ITHACA, NY — At the invitation of student organization Cornell Republicans, Former Vice President Richard “Dick” Cheney spoke Tuesday to a full auditorium in Cornell University’s Kennedy Hall.
For a little over an hour, Cheney gave a speech and engaged in a question-and-answer session, wherein he talked United States foreign policy, President Donald Trump, and his personal history in politics, while immediately outside – and, at times, inside – a protest took place.
The event, which had been rescheduled and later relocated, was met with opposition and harsh criticism from students, faculty and nine organizations, which started a Facebook event and held a rally immediately outside of the building in a designated protest area.
Police presence was heavy, with Cornell University officers posted by doorways inside and out.
The keynote address was interrupted several times. The first time by “War criminal, arrest the war criminal!” declared repeatedly by a woman in the audience who stood up and unfolded a sign. Her actions were greeted with booing and shouts from the crowd—notably, “you’re ugly” and “show some respect.”
Although video and audio recording were prohibited, live video of the events was streamed on Facebook by a man who later called out to Cheney, “You attacked Iraq knowing there were no weapons of mass destruction there.” His words were met by shouts and jeers from the crowd, notably from the back of the hall where a young man yelled, “you’re a full grown adult… you’re wearing a vest.”
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All of the individuals were escorted out of the room by staff and police, and Cheney never missed a beat.
“Who’s gonna teach the current administration what they need to know?” Cheney asked, in response to the question what can be learned today about mistakes made in the past. “I voted for President Trump; I hope he succeeds,” he added in a candid manner. “I am concerned because I think President Trump has had some good people around him, but they don’t last very long,” he said before remarking on the esteem in which he holds White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.
Cheney continued, “In terms of trying to pass lessons on, I think there are a lot of people who would like to help. One of the things that happened was the controversies were so great during the (Trump/Pence) campaign, that an awful lot of our most capable people – generals, intelligence specialists… folks who had staffed previous administrations – all signed a letter saying under no circumstances would they work for President Trump. He’s got a copy of the letter.”
Comparing himself to President Trump, Cheney declared “I’m not an isolationist; I’m a big believer in free trade.” Furthering the distinction, he added “I think the United States has played a leading role in the world for many, many years, and pretty much on a bipartisan basis going back to World War II, with a few exceptions along the way.” He said, “I worry that when I look at what President Trump is pushing with his words, he rejects all of that, he doesn’t want to hear about it, or ‘we got ripped off’ or ‘it was mismanaged.’ I don’t think he knows that much about it… most presidents would value the input of their predecessors.”
While the 77-year-old former vice president meandered widely in his responses throughout the Q&A, he had no trouble whatsoever recalling at length the general history of the events surrounding the September 11 attacks, and the aftermath.
When asked where he would draw the line between ‘advanced interrogation techniques’ and torture, he digressed before ultimately stating “waterboarding was inside the line, other techniques were outside the line,” and, “I think we did what needed to be done; I think we got the result we wanted.”
Early on in his opening speech, Cheney listed, in order, his concerns for the United States in terms of perceived threats throughout the world. Besides China, Russia and North Korea, “I’m also concerned about Iran,” he said, citing Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent briefing, which has since been rejected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Later in the Q&A, Cheney described the IAEA as a credible source since before Operation Desert Storm.
When asked why the United States was justified in using military force in Iraq, and, were he able to go back to 2003 would he do things differently, Cheney concluded, “You can look at it 47 different ways, (but) in the end, I’m convinced that what we did was the right thing, that it needed to be done, that we got rid of Saddam Hussein, that from the standpoint going forward in the Middle East it’s better without him.”