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Video: Cheney: Iraq war was ‘sound policy’

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TODAY contributor
updated 8/30/2011 8:22:16 AM ET 2011-08-30T12:22:16

In an exclusive live interview on TODAY Tuesday, former Vice President Dick Cheney disputed the notion that the invasion of Iraq has weakened America’s standing in the global community.

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“I don’t think that it damaged our reputation around the world,’’ he told Matt Lauer. “I just don’t believe that. I think the critics at home want to argue that. In fact, I think it was sound policy that dealt with a very serious problem and eliminated Saddam Hussein from the kind of problem he presented before.

“What would’ve happened this week if Moammar Gadhafi had still been in power with a nuclear weapon in Libya? Would he have fled? I doubt it.’’

Cheney addressed claims from his new book, "In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir," in which he makes clear he supports continued use of waterboarding for terror suspects.

Story: Dick Cheney on 9/11: ‘We were living in the fog of war’

But when presented with the prospect of an American citizen subjected to the controversial interrogation method under suspicion of being a spy, Cheney said he would oppose it.

“We probably would object to it on the ground that we have obligations to our citizens and we do everything we can to protect our citizens,’’ he told Lauer. “I think we would object because we wouldn’t expect an American citizen to be operating that way.

“I would argue that it’s important for us not to get caught up in the notion that you can only have popular methods of interrogation if you want to run an effective counterterrorism program,’’ Cheney said. “The fact is that it worked. We learned valuable, valuable information from that process and we kept the country safe for over seven years.’’

Video: Cheney: Iraq war was ‘sound policy’ (on this page)

Support for controversial policies was a staple of Cheney’s tenure.

“I was a big advocate of pursuing controversial policies in order to keep the country safe and obviously the critics extracted their pound of flesh for that,’’ he said.

In the time preceding the invasion of Iraq, Cheney writes about speaking frankly with Bush about “taking out’’ Saddam Hussein. But he insists that he was not pulling the strings of war behind the scenes.

“I think the president made the decision,’’ Cheney told Lauer. “He felt strongly about it, too. He understood the dimensions of what we were doing. I certainly supported it. I advocated it. I thought it was the right policy. I believe that still today.’’

Do you think the Iraq war hurt U.S. reputation?

Cheney also addressed the discrepancies between his and Bush’s memoirs in the retelling of certain events. In his book, Bush describes sending his advisors out of the room when making the ultimate decision to invade Iraq in the wake of 9/11, while Cheney writes that Bush privately asked him what to do after dismissing the rest of his advisors.

Video: Cheney recounts 9/11, Bush relations

“I can’t make that case,’’ Cheney said about whether he ultimately pushed Bush into war with Iraq. “We needed to take the action that we did.’’

“If you look back at the proposition that we faced after 9/11 with respect to Saddam Hussein, we were concerned with the prospects of terrorists like the 9/11 crowd acquiring weapons of mass destruction. I think that’s still the biggest threat we face. At the time, to go after Saddam Hussein and take him down, we eliminated a major source of proliferation.’’


Preventing another major terrorist incident stands as one of his proudest accomplishments as vice president.

“The most important thing we did was after 9/11 we prevented all further mass casualty attacks on the United States,’’ he said.

As for the discrepancies between his and Bush’s accounts, Cheney did not discuss the contents of his new book with Bush before it went to press.

Slideshow: Bush's legacy

“I did not cooperate or coordinate on our book,” Cheney said. “He wrote his book, I wrote my book. If they were identical in the their treatment of these events, people would say, ‘Looks like plagiarism to us,’ or ‘They cooperated. It’s a conspiracy of some kind.’ In fact what it was, was a serious effort by me to put down the events that I remember. I’m sure the president did the same.’’

Bush's decision not to pardon Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice regarding the leaking of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, strained the relationship with the Vice President. That strain continues today.

Story: Cheney says he urged Bush to bomb suspected Syria nuke site

“I felt very strongly that Scooter was not treated fairly,’’ Cheney told Lauer. “I don’t think an indictment was appropriate. I really think he was badly treated. I thought he deserved a pardon. The president disagreed.

Story: Bush: Cheney ‘angry’ I didn’t pardon Libby

“It’s one we still disagree with. If it were to come up today between the two of us, he would state his view, I would state mine. It’s not going to change.’’

Another source of tension: Cheney's relations with former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell accused Cheney of taking “cheap shots’’ at him in the book in an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation’’ Sunday. In his book, Cheney claims Powell never formally voiced objections to the Iraq war during meetings. Bush has written that he knew about Powell’s reservations.

Video: Cheney recounts 9/11, Bush relations

“I wrote the events as I participated in them,’’ Cheney said. “I’ve got three chapters on my time as Secretary of Defense, (that are) basically all positive about General Powell. There’s a lot of very positive stuff in there, but a balanced account, I think, also required me to put down what my opinion was, and I think that’s what I’ve done.’’

Story: Powell says Cheney taking 'cheap shots' in book

In the book, Cheney also addresses the hunting accident in 2006 in which he shot 78-year-old friend Harry Whittington, an incident that caused him great sadness — and became an easy target for late-night comedians.

“When you’re a vice president, you better be prepared to be a punchline,’’ Cheney said. “You've got to live with it. Obviously, my concern with Mr. Whittington was heartfelt, and I've got a great relationship (with him). One of the nicest letters I've received from anybody came from Harry last year when I was sick and in the hospital. But in terms of people taking potshots at the vice president, it goes with the turf.’’

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Photos: The private and public lives of Dick Cheney

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  1. Dick Cheney is seen in this 1964 photo, during his junior year photo at the University of Wyoming. He had previously attended Yale University, but returned home due to failing grades. (University of Wyoming via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. This White House file photograph shows President Gerald Ford as he meets with Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, center and Dick Cheney, a staff assistant, in the Oval Office, April 22, 1975. (David Hume Kennerly / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Dick Cheney in the White House on Nov. 4, 1975. When Donald Rumsfeld became secretary of defense, Cheney was named chief of staff. At 34, he was the youngest chief of staff in White House history. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. President Gerald R. Ford and Chief Of Staff Dick Cheney look over documents in the living room of the Aspen Lodge during a weekend trip to Camp David, on August 7, 1976 in Thurmont, Md. (David Hume Kennerly / The White House via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Congressman Dick Cheney and wife Lynne pose for a photo with their two children Liz, left, and Mary, right, at their home in Casper, Wy., in 1978. Also seen is their basset hound "Cyrano." (David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. President Ronald Reagan is flanked by House Minority Leader Bob Michel of Illinois, left, and Rep. Dick Cheney of Wyoming during a meeting with House Republicans in the White House Cabinet Room, Monday, March 21, 1983. (Ed Reinke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Rep. Richard Cheney, ranking Republican on the House panel investigating the Iran-Contra affair, and Rep. Lee Hamilton, the panel's chaiman, hold a news conference in Washington on June 19,1987. (Scott Applewhite / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney stands by as General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs reporters at the Pentagon on Dec. 20,1989 about the operation to remove Panama's General Manuel Antonio Noriega from power. (Bob Pearson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney shakes hands with a tank crew from the 82nd Airborne Division, during his visit to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday, Aug. 19, 1990. The "SECDEF," as he is known by military acronym, caught the soldiers off-guard with his impromptu visit. (Scott Applewhite / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell give a press conference in Washington about the military situation in Somalia. (Robert Giroux / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Dick Cheney, CEO of the Halliburton Company, talks former President Gerald Ford during a party for their mutual friend, Richard Growald in San Diego in 1994. Cheney served as Ford's chief of staff and eventually ran his 1976 presidential campaign. (David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Governor Geoge W. Bush announces that Dick Cheney will be his running mate in Austin, Texas, on July 25, 2000. Cheney, who was serving as Halliburton CEO, headed Bush's vice presidential search committee. (Paul Buck / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney, center, leaves George Washington University Hospital in Washington, Friday, Nov. 24, 2000, accompanied by unidentified secret service agents. Cheney, who has a history of coronary artery disease, left the hospital two days after he checked himself in with chest pains. He has had five heart attacks since 1978. (Kamenko Pajic / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Dick Cheney, with his daughter Liz holding the Bible, is sworn in as vice president of the United States by Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist Jan. 20, 2001 outside the U.S. Capitol building in Washington. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Vice President Dick Cheney flyfishing on the Snake River in his home state of Wyoming on Sunday, July 8, 2001. (David Bohrer / The White House via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. After returning to the White House from Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb., President Bush talks with Vice President Dick Cheney in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center on Sept. 11, 2001 in Washington. (Eric Draper / The White House via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. CIA Director George Tenet, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice meet with President Bush in the White House Oval Office on Oct. 7, 2001, after the president informed the nation that air strikes were made against Afghanistan. (Eric Draper / The White House via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. President George W. Bush delivers his State of the Union speech on Jan. 29, 2002 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Vice President Dick Cheney is seated behind. During this speech, Bush first used the term "axis of evil." (Paul J .Richards / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. President George W. Bush meets with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld outside the Oval Office shortly after authorizing Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 19, 2003 in Washington. (Eric Draper / The White House via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Vice President Dick Cheney listens to Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards during a debate at Case Western Reserve University on Oct. 5, 2004 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Stephen Jaffe / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Vice President Dick Cheney listens to his daughter and campaign scheduling director, Mary Cheney, and wife, Lynne Cheney, on a flight the day after the vice presidential debate with Democratic challenger John Edwards on Oct. 6, 2004. As a lesbian, Mary Cheney's sexual orientation has often been in spotlight because of her father's conservative views. (David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr, right, chats with Vice President Dick Cheney as they walk down a street in Gulfport, Miss., touring areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005. (M. Spencer Green / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Left: Harry Whittington talks to reporters outside Christus Spohn Hospital Memorial Friday, Feb. 17, 2006, in Corpus Christi, Texas, in his first public statement since being shot by Vice President Dick Cheney in a hunting accident. Whittington told reporters he was sorry for all the trouble Cheney had faced over the incident. Right: A file photo from Nov. 5, 2002 , provided by the White House, shows Vice President Dick Cheney hunting quail in Gettysburg, S.D. The Whittington accident marked the first time a sitting vice president shot someone since Alexander Hamilton's duel with Aaron Burr in 1804. (Corpus Christi Caller-Times, The White House) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, leaves federal court after a hearing in Washington Friday, Feb. 3, 2006. He was later convicted in connection with the leak of a covert CIA agent's identity and sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. In 2007, President George W. Bush commuted his prison sentence. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A U.S. soldier shouts as he tries to control the crowd after a suicide attack at the main U.S. air base of Bagram, north of Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007. A suicide bomber killed at least 14 people and wounded about a dozen more outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney. The Taliban claimed responsibility and said Cheney, who was not injured, was the target. (Musadeq Sadeq / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Vice President Dick Cheney speaks to the press as Afghan President Hamid Karzai listens at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on March 20, 2008. Vice President Dick Cheney visited Afghanistan for talks with President Hamid Karzai to assess the fight against extremism ahead of a summit of NATO partners in the battle. (Paul J. Richards / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Vice President Dick Cheney, suffering from a back injury he sustained while moving into his new home, is wheeled out of the North Portico of the White House in Washington, Jan. 20, 2009 on the way to the inauguration of Barack Obama. Vice President-elect Joe Biden follows at right. (Larry Downing / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Former Vice President Dick Cheney hugs his daughter, Liz Cheney, after she surprised the Conservative Political Action Conference by bringing him as her guest, on Feb. 18, 2010, in Washington. (Cliff Owen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura listen to former Vice President Dick Cheney at the ground breaking for Bush's Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, on Nov.16, 2010. Southern Methodist University is the future site of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and the George W. Bush Institute that is to be completed in 2013. The appearance was Cheney's first after a summer of recouperating following heart surgery and he looked much thinner than in recent years. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
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