Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Tuesday that President Obama is imperiling gains made in Iraq by pulling troops out too quickly.
Cheney said he envisioned the United States having a substantial long-term military presence in Iraq to act as a stabilizing force in the region, drawing comparisons to Japan, Germany and South Korea.
“I’ve got a problem with it,” Cheney said when asked about the president’s announcement last week that the last American soldier would leave Iraq by the end of the year.
The former vice president has been a longtime critic of the Obama administration and its national-security policies. His stance echoes that of the GOP presidential contenders, most of whom blasted Obama for the announcement, noting it risked the gains Americans have made in the region.
Cheney also warned that if Congress’s deficit-reduction supercommittee fails to reach a deal to avoid up to $600 billion in automatic cuts to defense programs, it would devastate the military.
“If you try to take $600 billion more out of the Department of Defense, you will do enormous damage to the military,” he said.
The Obama administration has already pledged to cut $450 billion from the Pentagon budget over the next decade.
Cheney served as secretary of Defense under former President George H.W. Bush during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War.
“It would be devastating. You can’t just turn it off and then decide tomorrow you need it and turn it back on,” he said.
Cheney made his views known during a one-hour taped interview for David Webb’s “American Forum” on SiriusXM Patriot that reporters attended. The program is scheduled to air at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday on Patriot.
U.S. troops are exiting Iraq under a deal struck with the Iraqi government by the Bush administration. But Cheney said they had negotiated a status-of-forces agreement that included a provision calling for additional talks about the size of the American force that would stay behind.
“There was another provision in there that’s very important, seems to have been ignored, which was that we would also reserve the right to negotiate with the Iraqis on some stay-behind forces,” Cheney said. “That the U.S. and Iraq would come to some agreement on leaving behind trainers or certain specialties or certain things we do very well with our military.”
He noted that the United States has deployed sizable forces in Germany and Japan since the end of World War II and in South Korea since a 1953 armistice that stabilized Europe and the East Asia.
Cheney voiced concern that the security gains that cost the lives of more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers could be lost if the United States pulled out too many troops too soon.
“We’ve had a lot of people sacrifice a lot to get rid of Saddam Hussein and get [Iraq] established as a democracy,” he said.
He argued that it’s well-established that maintaining a muscular military presence in former conflict areas to “serve a useful purpose” is in the nation’s interest.
“I worry that what’s happened here is that politics of the last election have overwhelmed the effort that would be required to put together that kind of agreement with respect to Iraq,” he said.
“My concern is that we didn’t make much of an effort this time around.”
Cheney said “this administration was bound and determined to get out no matter what and it would be a real tragedy if we leave too soon before they are ready to fend for themselves.”
Obama promised during the 2008 campaign to bring the war to an end. As he shifts to campaign mode in 2012, he will be able to claim he fulfilled that promise even while he fell short of other pledges, such as his vow to close the Guantánamo Bay prison camp.
The White House has fired back at its critics, pointing out that the withdrawal agreement was originally made between the Iraqi government and the Bush administration.
“This president has — from the very beginning when he ran for office — he made clear what he wanted to do in Iraq, which was end this war responsibly in a way that was in the best interests of the United States,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday.
“He made clear from the beginning that he would keep the commitment made by the Bush administration with the sovereign Iraqi government to withdraw all U.S. forces by the end of 2011,” Carney said.
The withdrawal from Iraq has divided Republicans on Capitol Hill, with some arguing that it is time to leave or expressing fatigue with the war’s growing toll.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) has criticized GOP presidential candidates for not supporting Obama’s decision.
“If we’re going to get out of Iraq, the sooner the better,” he wrote in a Twitter posting. “I don’t understand some of my GOP colleagues and presidential candidates.”
The Obama administration said last week that it would leave only a small contingent of Marines to guard the embassy.
Cheney compared present-day Iraq to the original 13 American colonies in 1781, shortly after winning the War of Independence. He said it is a fragile democracy that needs help establishing security.
“They’re a new democracy; they’re not very well-organized yet,” he said.
“I worry that in the rush for the exit here, that we may in fact make it very difficult for them to succeed.”
Russell Berman contributed to this report.
Updated at 7:32 p.m.