Obama Team Derides Cheney's Criticisms

Richard Cheney says the new president's choices
Richard Cheney says the new president's choices "will in fact raise the risk" of another terrorist attack. (By Kevin Wolf -- Associated Press)
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By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Obama administration responded sharply yesterday to former vice president Richard B. Cheney's comments in a weekend interview that the new president "is making some choices that, in my mind, will in fact raise the risk to the American people" of another terrorist attack.

"I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy," Robert Gibbs, Obama's press secretary, said during his daily briefing to journalists at the White House. "So they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal."

Gibbs's comments reflected the administration's pique over Cheney's wide-ranging remarks made Sunday on CNN, his first televised interview since leaving office. The former vice president, deeply unpopular in opinion polls, accused the young administration of using the abysmal economy to push through a broad and liberal expansion of government and strongly defended Bush-era policies at home and abroad.

The back-and-forth represented a political opportunity for the Obama administration, despite its pledges to avoid partisan confrontation. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted when the Bush administration left office in January found that 30 percent of respondents approved of Cheney's performance, lower than Bush's own approval rating.

It followed a speech delivered by Rush Limbaugh last month during which the conservative radio host said he hoped Obama "fails" in his policy initiatives, prompting Democrats to question who speaks for the Republican Party and what it stands for. In his interview, Cheney said of congressional Republicans that "it will take them a while to get their act together" in finding ways to criticize a popular young president.

Gibbs concentrated his response on Cheney's assertion that the Obama administration's counterterrorism policies, including plans to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and end interrogation methods that the International Committee of the Red Cross has characterized as torture, have made the country more susceptible to terrorist attack.

Cheney, who has made similar remarks before, but never in such depth, called those policies "absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed" in avoiding another attack.

Cheney said Obama had shifted the country from a war footing to a strategy resembling law enforcement, adding that the new administration is "very much giving up that center of attention and focus that's required, and that concept of military threat that is essential if you're going to successfully defend the nation against further attacks."

Gibbs responded with a pointed reminder that the Bush administration failed to capture or kill some of those chiefly responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and in other cases had "delayed" bringing those captured to justice by holding them for years without charges.

The Obama administration has also maintained several Bush-era military policies, including missile strikes by Predator drones in Pakistan's tribal areas that border Afghanistan.

"I would say that the president has made quite clear that keeping the American people safe and secure is the job -- is the most serious job that he has each and every day," Gibbs said. "I think the president saw over the past seven-plus years the delay in bringing the very people to justice that committed terrorist acts on this soil and on foreign soil."

Asked about the tone of his remarks toward Cheney, Gibbs said, "Sometimes I ask for forgiveness rather than permission." He said he hoped his "sarcasm" didn't "mask the seriousness" of his remarks that "the very perpetrators that the vice president says he's concerned about weren't brought to justice."

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