Cheney: Obama pretends we're not at war

It’s not too often that one can put Dick Cheney and the New York Daily News on the same side.  Both blast Barack Obama for fundamental unseriousness about the war on terrorism and national security after Obama’s poor handling of the Christmas Day terrorist attack.  But where the Daily News contents itself with merely scolding the President over his too-casual approach, Cheney asks whether Obama may have some ulterior motives for downplaying terrorism.

The NYDN editors tells Obama to “get a grip”:

What the public was left with was a never-to-be-repeated case study in crisis mismanagement. It’s time to get a grip, Mr. President.

The attempted bombing occurred at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Christmas. When finally Obama spoke after the weekend, he vowed to hunt down “all who were involved” and promised, as has become standard, to “use every element of our national power to disrupt, dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us.”

Nothing less is required, and there can be no arguing with the stated mission.

Even so, Obama’s description of Abdulmutallab as an “isolated extremist” was remarkable and disturbing. This radicalized young Nigerian is nothing of the sort. He operated, in fact, as an Al Qaeda-recruited, Al Qaeda-supplied, Al Qaeda-directed foot soldier – as, to put it directly, an enemy combatant, and not as the criminal “suspect” of Obama’s description.

In similarly distant fashion, the President ordered up a “review” of how Abdulmutallab smuggled explosives onto the jet and a “review” of how he slipped through the government’s various terror watch lists despite signals of clear and present danger.

Missing then was a statement about those obvious and unacceptable security cracks; the name, rank and serial number of the officials who would conduct the inquiries, and a deadline for completion and a report to the public. Tuesday, Obama filled in those rather basic blanks.

But Cheney argues in a statement to Politico that Obama has his own reasons for downplaying the significance of the attack:

“As I’ve watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of 9/11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won’t be at war.

“He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core al Qaeda trained terrorists still there, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gets rid of the words, ‘war on terror,’ we won’t be at war. But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe. 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. President Obama’s first object and his highest responsibility must be to defend us against an enemy that knows we are at war.”

Mike Allen points out that George Bush waited six days to publicly address the Richard Reid shoe-bombing attempt in 2002, which is a fair point, but that’s more of a response to the NY Daily News than to Cheney.  In his statement, Cheney goes beyond Obama’s performance this week to make an entirely different point than just incompetence.  In fact, Cheney believes that Obama’s response fits a pattern that has a rational purpose, which is to move America away from a war mentality entirely and bring the effort against al-Qaeda into the law-enforcement realm instead.

And Cheney has a fair point, too.  The more Obama forces the issue on detention and habeas corpus, then it becomes more difficult to use military and intelligence personnel at all.  One cannot have CIA agents offering Miranda rights and committing to compulsory appearances in court, after all, or they will wind up dead and our sources of intel will dry up entirely.  Obama appears to want the CIA and other intel services to become nothing more than advisers to the FBI, who will swoop in and conduct arrests with fully-detailed warrants, which will allow us to try everyone in federal court.

We tried this before, however, in the 1990s.  It didn’t work out so well.  Oddly enough, Osama bin Laden never appeared in federal court to answer his indictment, and the Clinton administration declined to have him delivered to US custody because we weren’t sure we could get a conviction in court.  This approach resulted in an escalating series of attacks on US assets around the world during the 1990s, with hundreds of lives lost, and it culminated in 9/11.

The Daily News is right to tell Obama to “get a grip.”  We’re at war, not in the middle of a crime wave, and it’s high time Obama started acting like he understands it.