reasons why we need an effective energy policy that does reduce our dependence, so that we are not sort of capable of being blackmailed when confronted with something like an irresponsible Iranian government.

After this exchange, Hugh asked Vice President Cheney if the military option was still on the table in efforts to stop Iranian nuclear efforts. Cheney was insistent that a president can never take the military option off the table in important situations like this.

But the vice president's discussion of the NSA was dead on:
HH: One of the biggest objections to the NSA surveillance of al Qaeda agents in the United States' program is that the administration didn't go to FISA, and the question keeps coming up, and I'll ask you. Why not go to FISA for some of these programs?

DC: Well, we've made it clear that what we have is a presidential...the president's described it, that what we're interested in is intercepting communications, one end of which are outside the United States, and one end of which we have reason to believe is al Qaeda-related. I don't want to go into any more detail than that. We have, we believe, all the authority we need in Article II of the Constitution, the president's authority as commander in chief under the Constitution, as well as previous actions of the Congress to justify and authorize exactly what we're doing. We do safeguard the civil liberties of the American people. This is not a domestic surveillance program, as it's been referred to frequently by the press or some of our critics. It is, in fact, about communications, say, that involve, at least one end of the communications involve al Qaeda and a connection outside the U.S. I can say for fact that it's been a very valuable program, that it's saved lives, and let us interrupt terrorist operations. I can also say that it's been briefed on a regular basis to the Congress. On more than a dozen occasions, Congressional members have been informed of the status of the program.

The fact that the vice president went straight to the Article II argument, and noted that the phone calls are not domestic phone calls --between two Americans-- but between someone inside the U.S. and a believed al-Qaeda agent, illustrates his awareness of the necessary facts about the NSA issue. FISA courts were created for domestic spying, and thus are still needed for such ventures, but can be bypassed by the president when the phone calls involve terrorist operatives.

In any regard, Hugh's interview of Vice President Cheney is must-read (or listen). I urge you to head over to RadioBlogger for the transcripts and audio.