After the attempted bombing of flight 253, Dick Cheney reiterated his criticism of the Obama administration, saying that it doesn’t seem to believe that we are at war. Within hours, the White House had its response up. I think it merits a fisking:
There has been a lot of discussion online and in the mainstream media about our response to various critics of the President, specifically former Vice President Cheney, who have been coming out of the woodwork since the incident on Christmas Day. I think we all agree that there should be honest debate about these issues, but it is telling that Vice President Cheney and others seem to be more focused on criticizing the Administration than condemning the attackers. Unfortunately too many are engaged in the typical Washington game of pointing fingers and making political hay, instead of working together to find solutions to make our country safer.
Oh please. Are you really suggesting that Dick Cheney — Mr. Waterboard himself — is soft on the terrorists? That’s not going to fly. More to the point, a public denunciation of the terrorists by a former Vice President isn’t going to accomplish anything much. His pressure on the administration to adopt the right policies just might.
And as for pointing fingers versus working together, wait just a moment.
First, it’s important that the substantive context be clear: for seven years after 9/11, while our national security was overwhelmingly focused on Iraq – a country that had no al Qaeda presence before our invasion – Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda’s leadership was able to set up camp in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they continued to plot attacks against the United States. Meanwhile, al Qaeda also regenerated in places like Yemen and Somalia, establishing new safe-havens that have grown over a period of years.
The old Iraq talking point, check! Moving on.
It was President Obama who finally implemented a strategy of winding down the war in Iraq, and actually focusing our resources on the war against al Qaeda – more than doubling our troops in Afghanistan, and building partnerships to target al Qaeda’s safe-havens in Yemen and Somalia. And in less than one year, we have already seen many al Qaeda leaders taken out, our alliances strengthened, and the pressure on al Qaeda increased worldwide.
Actually, it wasn’t President Obama that prepared the administration’s plan for Afghanistan; it was the outgoing Bush administration. In the fall of 2008, the Bush administration did a thorough review of Afghanistan policy and then briefed the incoming Obama administration. The Obama team asked the Bush team not to announce its results, and the Bush team agreed. Then, in March, the Obama team essentially adopted the plan they had been handed by Bush team.
This is exactly the sort of “working together to find solutions to make our country safer” that the White House now says we need. But instead of acknowledging the Bush administration’s contribution, or at least remaining silent on the subject, the White House has claimed that the Bush administration had no plan and made no effort to come up with one. To put it plainly, it is the current administration that is “pointing fingers and making political hay”. The Obama team’s chutzpah and bad faith in this instance is awfully hard to bear.
To put it simply: this President is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action. Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the President.
More of the “finger pointing” but never mind that. Let’s focus on the astonishing statement: “this President is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action.” This statement is astonishing because the remainder of the statement (we’re only halfway through) is dedicated to cataloging President Obama’s bellicose rhetoric. I won’t bother to quote it.
Indeed, President Obama has, on several occasions, spoken to the effect that we are at war. The White House evidently thinks that such rhetoric proves the point. But the president’s actions prove the opposite, and this the greater part of Cheney’s point.
Cheney’s brief statement made five points. Two of them deal with rhetoric, the other three deal with actions. Briefly, Cheney criticized the administration for: (1) giving Abdulmutallab a lawyer immediately and not conducting any interrogation, (2) bringing Khalid Sheik Mohammed to New York for a civilian trial, and (3) closing the Guantanamo prison and contemplating the release of its terrorists. Cheney’s remarks only scratch the surface of the examples he could have cited.
All of these criticisms go to the administration’s actions, and none of them are addressed by the White House response. The response defends the president strictly on the basis of his rhetoric. To put it clearly, while the White House claims to be focused on actions rather than rhetoric, its statement proves exactly the opposite.
POSTSCRIPT: The response ends with this:
We are not at war with a tactic (“terrorism”), we at war with something that is tangible: al Qaeda and its violent extremist allies. And we will prosecute that war as long as the American people are endangered.
There’s more to be said about this, but I’ll defer it to another post.
UPDATE: You can take this post as a bonus fisking of today’s Eugene Robinson column. Robinson adds some ad hominems and calls Cheney a liar, but aside from that, I don’t think he makes a single point that the White House didn’t make in its post yesterday. (Via Hot Air.)