SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Instead of pulling out of Afghanistan, the United States needs to flex its military muscles throughout the Islamic world to combat attacks on America, former Vice President Dick Cheney told nearly 2,000 movers, shakers, students and policy makers Thursday at Perspectives 2012.
"I want them to know if they're going to kill a U.S. ambassador, they're going to hear from us," said Cheney at the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce's annual speakers forum.
He noted that there have been anti-U.S. uprisings in 27 nations following the YouTube release of a crude video mocking the Prophet Muhammad.
In Pakistan, where a nationwide anti-U.S. protest is planned today, the people "don't respect us either that's the most important thing," Cheney said. Since the United States has reduced its military presence in the region, he said, "they've just seen the U.S. pull out, we're bailing our friends in the region no longer trust us."
Cheney, 71, served as vice president under George W. Bush from 2000 to 2008. He defended the U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying Saddam Hussein was on the verge of developing weapons of mass destruction.
"The story that we dreamed this up to attack Iraq is just not true," he said. "Saddam had no nuclear weapons stockpiled, but he had the people, the technology, the raw materials."
Cheney, a heart transplant recipient, urged people to become organ donors. He got a standing ovation from the crowd at the Sacramento Convention Center.
The audience also heard former Mexican President Vicente Fox call for immigration reform and the legalization of drugs in the United States to blunt the influence of Mexican drug cartels and the related violence that he said has killed 80,000 people, many of them under 25, in the past five years.
Because so many young people in Mexico don't get college educations and can't find good jobs, "those kids went and joined the cartels for $500 a month," Fox said.
In Mexico, it's illegal to sell drugs, but not to consume them. "After 10 years of legalization, we've learned that kids don't go crazy" using drugs, Fox said.
If the United States legalized drugs and reduced demand, he argued, there would be less violence in Mexico because fewer drugs would be shipped through the country.
Mexico is losing a lot of tourism and foreign investment due to the drug wars, but there's good news, too, Fox said. The country has a growing manufacturing sector, "over 70 percent of the people are middle class, and Mexico buys over $250 billion a year from the U.S. and accounts for millions of jobs for U.S. citizens."
Fox doesn't favor open borders, but he does support a regulated guest worker program, noting that as the U.S. population get older, younger Mexican workers could fill the jobs. Instead of building a wall at the border, "why not build bridges?" he asked.
Other speakers included Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, business guru Peter Sheahan and Oakland Raiders football legend and sports analyst Howie Long.
Huffington condemned the war in Afghanistan and challenged American media to focus on what works and what inspires, rather than what's dysfunctional.
"The American dream is really in trouble America is now No. 10 in the world in upward mobility behind France," Huffington said. "That's like France being behind us when it comes to croissants and afternoon sex."
Huffington noted that while the presidential campaign is going to cost $2.5 billion, "the war is really absent in this campaign, even though we are spending $2 billion a week" on the war.
With tens of millions unemployed and underemployed, and more college grads coming into the workforce, Americans have no time to waste to embrace change and find ways to give back, Huffington said. "It's like the house is on fire and we're sitting around discussing the Kardashians."
Demonizing candidates "makes it very hard to reach common ground" in solving economic problems, she said. "There's also a lot that's working. What happened if we covered those stories as obsessively as what is dysfunctional?"
The Huffington Post has created a good-news section and a feature on "the greatest person of the day."
The website is also spotlighting job creators and innovators to recapture "the spirit of the Greatest Generation" that won World War II, when nothing seemed impossible, she said.
Huffington's call for innovation was underscored by Sheahan, author of "Flip" and "Generation Y," who said the best new ideas come from within the cracks of existing organizations and collaborations among employees from different departments.
He noted that Sacramento's "still a $100 billion economy" and encouraged Americans to let go of their assumptions, to "have an open mind politically, economically, business-wise and actually reach out and create partnerships."
Sheahan said Best Buy didn't dominate the home electronics market where men spent $200 million a year until it realized that women approved 90 percent of the purchases. Then it asked female employees what it needed to do, and learned to create better signage, more functional labels and clean toilets a plan that he said drove sales into the billions.
Long called working in television "stealing money" compared with playing football, which hasn't gotten any safer over the years.
"Everybody's gotten bigger," Long said, noting that the average lineman has gone from about 250 pounds to 330.