In the spring of 2009, former vice president Richard Cheney gave a major address at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, forcefully defending the Bush White House’s national security policies and accusing the Obama administration of endangering American lives by unraveling some of those policies.
On Friday, three years into an Obama administration that has not yet seen a successful attack on American soil, Cheney was back at AEI, where he was asked rather bluntly: Was he wrong?
His answer: no.
The Obama administration, Cheney said, has “been successful in part because of the capabilites we left them with, the intelligence we left them with,” adding that there has been a “continuum” between administrations.
Cheney, at AEI for an event to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, reprised his criticism of President Obama’s decision to investigate the CIA’s counterterrorism program and to bar the use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects.
He also sounded just as unrepentant, and occasionally sarcastic, as he did the last time.
“I don’t know what they would do today if they captured the equivalent of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. “Probably read him his Miranda rights, I don’t know.”
On issues of national security, Cheney added, “I do think it was a mistake for [the Obama administration] not to stay as actively and aggressively as involved.”
With the exception of the killing of Osama bin Laden, Cheney did not mention the string of successes against al-Qaeda over the past several months — including the killing of the group’s second in command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman. As for the killing of bin Laden, he said the Obama administration owed at least some credit to the work done during the Bush years, contending, as others have, that it was enhanced interrogation that produced intelligence that helped located the network’s leader.
Others have argued that the Obama administration has been more successful in its counterterrorism efforts because of what it changed about Bush policy -- escalating drone strikes even further, for instance, and ending the CIA’s secret interrogation program.
On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Cheney did allow that there was evidence that the United States has made significant progress against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
Asked how Americans would know when the “Global War on Terror,” as it as called by the Bush administration, was over, the former vice president said there would be no “a-ha moment.”
“It is,” he said, “the kind of thing that gradually fades over time.”