by Ben Smith
Former Vice President Dick Cheney swung quietly through New York City Tuesday night to watch his daughter, Elizabeth, a former State Department official, argue the conservative side in a debate over American policy toward Iran, and to express his own skepticism of President Obama’s promised negotiations.
“We fail to recognize the fact that we’re alone out there in terms of trying to achieve the objective of forcing the Iranians to give up their nuclear weapons,” Cheney said at a dinner following the Intelligence Squared debate, in which Elizabeth Cheney and former Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor debated former diplomat Nicholas Burns and Mideast scholar Ken Pollack on the topic of negotiations with Iran.
The former Vice President characterized the Iranian goal in negotiations on ending that country’s nuclear program as mere stalling for time, and the Europeans as trying to “restrain the U.S.” from military action.
“Everybody’s in a giant conspiracy to achieve a different objective than the one we want to achieve,” Cheney said.
The negotiations are “bound to fail unless we are perceived as very credible” in threatening military action against Iran, he said.
“Most of the other nations out there are willing to live with a nuclear-armed Iran” he said, citing France, Germany and the United Kingdom in particular.
Cheney was echoing his daughter’s comments during the formal debate at Rockefeller University on Manhattan’s East Side.
“If they believe the threat of military force is on the table that’s frankly the only thing I’ve seen that convinces them they’d better get serious about sanctions,” Elizabeth Cheney, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, said of U.S. allies at the formal, Oxford-style debate, sponsored by the Rosenkranz Foundation.
“You negotiated for weak sanctions,” she told Burns.
“No I didn’t,” he replied, at one point noting that it seemed as if he and Ms. Cheney “live in alternate universes.”
“We ought to have the courage to see it and the courage to admit it,” Burns said, “What President Obama is trying to do is to create a new type of diplomacy,” which he described as “tough-minded.”
Cheney and Senor, he said, are “leaving [Obama] with one option — and that is war.”
Liz Cheney noted that she was “somewhere to the right of many people in the audience tonight, with one or two notable exceptions,” indicating her father, but the former Vice President was in fact quite well-received on the hostile Manhattan terrain: He received a round of applause, and a lone hiss, when introduced, and he signed autographs after the event.