United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

Richard B. Cheney
17th Secretary of Defense

March 21, 1989 - January 20, 1993
George H. W. Bush Administration

President George Bush initially chose former Texas Sen. John G. Tower to be his secretary of defense. When the Senate in March 1989 rejected his nomination, Bush selected Rep. Richard B. (Dick) Cheney of Wyoming. Cheney, born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on 30 January 1941, attended Yale University, Casper College, and the University of Wyoming, where he earned B.A. (1965) and M.A. (1966) degrees. He went on to further graduate study in political science at the University of Wisconsin, and moved to Washington as a congressional fellow for the 1968-69 year.

Cheney entered federal service in 1969 as a special assistant to the director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. In 1971 he became a White House staff assistant, and soon moved on to become assistant director of the Cost of Living Council, where he stayed until 1973. After a year in private business, he returned to the White House to become deputy assistant to President Gerald Ford (1974-75) and then White House chief of staff (1975-77).

In November 1978 Cheney, a Republican, won election as Wyoming's representative at large in the House of Representatives. Reelected for five additional terms, he served several years on the House Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Budget Subcommittee. In December 1988 House Republicans chose him to serve as whip in the incoming 101st Congress. Less than a week after Bush nominated him, the Senate confirmed Cheney as secretary of defense; he entered office on 21 March 1989.

Cheney generally focused on external matters and delegated most internal Pentagon management details to Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald J. Atwood, Jr. He worked closely with Louis A. (Pete) Williams, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, and Paul Wolfowitz, under secretary of defense for policy. For chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff he selected General Colin L. Powell, who assumed the post on 1 October 1989. Many of Cheney's major decisions resulted from the almost daily meetings he had in the Pentagon with Powell and Atwood.

Cheney met regularly with Bush and other top-level members of the administration, including Secretary of State James Baker, national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, and General Powell. Occasionally Bush consulted with Cheney on matters unrelated to defense, such as White House organization and management. When not at the White House, Cheney was often on Capitol Hill. He understood how Congress, and more particularly the legislative process, operated, and he used this knowledge and experience to avoid the kind of difficulties Caspar Weinberger had encountered with Congress. In general Cheney got along well with Congress and with DoD's main oversight committees in the House and the Senate, though he suffered disappointments and frustrations.

Although some of the usual turf battles between the State and Defense Departments continued during his term, Cheney and Secretary of State Baker were old friends and avoided the acrimony that sometimes occurred between the two departments during the Weinberger period. On the important problem of arms control, Cheney and General Powell tried to reach consensus on DoD's position in order to deal more effectively with the State Department. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cheney worried about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and effective control of nuclear weapons from the Soviet nuclear arsenal that had come under the control of newly independent republics-Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan-as well as in Russia itself. Cheney warned about the possibility that other nations, such as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, would acquire nuclear components after the Soviet collapse. He supported the initiatives that President Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin took in 1991 and 1992 to cut back the production and deployment of nuclear weapons and to move toward new arms control agreements.

The end of the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact obliged the Bush administration to reevaluate NATO's purpose and makeup. How to restructure the alliance and modify its strategy to reflect changes in the military situation posed major questions for Cheney. He believed that NATO had to remain the foundation of European security relationships and that it would continue to be important to the United States in the long term. At the last NATO meeting he attended, in Brussels in December 1992, Cheney said that the alliance needed to lend more assistance to the new democracies in Eastern Europe and eventually offer them membership in NATO. Central and Eastern Europe, he told his NATO colleagues, presented the most threatening potential security problems in the years ahead. The current problem, rather than East versus West, was East and West versus instability.

Cheney's views on NATO reflected his skepticism about prospects for peaceful evolution in the former Soviet areas. He saw high potential for uncertainty and instability, and he felt that the Bush administration was too optimistic in supporting Mikhail Gorbachev and his successor, Boris Yeltsin. Cheney believed that as the United States downsized its military forces, reduced its troops in Europe, and moved forward with arms control, it needed to keep a watchful eye on Russia and other successor states of the Soviet Union.

The DoD budget faced Cheney with his most immediate and pressing problem when he came to the Pentagon. President Bush had already said publicly that the proposed FY 1990 Defense budget of more than $300 billion had to be cut immediately by $6.3 billion, and soon after Cheney began work the president increased the amount to $10 billion. Cheney recognized the necessity of cutting the budget and downsizing the military establishment, but he favored a cautious approach. In making decisions on the FY 1990 budget, the secretary had to confront the wish list of each of the services. The Air Force wanted to buy 312 B-2 stealth bombers at over $500 million each; the Marine Corps wanted 12 V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor helicopters, $136 million each; the Army wanted some $240 million in FY 1990 to move toward production of the LHX, a new reconnaissance and attack helicopter, to cost $33 billion eventually; and the Navy wanted 5 Aegis guided-missile destroyers, at a cost of $3.6 billion. What direction to go with ballistic missiles also posed difficult choices. One option was to build 50 more MX missiles to join the 50 already on hand, at a cost of about $10 billion. A decision had to be made on how to base the MX-whether on railroad cars or in some other mode. Another option was to build 500 single-warhead Midgetman missiles, still in the development stage, at an estimated cost of $24 billion.

The MX-Midgetman issue led to a misunderstanding between Cheney and General Larry D. Welch, the Air Force chief of staff, just three days after Cheney entered office. The Washington Post reported on 24 March 1989 that Welch had been canvassing members of Congress on their opinions on a plan to deploy the existing 50 MX missiles and build and deploy 300 Midgetman missiles. At a news conference the same day, Cheney indicated that no decision had been made on the MX-Midgetman question, and that Welch was not speaking for the Defense Department. Cheney made his views known to Welch in a meeting shortly after the news conference. They resolved their differences when Welch informed Cheney that he had, indeed, cleared his actions with OSD. Nevertheless, Cheney had plainly carried out his intention of making a statement about the respective roles of the civilian and military leadership in the Pentagon.

In April Cheney recommended to Bush that the United States move ahead to deploy the 50 MXs and discontinue the Midgetman project. While not unalterably opposed to the Midgetman, Cheney questioned how to pay for it in a time of shrinking defense budgets. Cheney's plan encountered opposition both inside the administration and in Congress. Bush decided not to take Cheney's advice; he said he would seek funding to put the MXs on railroad cars by the mid-1990s and to develop the Midgetman, with a goal of 250 to 500.

In making broad budget decisions, Cheney held to two overriding priorities-protecting people programs (including training, pay, housing allowances, and medical care), and using proven hardware rather than rushing into complicated new technologies. Like Carlucci he thought it better, if cuts had to be made, to have a smaller but highly trained and equipped force rather than maintain previous levels of strength without sufficient readiness. Cheney preferred to cut some conventional weapon systems rather than strategic systems.

When Cheney's FY 1990 budget came before Congress in the summer of 1989, the Senate Armed Services Committee made only minor amendments, but the House Armed Services Committee cut the strategic accounts and favored the V-22, F-14D, and other projects not high on Cheney's list. The House and Senate in November 1989 finally settled on a budget somewhere between the preferences of the administration and the House committee. Congress avoided a final decision on the MX-Midgetman issue by authorizing a $1 billion missile modernization account to be apportioned as the president saw fit. Funding for the F-14D was to continue for another year, providing 18 more aircraft in the program. Congress authorized only research funds for the V-22 and cut SDI funding more than $1 billion, much to the displeasure of President Bush.

In subsequent years under Cheney the budgets proposed and the final outcomes followed patterns similar to the FY 1990 budget experience. Early in 1991 the secretary unveiled a plan to reduce military strength by the mid-1990s to 1.6 million, compared to 2.2 million when he entered office. In his budget proposal for FY 1993, his last one, Cheney asked for termination of the B-2 program at 20 aircraft, cancellation of the Midgetman, and limitations on advanced cruise missile purchases to those already authorized. When introducing this budget, Cheney complained that Congress had directed Defense to buy weapons it did not want, including the V-22, M-1 tanks, and F-14 and F-16 aircraft, and required it to maintain some unneeded reserve forces. His plan outlined about $50 billion less in budget authority over the next 5 years than the Bush administration had proposed in 1991. Sen. Sam Nunn of the Senate Armed Services Committee said that the 5-year cuts ought to be $85 billion, and Rep. Les Aspin of the House Armed Services Committee put the figure at $91 billion.

Over Cheney's four years as secretary of defense, encompassing budgets for fiscal years 1990-93, DoD's total obligational authority in current dollars declined from $291.3 billion to $269.9 billion. Except for FY 1991, when the TOA budget increased by 1.7 percent, the Cheney budgets showed negative real growth: -2.9 percent in 1990, -9.8 percent in 1992, and -8.1 percent in 1993. During this same period total military personnel declined by 19.4 percent, from 2.202 million in FY 1989 to 1.776 million in FY 1993. The Army took the largest cut, from 770,000 to 572,000-25.8 percent of its strength. The Air Force declined by 22.3 percent, the Navy by 14 percent, and the Marines by 9.7 percent.

The V-22 question caused friction between Cheney and Congress throughout his tenure. DoD spent some of the money Congress appropriated to develop the aircraft, but congressional sources accused Cheney, who continued to oppose the Osprey, of violating the law by not moving ahead as Congress had directed. Cheney argued that building and testing the prototype Osprey would cost more than the amount appropriated. In the spring of 1992 several congressional supporters of the V-22 threatened to take Cheney to court over the issue. A little later, in the face of suggestions from congressional Republicans that Cheney's opposition to the Osprey was hurting President Bush's reelection campaign, especially in Texas and Pennsylvania where the aircraft would be built, Cheney relented and suggested spending $1.5 billion in fiscal years 1992 and 1993 to develop it. He made clear that he personally still opposed the Osprey and favored a less costly alternative.

Although budget and downsizing issues occupied much of Cheney's time and attention, international crises could make overriding demands on him. When some elements of the military in the Philippines attempted a coup against the government of President Corazon Aquino and strafed and bombed the presidential palace in November 1989, Aquino asked for assistance from the United States. Bush and Cheney approved the use of U.S. jets stationed at Clark Air Base on Luzon to buzz the rebel planes at their base, fire in front of them if any attempted to take off, and shoot them down if they did. The buzzing by U.S. planes soon caused the coup to collapse.

Panama, controlled by General Manuel Antonio Noriega, the head of the country's military, against whom a U.S. grand jury had entered an indictment for drug trafficking in February 1988, held Cheney's attention almost from the time he took office. Using economic sanctions and political pressure, the United States mounted a campaign to drive Noriega from power. In May 1989 after Guillermo Endara had been duly elected president of Panama, Noriega nullified the election outcome, incurring intensified U.S. pressure on him. In October Noriega succeeded in quelling a military coup, but in December, after his defense forces shot a U.S. serviceman, 24,000 U.S. troops invaded Panama. Within a few days they achieved control and Endara assumed the presidency. U.S. forces arrested Noriega and flew him to Miami where he was held until his trial, which led to his conviction and imprisonment on racketeering and drug trafficking charges in April 1992.

Cheney took a strong stand against use of U.S. ground troops in the vicious civil war in Bosnia between Serbs, Croats, and Muslims that began in April 1992. After the collapse of a collective presidency in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the country split into several independent republics, including the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which declared its independence in March 1992. Whether and how to intervene in Bosnia evoked an emotional debate in the United States, but Cheney left office before any firm decisions were made, and his successors inherited the knotty issue.

In Somalia also, a savage civil war that began in 1991 claimed the world's attention. In August 1992 the United States began to provide humanitarian assistance, primarily food, through a military airlift. In December, only a month before he left office, at President Bush's direction Cheney dispatched the first of 26,000 U.S. troops to Somalia as part of the Unified Task Force (UNITAF), designed to provide security and food relief. Cheney's successors as secretary of defense, Les Aspin and William J. Perry, had to contend with both the Bosnian and Somalian issues.

Cheney's biggest challenge came in the Persian Gulf. On 1 August 1990 President Saddam Hussein of Iraq sent invading forces into neighboring Kuwait, a small oil-rich country long claimed by Iraq. An estimated 140,000 Iraqi troops quickly took control of Kuwait City and moved on to the Saudi Arabia-Kuwait border. Although taken by surprise, President Bush soon decided that the aggression could not stand. Cheney regarded Iraq's intrusion into Kuwait as a grave threat to U.S. interests. Fortunately, the United States had already begun to develop contingency plans for defense of Saudi Arabia by the U.S. Central Command, headed by General H. Norman Schwartzkopf.

Shortly after the Iraqi invasion Cheney made the first of several visits to Saudi Arabia and secured King Fahd's permission to bring U.S. troops into his country. The United Nations took action, passing a series of resolutions condemning Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and eventually demanded that Iraq withdraw its forces by 15 January 1991. By then, the United States had a force of about 500,000 stationed in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Other nations, including Great Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Syria, and Egypt, contributed troops, and other allies, most notably Germany and Japan, agreed to provide financial support for the coalition effort, named Operation Desert Shield.

In the meantime a congressional and public debate developed in the United States about whether to rely on economic sanctions against Iraq or to use military force. Bush in October 1990 settled on military action if Iraq's troops had not left Kuwait by the 15 January 1991 deadline. In November 1990 UN Resolution 678 authorized "all necessary means" to expel Iraq from Kuwait. The debate ended on 12 January 1991, when both houses of Congress agreed to a joint resolution stating that the president was to satisfy Congress that he had exhausted all means to secure Iraq's compliance with UN resolutions on Kuwait before he initiated hostilities. Cheney signed an order, not publicly released at the time, stating that the president would make the determination required by the joint resolution and that offensive operations against Iraq would begin on 17 January.

As the military buildup in Saudi Arabia (Desert Shield) proceeded in the fall of 1990 and as the UN coalition moved toward military action, Cheney worked closely with General Powell in directing the movement of U.S. personnel, equipment, and supplies to Saudi Arabia. He participated intently with Powell, Schwartzkopf, and others in overseeing planning for the operation. Cheney, according to Powell, "had become a glutton for information, with an appetite we could barely satisfy. He spent hours in the National Military Command Center peppering my staff with questions." When hostilities began in January 1991, Cheney turned most other DoD matters over to Deputy Secretary Atwood. Cheney spent many hours briefing Congress during the air and ground phases of the war.

In an incident in September 1990 involving General Michael J. Dugan, who had replaced General Welch as Air Force chief of staff, Cheney again demonstrated the primacy of civilian authority over the military. On a return flight from Saudi Arabia, in discussions with reporters about the Kuwait situation, Dugan was guilty of indiscretions that became public and could not help but invite Cheney's attention. Powell's later recollection of this episode summed up the problem: "Dugan had made the Iraqis look like a pushover; suggested that American commanders were taking their cue from Israel, a perception fatal to the Arab alliance we were trying to forge; suggested political assassination . . . ; claimed that air power was the only option; and said . . . that the American people would not support any other administration strategy." Cheney quickly decided to fire Dugan, who had been Air Force chief of staff for less than three months.

The first phase of Operation Desert Storm, begun on 17 January 1991, was an air offensive to secure air superiority and attack Iraq's forces in Kuwait and Iraq proper. Targets included key Iraqi command and control centers, including Baghdad and Basra. Iraq retaliated by firing Scud missiles against locations in Saudi Arabia and Israel. The United States used Patriot missiles to defend against the Scuds, which were old and unsophisticated, and diverted some aircraft to seek out and bomb the missile sites. The Israeli government wanted to use its own air power to hunt down and destroy Scud launch sites in western Iraq, but U.S. officials, concerned about the effect on the Arab members of the coalition, succeeded in persuading Israel not to intervene.

After an air offensive of more than five weeks, the UN coalition launched the ground war, with the first forces thrusting into Kuwait from Saudi Arabia early in the morning of 24 February. Within four days Iraqi forces had been routed from Kuwait and pushed into the interior of Iraq after suffering heavy losses. Although easily defeated, Iraq's army did considerable damage while retreating, including setting fire to many oil wells. By 27 February General Schwartzkopf reported that the basic objective-expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait-had been met. After consultation with Cheney, Powell, and other members of his national security team, Bush declared a suspension of hostilities effective at midnight on 27 February, Washington time. A total of 147 U.S. military personnel died in combat, and another 236 died as a result of accidents or other causes. Iraq agreed to a formal truce on 3 March, and a permanent cease-fire on 6 April.

Subsequently there was debate about whether the UN coalition should have driven all the way to Baghdad to oust Saddam Hussein from power. Bush and his advisers agreed unanimously on the decision to end the ground war when they did. The UN resolutions on the war limited military action to expelling Iraq from Kuwait. Cheney thought that if the campaign continued, the invading force probably would get bogged down and suffer many casualties. The debate persisted for years after the war as Saddam Hussein remained in power, rebuilt his military forces, resisted full implementation of the cease-fire terms, and periodically threatened Kuwait.

Looking to the future, Cheney regarded the Gulf War as the first example of the kind of regional problem the United States was likely to face in the aftermath of the Cold War. He thought the successful campaign validated the broad strategy developed under his direction. A draft Defense Planning Guidance issued early in 1992 envisioned several scenarios in which the United States might have to fight two large regional wars at one time-for example, against Iraq again, against North Korea, or in Europe against a resurgent, expansionist Russia. The Pentagon later modified this document, but it gave some indication of what the Defense Department saw as future threats to the United States.

Just before he left office, Cheney released a paper dealing with defense strategy for the 1990s in which he elaborated his strategic views, underscoring the importance of strategic deterrence and defense, forward presence, and crisis response. He added "science and technology" and "infrastructure and overhead" to the traditional pillars of military capability-readiness, sustainability, modernization, and force structure.

Increasingly, toward the end of his tenure, Cheney had to consider social issues affecting the military forces, particularly the status of homosexuals in the military and the role of women in combat. In the face of pressure from some members of Congress and the public at large, Cheney reviewed standing DoD policy on these matters. He decided that the existing policies-a ban on homosexuals serving in the military and the exclusion of women from combat positions-were correct and did not need to be changed. During the campaign of 1992 Democratic candidate Bill Clinton said he favored a change in official policy on homosexuals in the military services, keeping the issue alive and leaving it to Cheney's successor to handle.

On 20 January 1993 when the Clinton administration took office, Cheney left the Pentagon and joined the American Enterprise Institute in Washington as a senior fellow. He maintained his interest in national security affairs, speaking and writing occasionally on the subject. Cheney regarded the successful planning and implementation of Desert Shield and Desert Storm as his most important achievement as secretary of defense. The failure to make significant reforms in procurement was his biggest disappointment. Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean O'Keefe, in an October 1992 speech, pointed to Cheney's capacity for independent judgment as one of his strongest assets as a government leader. Cheney, according to O'Keefe, had redefined national objectives, force size, and other elements of national security in terms of what the future involvement of the military establishment might be.

Cheney contemplated becoming a candidate for the 1996 Republican nomination for president but decided against it in 1995. In October of that year he became president and chief executive officer of the Halliburton Company in Dallas, Texas.

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