A gathering of Republican 2016 presidential hopefuls, funders and activists in the Las Vegas hotel owned by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, drew several big names in American politics this weekend – among them former US vice president Dick Cheney, who took the stage to advocate a military strike on Iran during his closed-door keynote speech.
Cheney, the keynote speaker at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring leadership meeting, said that the ongoing diplomatic talks between Iran and the West, led in part by US President Barack Obama’s administration, were emblematic of America’s weak position in the Middle East – and an indication of Obama’s weak leadership.
Recalling a 2007 meeting he had with then-Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin after Israel bombed a Syrian nuclear reactor in Deir ez-Zor, Cheney stated his support for a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd.
“[Yadlin] looked across the table over dinner, and he said, ‘Two down, one to go.’ I knew exactly what he meant,” Cheney said in a recording published by Mother Jones.
Cheney’s statement could have been an attempt to cozy up to Adelson, whose Venetian hotel played host over the weekend to prominent Republican politicians who are said to be harboring hopes that the American Jewish billionaire will bankroll their presidential campaigns.
In October, Adelson said the United States should detonate a nuclear bomb in the Iranian desert to display toughness, though without hurting a soul, before the next stage of negotiations with Tehran. It should then threaten that the next bomb would fall on Tehran, he said.
This weekend, after echoing Adelson’s sentiments on Iran, Cheney went on to criticize Obama’s foreign policy, particularly on the Middle East.
“The United States’ position in [the Middle East] is worse than at any time in my lifetime,” he said. “It’s reached the point where Israel and Egypt, [the United Arab] Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan are closer to one another — imagine that! — than any of them is to us.”
Cheney also criticized less hawkish Republicans for thinking that Washington “can afford to turn its back on” the Middle East or that the volatile region is “not our problem.”
He also defended the National Security Agency and its controversial data collection programs, saying rumors that the agency was “this monster bureaucracy that’s reading everybody’s mail, listening to everybody’s phone calls, infringing upon our civil liberties and civil rights” were “hogwash,” and that there had not been a single case in which the agency had abused its authority.
The NSA’s programs “probably would’ve allowed us to stop 9/11” had they been in place earlier, he said.