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May 22nd, 2009

Dick Cheney’s National Security Remarks

Transcript of the former vice president’s May 21, 2009 speech as prepared for delivery

 Cheney: ‘No middle ground’ in war on terror (MSNBC, May 21, 2009) — Former Vice President Dick Cheney delivers a speech on national security. (35:44)

Barack Obama’s National Security Remarks 

Transcript of the president’s May 21, 2009 speech as prepared for delivery

 Obama tries to reframe Gitmo debate (NBC Nightly News, May 21, 2009) — A day after being dealt his most severe Congressional setback since taking office, President Obama set out to reframe his position how and why to shut down the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay. The day became political theater thanks to a response delivered by former Vice President Dick Cheney. (04:44)



Cheney Lost to Bush

By David Brooks

May 22, 2009

President Obama and Dick Cheney conspired on Thursday to propagate a myth. The myth is that we lived through an eight-year period of Bush-Cheney anti-terror policy and now we have entered a very different period called the Obama-Biden anti-terror policy. As both Obama and Cheney understand, this is a completely bogus distortion of history.

The reality is that after Sept. 11, we entered a two- or three-year period of what you might call Bush-Cheney policy. The country was blindsided. Intelligence officials knew next to nothing about the threats arrayed against them. The Bush administration tried just about everything to discover and prevent threats. The Bush people believed they were operating within the law but they did things most of us now find morally offensive and counterproductive.

The Bush-Cheney period lasted maybe three years. For Dick Cheney those might be the golden years. For Democrats, it is surely the period they want to forever hang around the necks of the Republican Party. But that period ended long ago.

By 2005, what you might call the Bush-Rice-Hadley era had begun. Gradually, in fits and starts, a series of Bush administration officials — including Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, Jack Goldsmith and John Bellinger — tried to rein in the excesses of the Bush-Cheney period. They didn’t win every fight, and they were prodded by court decisions and public outrage, but the gradual evolution of policy was clear.

From 2003 onward, people like Bellinger and Goldsmith were fighting against legal judgments that allowed enhanced interrogation techniques. By 2006, Rice and Hadley brought Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in from a secret foreign prison to regularize detainee procedures. In 2007, Rice refused to support an executive order reviving the interrogation program. Throughout the second Bush term, officials were trying to close Guantánamo, pleading with foreign governments to take some prisoners, begging senators to allow the transfer of prisoners onto American soil. (It didn’t occur to them that they could announce the closure of Gitmo first, then figure out what to do with prisoners.)

Cheney and Obama might pretend otherwise, but it wasn’t the Obama administration that halted the practice of waterboarding. It was a succession of C.I.A. directors starting in March 2003, even before a devastating report by the C.I.A. inspector general in 2004.

When Cheney lambastes the change in security policy, he’s not really attacking the Obama administration. He’s attacking the Bush administration. In his speech on Thursday, he repeated in public a lot of the same arguments he had been making within the Bush White House as the policy decisions went more and more the other way.

The inauguration of Barack Obama has simply not marked a dramatic shift in the substance of American anti-terror policy. It has marked a shift in the public credibility of that policy.

In the first place, it is absurd to say this administration doesn’t take terrorism seriously. Obama has embraced the Afghan surge, a strategy that was brewing at the end of the Bush years. He has stepped up drone activity in Pakistan. He has promoted aggressive counterinsurgency fighters and racked up domestic anti-terror accomplishments.

As for the treatment of terror suspects, Jack Goldsmith has a definitive piece called “The Cheney Fallacy” online at The New Republic. He lists a broad range of policies — Guantánamo, habeas corpus, military commissions, rendition, interrogation and so on. He shows how, in most cases, the Obama policy represents a continuation of or a gradual evolution from the final Bush policy.

What Obama gets, and what President Bush never got, is that other people’s opinions matter. Goldsmith puts it well: “The main difference between the Obama and Bush administrations concerns not the substance of terrorism policy, but rather its packaging. The Bush administration shot itself in the foot time and time again, to the detriment of the legitimacy and efficacy of its policies, by indifference to process and presentation. The Obama administration, by contrast, is intensely focused on these issues.”

Obama has taken many of the same policies Bush ended up with, and he has made them credible to the country and the world. In his speech, Obama explained his decisions in a subtle and coherent way. He admitted that some problems are tough and allow no easy solution. He treated Americans as adults, and will have won their respect.

Do I wish he had been more gracious with and honest about the Bush administration officials whose policies he is benefiting from? Yes. But the bottom line is that Obama has taken a series of moderate and time-tested policy compromises. He has preserved and reformed them intelligently. He has fit them into a persuasive framework. By doing that, he has not made us less safe. He has made us more secure.


Related reports

Cheney in the Spotlight

Image: Dick Cheney

Since leaving office, Dick Cheney has become a vocal critic of the Obama administration. Take a look at some of the comments the former vice president has made. (NBC News interactive report)

The Age of Obama

Columnist David Brooks of the New York Times

Minnesota Public Radio “Midday” with Gary Eichten
May 8, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

(Program starts at 7:45 into the audio file)

New York Times columnist David Brooks, speaking at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Brooks, a New York Times columnist since 2003, is a regular commentator on NPR and PBS. He formerly served as editor at The Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and The Atlantic.


Related report on this site

Dick Cheney Personality Profile (Aug. 10, 2009)

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