Mr. Cheney V. President Obama, Round #535

Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei at Politico:

On the eve of the unveiling of the nation’s new Afghanistan policy, former Vice President Dick Cheney slammed President Barack Obama for projecting “weakness” to adversaries and warned that more workaday Afghans will side with the Taliban if they think the United States is heading for the exits.

In a 90-minute interview at his suburban Washington house, Cheney said the president’s “agonizing” about Afghanistan strategy “has consequences for your forces in the field.”

“I begin to get nervous when I see the commander in chief making decisions apparently for what I would describe as small ‘p’ political reasons, where he’s trying to balance off different competing groups in society,” Cheney said.

“Every time he delays, defers, debates, changes his position, it begins to raise questions: Is the commander in chief really behind what they’ve been asked to do?”

Obama administration officials have complained ever since taking office that they face a series of unpalatable — if not impossible — national security decisions in Afghanistan and Pakistan because of the Bush administration’s unwavering insistence on focusing on Iraq.

But Cheney rejected any suggestion that Obama had to decide on a new strategy for Afghanistan because the one employed by the previous administration failed.

Cheney was asked if he thinks the Bush administration bears any responsibility for the disintegration of Afghanistan because of the attention and resources that were diverted to Iraq. “I basically don’t,” he replied without elaborating.

Michael Goldfarb at The Weekly Standard:

The release of those memos set off a chain of events that culminated in a head to head battle between Cheney and Obama on detainee policy as the two squared off on national television in successive speeches. Cheney was elevated and Obama was made to look small — and Greg Craig was relieved of his Gitmo responsibilities just days later (you have to think Craig made the call to schedule Obama’s speech right before Cheney’s). Over the following weeks the Obama administration backtracked on releasing controversial detainee photos, stopped selectively releasing documents detailing Bush-era interrogations, and started from scratch on the closing of Gitmo — they’ll now miss their own deadline for closing the facility by anywhere from six months to never.

When Cheney goes after the president, the president starts making unforced political errors. More than that though, Cheney’s attacks seem to push Obama into a more positive direction on policy. No doubt, the White House considered how Cheney would respond to Obama’s speech tonight. Cheney’s critique of Obama as “dithering” on the decision may have expedited it, and his critique of Obama as insufficiently clear in his commitment to the mission may force Obama to dig in a lot deeper than he’d like — which is a good thing. Cheney’s still the MVP.

James Fallows:

Since the results of the 2008 election became clear, the 43rd President of the United States has behaved in a way that brings honor to him, his family, his office, and his country. By all reports he did what he could to smooth the transition to his successor, including dealing with the house-is-burning-down world financial crisis. Since leaving office he has — like most of his predecessors in their first years out of power — maintained a dignified distance from public controversies and let the new team have its chance. He has acted as if aware that there are national interests larger than his own possible interests in score-settling or reputational-repair.

The former vice president, Dick Cheney, has brought dishonor to himself, his office, and his country. I am not aware of a case of a former president or vice president behaving as despicably as Cheney has done in the ten months since leaving power, most recently but not exclusively with his comments to Politico about Obama’s decisions on Afghanistan. (Aaron Burr might win the title, for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, but Burr was a sitting vice president at the time.) Cheney has acted as if utterly unconcerned with the welfare of his country, its armed forces, or the people now trying to make difficult decisions. He has put narrow score-settling interest far, far above national interest.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

In Cheney’s view, this is an inexperienced president who is simply not up for the job (”Sometimes I have the feeling that they’re just figuring that out,” he says of Afghanistan war planning and the lessons of Iraq) and who embraces a radical worldview that rejects American exceptionalism (”I am increasingly convinced that he’s not as committed to or as wedded to that concept as most of the presidents I’ve known, Republican or Democrat”).

It is December, and in less than a year Cheney now represents a good deal of mainstream thinking, both in the Beltway and among ordinary Americans. That’s how far we’ve come. Meanwhile, Obama is increasingly seen as ideologically misguided and temperamentally at a loss to deal with the plethora of international challenges, which will only increase as a worldwide audience takes in his haphazard performance.

Whether it is the mullahs in Iran or democracy advocates living in despotic regimes, Obama has projected an image that he must, if his presidency is to be successful, reverse. Where he has appeared naive, he must now show that he is savvy. Where he has shown aversion to hard power, he must now demonstrate his bona fides as a wartime commander. And it is harder, terribly so, now that he must convince players on the world stage (both friends and foes) that he really, honestly, after all does mean it.

Cheney has consistently called out the administration for its poor judgment (e.g., on Guantanamo, the CIA) and lousy execution. Other conservatives who wish to lead the opposition have followed suit and will, I suspect, continue the lines of attack Cheney has outlined. But the real issue is whether the administration has internalized the substance of what Cheney is saying (echoed by columnists and pundits whom the administration may find more palatable). If so, there is perhaps time to reverse the trajectory of this presidency, and specifically the entire Obama approach to foreign policy. If not, it will be a very rocky three years.

Megan McArdle:

I said it when Jimmy Carter did it, and I’ll say it now:  former presidents and vice presidents should not attempt to conduct freelance foreign policy when they’re out of office–particularly not presidents and vice presidents like Jimmy Carter and Dick Cheney, who are not generally regarded as having presided over America’s finest hours, internationally speaking.  If Dick Cheney is so worried about Obama looking weak, he should maybe not try to undermine him.  Yes, Obama has occasionally been kind of a jerk about blaming his predecessors for everything from global financial meltdown, to regional blowfly infestations, to cold coffee at the White House mess.  I don’t care.  A functioning foreign policy does not start with  public squabbling among the current and former high officers of the executive branch.

UPDATE: Daniel Drezner at Foreign Policy

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Filed under Political Figures

One response to “Mr. Cheney V. President Obama, Round #535

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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