It’s a measure of just how much credibility Dick Cheney retains in national-security matters that the AP sent a reporter to his speech at a dinner for the Wyoming GOP. CBS also picked up the story and featured it on its Sunday Morning site. When Cheney criticizes Obama, more than four years after leaving office, the media still notices:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Saturday night that President Barack Obama has jeopardized U.S. national security by nominating substandard candidates for key cabinet posts and by degrading the U.S. military.
“The performance now of Barack Obama as he staffs up the national security team for the second term is dismal,” Cheney said in comments to about 300 members of the Wyoming Republican Party.
Cheney, a Wyoming native, said it was vital to the nation’s national security that “good folks” hold the positions of secretary of state, CIA director and secretary of defense.
“Frankly, what he has appointed are second-rate people,” he said.
That criticism was a bit awkward, under the circumstances:
Wyoming’s two U.S. senators, Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, voted for Kerry’s confirmation. Both Enzi and Barrasso gave introductory speeches for Cheney Saturday night.
Cheney may have meant to include Kerry in that accusation, but the votes of the two Senators shouldn’t come under too much fire. Kerry may or may not be a “second-rate” appointment, but at least he had serious qualifications for the job as the long-time chair/ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry may not have produced much legislation in his very long tenure in the Senate, but that’s in part because of his focus on his committee work in this arena. One can disagree with his policy outlook while still acknowledging that Kerry’s appointment was not just defensible, but perhaps the most supportable of the leading choices — and more defensible than Hillary Clinton’s was in 2009. Enzi and Barrasso aren’t in the Senate to choose the nominees, and after the demolition of Susan Rice, Republicans probably figured they could do a lot worse than Kerry.
At least according to the AP report, most of Cheney’s ire was directed at Chuck Hagel rather than Kerry or John Brennan. Cheney accused Obama of using Hagel as a shield to let a Republican take the heat for his own destructive policies on defense spending. That will not just constrict Obama’s options on national security, Cheney argued, but those of Presidents to come.
However, that is what’s meant by “elections have consequences.” It’s Obama’s policies that will be put into place no matter who gets the SecDef position, and that’s exactly how it should be, because Presidents are accountable to the voters. Hagel’s nomination is second-rate (or worse) not because he’ll carry out the President’s policies; that’s what every Cabinet Secretary does. It’s second-rate because Hagel is clearly unqualified for the position, and apparently unwilling to even prepare properly for it. Even if Hagel withdraws and Michelle Flournoy gets the position, the SecDef will carry out Obama’s policies — we’ll just have someone more competent at doing so in the position.
Cheney is correct in pointing out the weaknesses of the second-term appointees, but it’s not really the appointees that are the problem. It’s the man making the appointments … and the voters who gave him the opportunity to do so.
Addendum: So why does Cheney continue to have so much credibility on national security? Maybe it’s because the Obama administration has continued so many of the Bush/Cheney policies, and even amplified a few of them.