Terrorism: Is Cheney winning the rhetoric war?

Cheney railed against the Obama's war policy last Sunday. Are the former vice president's arguments 'crazy' - or surprisingly logical?

Call it the “battle of the veeps,” said Richard Sisk in the New York Daily News. In an ABC News interview this week, former Vice President Dick Cheney charged that the Obama administration blew the chance to pry more information out of accused underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab, because Obama has barred the use of harsh interrogation techniques. He also scorned the administration’s efforts to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court. “It’s clear once again,” Cheney declared, “that President Obama is trying to pretend that we are not at war.”

We’ve heard this line of attack from Cheney before, said James Hohmann in Politico.com, but this time, the White House dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to dispute his narrative. Appearing on CBS and NBC, Biden said Cheney was “either misinformed or misinforming” about Obama’s determination to combat terrorism, pointing out that Obama had sent 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and had greatly stepped up drone strikes against al Qaida leaders. Cheney, said Biden, was so extreme in his advocacy of unconstitutional policies that even George W. Bush had rejected his advice. “Thank God the last administration didn’t listen to him in the end,” Biden said.

That last punch really landed, said Peter Beinart in TheDaily

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Beast.com. During Bush’s second term, he deliberately backed away from Cheney’s belligerent counsel and abandoned waterboarding, released dozens of Guantánamo prisoners or returned them to their home countries, and granted others civilian trials. Cheney, in his ABC interview, admitted that he had opposed these policy changes, saying he had lost “a major shootout” within the administration. That certainly puts Cheney’s critique in perspective, said Steven Benen in WashingtonMonthly.com. Cheney is so far to the right on national security that from where he sits, even Bush was a pantywaisted, liberal appeaser of America’s enemies. “That seems crazy, but that’s his argument and he’s sticking to it.”

Cheney is hardly crazy, said Nile Gardiner in the London Daily Telegraph, and the American people know it. His forceful critiques of the administration’s incoherent policies on terrorism have the White House backpedaling, with polls showing growing doubts about closing Guantánamo and trying terrorists in civilian courts. Unlike Obama, Cheney “firmly believes the West is engaged in an epic global war against a vicious, Islamist enemy.” That’s why, for example, he advocates interrogating the underwear bomber—and perhaps waterboarding him—instead of reading him his Miranda rights. By repeatedly reminding the American people that the threat is real and immediate, Cheney has become Obama’s “leading nemesis on national security.”

Rhetoric aside, said Jay Bookman in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the reality is that Cheney is wrong both on the facts and on the law. “The United States is not a war zone,” and terrorists captured on U.S. soil have to be tried in our courts, which is why the Bush administration did just that in prosecuting dozens of terrorists. As for waterboarding, it’s torture under U.S. law and international law and treaty. Cheney, though, has contempt for the law, said Andrew Sullivan in TheAtlantic.com, which he freely admitted in his ABC interview. “I was a big supporter of waterboarding,” Cheney proudly snarled. That’s a confession of a war crime, and subjects Cheney to prosecution here and abroad. “He will go down in history as a man who betrayed the very core principles of Western civilization out of panic.”

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