A fair amount of attention is being paid today to Dick Cheney’s demand in a CNN interview that Obama apologize to the Bush administration for criticizing Bush/Cheney war on terror policies during his speech in Cairo in 2009.
Cheney’s idea seems to be that because Obama has used aggressive tactics against Al Qaeda — including the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki without due process — that this is vindication for Bush's approach to terrorism , particularly the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
“He said that we had walked away from our basic, fundamental ideals,” Cheney complained. “That simply wasn’t the case. That is to say that what he said then was inaccurate, especially in line with what they’re now doing with respect to policy.”
Jonathan Chait does a fine takedown of Cheney’s comments, pointing out that they expose the heart of the “neoconservative fallacy,” because neocons actually thought the proper response to 9/11 was to invade Iraq, rather than focus fully on the nontraditional war against Al Qaeda.
I’d only add that there’s an even simpler fallacy on display here. Cheney is claiming vindication in the fact that Obama is doing what it takes to wage a successful war on terror, even though he has done this while expressly repudiating one of the central elements of Bush’s approach to terrorism: Torture.
After all, in the Cairo speech that Cheney cites, the one in which Obama said we had walked away from our ideals, Obama specifically cited torture as the chief example of this.
Now, Cheney is well aware of this. That’s why, in his CNN interview, he also offered this tricky sleight of hand: “He said in his Cairo speech that he had — quote — banned torture. Well we were never torturing anybody in the first place.”
Get the trick? In order for Cheney’s claim of vindication to have any logical consistency whatsoever, he needs to deny that the Bush adminstration ever engaged in the very practice that Obama subsequently banned. But, of course, whether you call it torture or not, the Bush administration did engage in enhanced interrogation techniques that Obama subsequently ended by executive order — without it damaging the pursuit of al Qaeda in the least.
Now, I’m not even remotely defending the killing of Al-Awlaki, and I’m as disappointed with Obama’s civil liberties policies as other critics are. But for Cheney to claim this killing as vindication of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” when in fact the Obama administration’s success against terrorists stands as a repudiation of them, is in a class with the right’s ongoing claim that torture was responsible for the death of Bin Laden — it’s an extremely slippery exercise in misdirection, and I hope folks see right through it.