WASHINGTON -- Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Iraqi leaders have progressed toward a stable society, but he's worried about the failure of Washington and Baghdad to negotiate a "stay-behind" U.S. force there.
"I'm concerned. The thing that bothers me most is when we negotiated the status forces agreement at the end of the Bush administration, part of that was that the bulk of the forces would leave at the end of this year," he said. "But part of it was that there was going to be a separate track, a separate negotiation for a stay-behind force, a force of 15,000 or 20,000 troops that would be there to provide security - there's still 16,000 Americans in Iraq - and that they would be there for training purposes and so forth. Those negotiations began in August, but they were broken off in October. The deal was never done."
Cheney said the emerging democracy is "not perfect by any means, but they clearly are much better off than when Saddam Hussein was in charge."
Cheney told CBS's "The Early Show" the Iraqi government is still working to organize. On Iran, he said the Obama administration hasn't done enough to inhibit Tehran from developing a nuclear program, and said Iran is trying to become the dominant power in the region. He called the downed U.S. drone in Iran "a significant intelligence loss" and said he thinks the administration should have considered going in and "taking out the drone."
He criticized the Obama administration over Iran. "I haven't seen them do anything yet that is going to inhibit the Iranian program. They continue to be actively and aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons. That's a terrible proposition, I believe, to have a terrorist sponsoring state like Iran, one of the world's worst regimes, in effect spending enormous amounts to build the capacity to have a nuclear weapon," he said. "I think that their efforts to try to dominate that part of the world, Persian Gulf and all those areas around it. We've got a lot of great friends over there, people have been good allies of ours over the years who are scared to death that the Iranians are going to end up with nukes."
He also said Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich should not be underestimated. "He was persistent and he was tenacious and he kept it up and kept it up and kept it up and finally by '94 he's the newly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives with the Republican majority. I wouldn't underestimate him," he said Monday on CNN's OutFront.