Dick Cheney Says He Urged Bush to Bomb Syria in ’07

Former Vice President Dick Cheney says in a new memoir that he urged President George W. Bush
to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site in June 2007. But, he
wrote, Mr. Bush opted for a diplomatic approach after other advisers —
still stinging over “the bad intelligence we had received about Iraq’s
stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction” — expressed misgivings.

“I again made the case for U.S. military action against the reactor,”
Mr. Cheney wrote about a meeting on the issue. “But I was a lone voice.
After I finished, the president asked, ‘Does anyone here agree with the
vice president?’ Not a single hand went up around the room.” 

Mr. Bush chose to try diplomatic pressure to force the Syrians to
abandon the secret program, but the Israelis bombed the site in
September 2007. Mr. Cheney’s account of the discussion appears in his
autobiography, “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,” which is
to be published by Simon & Schuster next week. A copy was obtained
by The New York Times. 

Mr. Cheney’s book — which is often pugnacious in tone and in which he
expresses little regret about many of the most controversial decisions
of the Bush administration — casts him as something of an outlier among
top advisers who increasingly took what he saw as a misguided course on
national security issues. While he praises Mr. Bush as “an outstanding
leader,” Mr. Cheney, who made guarding the secrecy of internal
deliberations a hallmark of his time in office, divulges a number of
conflicts with others in the inner circle. 

He wrote that George J. Tenet, the director of the Central Intelligence
Agency, resigned in 2004 just “when the going got tough,” a decision he
calls “unfair to the president.” He wrote that he believes that
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell tried to undermine President Bush by
privately expressing doubts about the Iraq war, and he confirms that he
pushed to have Mr. Powell removed from the cabinet after the 2004
election. “It was as though he thought the proper way to express his
views was by criticizing administration policy to people outside the
government,” Mr. Cheney writes. His resignation “was for the best.” 

He faults former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for naïveté in the efforts to forge a nuclear weapons
agreement with North Korea, and Mr. Cheney reports that he fought with
White House advisers over softening the president’s speeches on Iraq. 

Mr. Cheney acknowledged that the administration underestimated the
challenges in Iraq, but he said the real blame for the violence was with
the terrorists. 

He also defends the Bush administration’s decision to inflict what he called “tough interrogations” — like the suffocation technique known as waterboarding
— on captured terrorism suspects, saying it extracted information that
saved lives. He rejects portrayals of such techniques as “torture.”

In discussing the much-disputed “16 words” about Iraq’s supposed hunt
for uranium in Niger that were included in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address
to help justify the eventual invasion, Mr. Cheney said that unlike
other aides, he saw no need to apologize for making that claim. He
writes that Ms. Rice eventually came around to his view.

“She came into my office, sat down in the chair next to my desk and tearfully admitted I had been right,” he wrote. 

The book opens with an account of Mr. Cheney’s experiences during the
terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when he essentially commanded the
government’s response from a bunker beneath the White House while Mr.
Bush — who was away from Washington and hampered by communications
breakdowns — played a peripheral role. But Mr. Cheney wrote that he did
not want to make any formal statement to the nation that day. 

“My past government experience,” he wrote, “had prepared me to manage
the crisis during those first few hours on 9/11, but I knew that if I
went out and spoke to the press, it would undermine the president, and
that would be bad for him and for the country.

“We were at war. Our commander in chief needed to be seen as in charge, strong, and resolute — as George W. Bush was.” 

Mr. Cheney appears to relish much of the criticism heaped on him by
liberals, but reveals that he had offered to resign several times as
President Bush prepared for his re-election in 2004 because he was
afraid of becoming a burden on the Republican ticket. After a few days,
however, Mr. Cheney said that Mr. Bush said he wanted him to stay.

But in the Bush administration’s second term, Mr. Cheney’s influence
waned. When Mr. Bush decided to replace Donald H. Rumsfeld as secretary
of defense after the 2006 midterm elections, Mr. Cheney said he was not
given a chance to object.

Mr. Cheney praised Barack Obama’s support, as a senator from Illinois,
for passing a bank bailout bill at the height of the financial crisis,
shortly before the 2008 election. But he criticizes Mr. Obama’s decision
to withdraw the 33,000 additional troops he sent to Afghanistan in 2009
by September 2012, and writes that he has been “happy to note” that Mr.
Obama has failed to close the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as he had

Mr. Cheney’s long struggle with heart disease is a recurring theme in
the book. He discloses that he wrote a letter of resignation, dated
March 28, 2001, and told an aide to give it to Mr. Bush if he ever had a
heart attack or stroke that left him incapacitated. 

And in the epilogue, Mr. Cheney writes that after undergoing heart
surgery in 2010, he was unconscious for weeks. During that period, he
wrote, he had a prolonged, vivid dream that he was living in an Italian
villa, pacing the stone paths to get coffee and newspapers.