WashPo: Dick Cheney confronts Pence about foreign policy

A large group of conservative donors and scholars were shocked last weekend after a friendly exchange between Vice President Mike Pence and Dick Cheney, the former vice president, turned tense.

Cheney, a fierce defender of the foreign policy of President George W. Bush, politely questioned the approach of Pence’s boss, President Donald Trump, on foreign policy and national security.

Two people who attended the March 9 event, which took place at the American Enterprise Institute’s annual off-the-record retreat in Sea Island, Georgia, confirmed the exchange to CNN, which was first reported by the Washington Post.

The string of critical questions from Cheney injected drama into what is normally a staid affair. Afterward, Cheney and Pence became the top item of discussion among the mix of Trump-supporting and Trump-skeptical conservatives attending the retreat.

After asking Pence a few prepared and cleared questions, Cheney began expressing his concern about Trump’s approach to the major foreign policy issues of the day. “He was persistent,” said one attendee of Cheney. “He just kept coming at him on North Korea, treatment of the allies, the NATO payment issue.”

Cheney not only voiced frustration that Trump’s foreign policy closely resembled that of Barack Obama, but also that it was a significant break from GOP presidents of the past.

“I worry that the bottom line of that kind of an approach is we have an administration that looks a lot more like Barack Obama than Ronald Reagan,” Cheney said to Pence, according to the Post, which obtained a transcript of the discussion that was off-the-record.

According to the Post, Cheney also raised concerns over reports that Trump doesn’t spend time with his intelligence staff and frequently disagrees with them. The former vice president also reportedly pointed to the high turnover rate at intelligence agencies.

Cheney also expressed skepticism about the Trump administration’s pursuit of a policy that would seek more money from US allies hosting military forces, first reported by Bloomberg.

“I don’t know, that sounded like a New York state real estate deal to me,” Cheney said, adding that he worries Trump views foreign policy as a financial transaction, the Post noted.

Attendees say Cheney was polite and gave Pence plenty of opportunity to respond and defend the Trump administration. For example, Pence countered reports that Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria was made hastily after a phone call with the president of Turkey.

But the impression from one person there was that Pence relied too much on platitudes rather than addressing the criticisms directly.

“I think there is a tendency by critics of the President and our administration to conflate the demand that our allies live up to their word and their commitments and an erosion in our commitment to the post-World War II order,” Pence said, according to the Post, adding, “But we think it’s possible to demand that your allies do more to provide for the common defense of all of our nations and, at the same time, reaffirm our strong commitment — whether it be to the trans-atlantic alliance or to our allies across the Indo-Pacific.”

Pence later added that Trump “is skeptical of foreign deployments, and only wants American forces where they need to be.”

At one point amidst the litany of criticism from Cheney, Pence joked about receiving “softball questions.” The entire audience, which had failed to react to Pence’s earlier applause lines, burst into laughter. There were between 200 and 300 people in the audience.

“The event was off the record, as a result I have nothing to share,” said Véronique Rodman, a spokeswoman for AEI, when asked if the organization had a transcript of the discussion.

A spokesperson for Pence confirmed to CNN the Post’s reporting, but did not provide a transcript. “The Vice President reaffirmed the US’s unwavering commitment to the alliance and also offered an unapologetic defense for requiring our allies to live up to the commitments they made for our collective security,” the spokesperson tells CNN. “

As for Trump’s relationship with the intelligence community, the spokesperson said the Vice President told Cheney the President receives his daily briefing and takes into account the findings but ultimately makes policy decisions himself.

Cheney is a longtime board member at AEI, and his wife Lynne Cheney is a scholar at the conservative think tank. Based in Washington, AEI has scholars who have advocated for a traditionally internationalist approach to foreign policy more in line with the traditional Cold War and post-Cold War approach of the Republican party.
This story has been updated.