In a speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition's spring meeting in Las Vegas over the weekend, former Vice President Dick Cheney slammed the "isolationists" within the GOP, defended the National Security Agency spy program and, of course, criticized President Barack Obama.
Cheney's remarks were closed to the press, but audio of the speech obtained by Mother Jones was posted online Tuesday.
"That we have created in the National Security Agency this monster bureaucracy that's reading everybody's mail, listening to everybody's phone calls, infringing upon our civil liberties and civil rights — hogwash," Cheney said at the March 29 event. "It probably would've allowed us to stop 9/11.
"We don't have a president who can stand up and defend the program," he continued. "Nobody believes him for good reason: Look what he did with health care."
Cheney also commented on the crop of possible 2016 candidates, including Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul.
"One of the things that concerns me first about the campaign, that I'm worried about, is what I sense to be an increasing strain of isolationism, if I can put it in those terms, in our own party," Cheney said. "It's not taking over, by any means, but there is without question a body of thought now that's supported by many Republicans and some candidates that the United States can afford to turn its back on [the Middle East].
"The United States' position in [the Middle East] is worse than at any time in my lifetime," Cheney 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. ... Nobody who's been our friend in the past any longer has any sense of trust in we'll keep our commitments, that we'll be there in a crisis when they need us. On the other hand, none of our adversaries need fear us."
Cheney was applauded by the audience while recalling a conversation he had with Israeli Gen. Amos Yadlin, who hinted Israeli forces might target Iran's nuclear program like it had in Iraq and Syria.
"[Yadlin] looked across the table over dinner, and he said, 'Two down, one to go,'" Cheney said. "I knew exactly what he meant."
Less notable was Cheney's criticism of Obama, which for the former vice president has become routine.
Last month on CBS' "Face the Nation," Cheney said there is "no question" that Russian President Vladimir Putin believes Obama is weak and that the United States should not take military options off the table in its response to Russia's military intervention in Ukraine.
"There's no question Putin believes [Obama] is weak," Cheney said. “We have created an image around the world, not just to the Russians, of weakness and indecisiveness. The Syrian situation is a classic. We got all ready to do something, a lot of the allies signed on, at the last minute Obama backed off.”
Last fall, Cheney defended the tea party's assault on Obamacare, calling it a "normal, healthy reaction" to Obama, whom Cheney referred to as the "most radical operator" in Washington.
"They raised issues Americans care about," Cheney said on NBC's "Today" show. "We have terrible track records with respect to federal spending. Nobody seems to be able to solve the problem. It's an uprising, in part, and it's taken place within the Republican Party. I don't see it as a negative. It's better to have that turmoil and change in the Republican Party than it would be to have it outside."
Cheney, though, stopped short of calling himself a member of the tea party.
"I'm not a card-carrying member," he said. "I don't think there is a card, but I have respect for what the people are doing. These are Americans. They're loyal, they're patriotic, and taxpayers are fed up with what is happening in Washington. It's a normal, healthy reaction, and the fact that the party is having to adjust to it is positive."
The publication of Cheney's off-the-record comments comes as the Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to issue a report concluding the CIA misled the U.S. government and American public about its interrogation program — a program championed by Cheney.