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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cheney off-base on Obama criticism

By Jules Witcover

Former vice presidents in recent memory have done one of two things run for president or fade quietly into the sunset. Dick Cheney is doing neither of them. His predecessor, Al Gore, tried the first and then found himself a line of work outside politics that won him a Nobel Prize.

But Cheney, with a history of heart disease, made clear from the outset of his vice presidency that he would not seek the Oval Office himself. The early assumption was that after his tenure as presidential standby he would slip back into the lucrative world of the oil magnate wherein he previously dwelled.

Instead, as a private citizen he has roared like a caged lion against President Obama. His wrath is aimed at what he sees as Obama's determined effort to undo all that the Bush-Cheney administration did in its "war on terror" the rhetoric of which kept America fired up sufficiently to give it a second term in 2004.

Former President George W. Bush has largely followed the tradition of White House retirees holding their tongue. Cheney meanwhile has stepped in as the prime defender of the war policy of which he is credited as a principal architect. In the treatment of prisoners, he has been the stoutest advocate for the harshest techniques for extracting information that are under review by the Obama administration.

Now Cheney has seized on the administration's flawed performance in the latest attempted airline attack on America, and on Obama's own somewhat tardy response. He not only accuses him of being soft on terrorists but also of having the broad goal of "social transformation" of American society.

Presumably what Cheney has in mind in the latter allegation is Obama's tenacious push for health care insurance reform, which the most extreme conservatives have assailed as another step down the road to dreaded "socialism." They were saying the same thing in years past about Social Security and Medicare, both soon embraced by Americans.

On the first allegation, Cheney's intention is clear enough. He sees Obama's typically calm and measured approach against terrorism not as a matter of personal style and approach but as evidence of weakness and failure to recognize the threat terrorism poses to American security. The former vice president deplores Obama's discard of the Bush-coined rallying cry "war on terror" as proof that Obama doesn't understand what this country is up against in the menace of al-Qaida.

Cheney's clever-by-half observation that Obama "seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up, reads them their Miranda rights, we won't be at war" could have been Rush Limbaugh talking. This from the man who wanted to exempt the United States from the Geneva Convention prohibition of torture.

In Cheney's view, Obama's failure to replicate his predecessor's cowboy "dead-or-alive" declaration signals a casual attitude toward the terrorist network, "trying to pretend we are not at war."

All this is a bit odd coming from Cheney, inasmuch as it's now been reported that at least one detainee released from Gitmo during his own administration has turned up back at anti-American mischief in Yemen.

Obama seemed specific enough in his inaugural address in saying "we are at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred," a better description than Bush's "war on terror."

Cheney recently derided Obama's deliberate re-evaluation of the war mission in Afghanistan as "dithering." It actually produced the judgment that the real enemy is indeed the al-Qaida network that has spread into Pakistan and elsewhere in the Gulf region.

In acceding to a new surge of 30,000 more Americans as a quick fix with an 18-month timeline to start their withdrawal, Obama has indicated an end to Bush-style nation-building in Afghanistan, with a specific renewed focus on eradicating that network. This latest decision not only demonstrates that Obama knows we're at war, but also who and where the real enemies are.