Cheney Says He Urged Bush to Bomb Syria in ’07

WASHINGTON — 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 misgiving.

“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 pledged.

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.

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