Print | Comments () Posted by Foon Rhee, deputy national political editor December 30, 2009 05:40 PM
Former Vice President Dick Cheney is blasting President Obama again -- this time on his response to the nearly catastrophic attempted bombing of a US airliner on Christmas Eve.
Obama did not make his first public comments until Monday and they were rather muted. On Tuesday, the president acknowledged there had been a "systemic failure" of the security system that nearly allowed a Nigerian man with apparent ties with Al Qaeda to board a commercial jetliner and to try to detonate an explosive device just before it landed in Detroit.
Cheney accused Obama of pretending the US is not at war and that "makes us less safe."
"As I’ve watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of Sept. 11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won’t be at war," the former vice president said in a statement to Politico that was posted early this morning.
"He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core Al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won’t be at war," Cheney continued. "He seems to think if he gets rid of the words, ‘war on terror,’ we won’t be at war. But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe. Why doesn’t he want to admit we’re at war? It doesn’t fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn’t fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency — social transformation — the restructuring of American society. President Obama’s first object and his highest responsibility must be to defend us against an enemy that knows we are at war."
Cheney has been one of Obama's harshest critics during the president's first year. He and the president faced off on how the US should combat terrorism in a remarkable set of back-to-back speeches in May. Cheney then accused Obama of "dithering" and putting US troops in danger by taking several months to carefully review his options before announcing that he would send more troops to Afghanistan.
UPDATE: This afternoon, the White House responded directly to Cheney, via a posting on its website from communications director Dan Pfeiffer.
He accused Cheney of making "untrue" allegations against Obama and asserted that the Bush-Cheney administration allowed Al Qaeda to thrive while it diverted attention to Iraq. An Al Qaeda offshoot based in Yemen has claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing, saying it was retaliating for US-assisted strikes against its hideouts.
"Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from Al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country,” Pfeiffer wrote. “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.”
While Obama has avoided using the phrase “war on terror,” Pfeiffer also argued that the president has repeatedly said the nation is at war with Al Qaeda, even if he “doesn’t need to beat his chest to prove it.”
House Republican leader John Boehner jumped into the fray this afternoon, faulting Obama for supposedly treating the incident as a "law enforcement matter." Boehner, like Cheney, sought to tie the president's response to his approach to terrorism in general.
“The terrorist plot to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 exposed a near-catastrophic failure at every level of our government. News reports suggest our government had intelligence in hand that this attack was coming, yet did not piece together all the information and take the necessary actions to prevent it. The system clearly did not work, and I’m glad the President finally acknowledged that yesterday," Boehner said in a statement.
“Just as troubling is the Administration’s treatment of this matter as a mere law enforcement issue. We’re fighting a war on terror, and this was a terrorist act. Our first priority should be gaining intelligence to help prevent the next attack. The threat we face is real, and we don't need to downplay it. We need to do a better job of connecting the dots and putting in place a homeland security and intelligence plan that helps prevent future attacks before they ever get off the ground. We know al Qaeda is plotting more attacks, and our security depends on gaining critical intelligence and connecting those dots," the Ohio Republican added.
“The Administration’s response following this attempted attack is consistent with its dangerous decision to close the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay and bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 terrorists to trial in the United States through civilian courts, rather than the military commissions already in place. We know the decision to close this prison has not stopped al Qaeda from plotting attacks on Americans, turning these terrorists over to other countries is not working, and we shouldn’t import them into the United States. It’s time for the President to halt terrorist transfers to other countries, including Yemen, and to reevaluate his decision to close the prison at Guantanamo.
“All year long, Republicans have asked the question: what is this Administration’s overarching strategy to confront the terrorist threat and keep America safe? The American people deserve answers to this question, and Republicans will push for the type of aggressive oversight to give them confidence that their government is doing everything it can to detect and stop future attacks, rather than just responding to them after they happen.”
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.