In an upcoming documentary about the life and legacy of Dick Cheney previewed by Foreign Policy, the former vice president lashes out at former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Brooding over one issue specifically, Cheney criticizes his former colleague for overriding his recommendation to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.
“I thought [destroying the reactor] would reassert the kind of authority and influence we had back in ’03 when we took down Saddam Hussein and eliminated Iraq as a potential source of WMD,” Cheney says in the film, The World According to Dick Cheney. “Condi was on the wrong side of all those issues so we had significant issues.”
Back in 2007, the Bush administration received intelligence that Syria was secretly building a nuclear reactor with the help of North Korea. Ultimately, the White House declined to hit the facility to the dismay of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In the film, Cheney criticizes Rice for advocating against a unilateral strike.
“Condi recommended taking it to the United Nations. I strongly recommended that we ought to take [the reactor] out,” he said.
When reached for comment, Rice told FP that refusing to bomb the reactor was the right decision at that point in time. “The situation turned out exactly how it should have,” she said.
In an e-mail exchange, Rice’s chief of staff, Georgia Godfrey, added that U.S. intelligence officials were not 100 percent certain the Syrians were housing a nuclear reactor, and that the Israeli government dealt with the threat anyway. (In 2011, a U.N. investigation found that Syria “very likely” was working on a nuclear reactor prior to the Israeli bombing of the facility as part of its so-called Operation Orchard in September 2007.)
Regardless, Cheney appears on camera saying the United States had an opportunity to communicate an important message, and Rice got in the way. “There are certain bright lines out there and you do not cross them and one of those bright lines is you do not provide nuclear technology to terror-sponsoring states,” he says. “You don’t want Syria to have that kind of capability that they might be able to pass on to Hamas or Hezbollah or al Qaeda.”
This is the second time Cheney has singled out Rice, a rumored 2016 presidential candidate, for criticism since leaving office. In his 2011 memoir In My Times, Cheney called the former diplomat “naive” for her attempts to negotiate with North Korea and said she once “tearfully admitted” her mistakes to him in his office. At the time, Rice fired back, saying, “I would never – I don’t remember coming to the vice president tearfully about anything in the entire eight years that I knew him.”
The film, directed by R.J. Cutler of The War Room and The September Issue acclaim, debuts on Showtime March 15.