By Philip Rucker and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 31, 2009; A04
The political war over the failed Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner showed no signs of abating Wednesday as leaders of both parties escalated their attacks, employing fiery rhetoric in assessing blame for the Detroit incident.
Former vice president Richard B. Cheney led a GOP offensive to assail President Obama's leadership on national security, charging that the American people are less safe because, Cheney believes, Obama is "pretending" that the United States is not at war with terrorists.
"We are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren't, it makes us less safe," Cheney, one of Obama's strongest critics, said in a statement to Politico. "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."
Top aides to Obama and Democratic leaders pushed back aggressively, accusing Cheney and other Republicans of politicizing the incident in ways they say Democrats did not during previous terrorist acts.
"Cheney was out there today saying that the president doesn't recognize that we have a war on terror," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said in an interview. "This is the president who has made a very tough decision to refocus our efforts in Afghanistan after seven years of drift."
Democrats said the Bush administration -- chiefly Cheney -- failed to keep its focus on the fight against al-Qaeda as it pursued war in Iraq.
"This president is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action," White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer wrote on a blog. "Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. 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."
For days, a chorus of GOP leaders has sought to portray Obama as weak on national security because of his administration's response to the incident as well as the intelligence and security failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board a Northwest Airlines flight carrying an explosive.
Republicans said Obama should have interrupted his Hawaiian vacation before Monday to address last Friday's attack. But Democrats called this a double standard, saying they did not attack then-President George W. Bush when he said nothing during his vacation in Crawford, Tex., for nearly a week after shoe bomber Richard C. Reid's failed attack in 2001.
"Republicans are simply hypocrites," Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse said. "There is nothing -- no bounds whatsoever -- to what they will politicize for their own political gain."
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday said the Detroit incident is evidence that Obama should reconsider his decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "It's time for the president to halt terrorist transfers to other countries, including Yemen."
The detainees who ended up in the al-Qaeda leadership in Yemen were released not by Obama but by Bush two years ago.