Attacks by Dick and Liz Cheney could be a good thing for Obama

Critics say Dick Cheney and George Bush themselves ‘dithered’ on Afghanistan for years. And Cheney left office so unpopular that his reemergence on the political scene reminds most Americans why they voted for Obama in the first place.

Harry Hamburg/AP
Former Vice President Dick Cheney speaks at the Center for Security Policy dinner at Union Station in Washington on Wednesday.

If President Obama were to look down at his ankles right now, he’d see two Cheneys gnawing away. Former vice president Dick Cheney and Mr. Cheney’s daughter Elizabeth.

This father-daughter duo of Bush administration veterans has been highly critical of the Obama administration and of Barack Obama personally.

On missile defense systems in eastern Europe, Iran’s capability of having nuclear weapons, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama has either “dithered” or taken wrong turns, according to the senior Cheney’s hard-hitting speech to the Center for Security Policy Thursday.

Specifically, Cheney said, “President Obama now seems afraid to make a decision…” on how to proceed in Afghanistan which seemed to sound a lot like he was questioning Obama’s courage as commander in chief.

Meanwhile, Ms. Cheney (who held posts in the Bush State Department) recently started a new advocacy group in Washington called “Keep America Safe” designed “to provide information for concerned Americans about critical national security issues.”

The group comes out of the box punching.

“President Obama is presiding over a slow-motion civil-military crash occasioned by his meandering Afghanistan strategy review,” it says (quoting from a Foreign Policy blog post by Peter Feaver).

On Sean Hannity’s Fox News show this week, Ms. Cheney noted that Obama had named a new commander in Afghanistan -- General Stanley McChrystal-- and indicated that he would support a counterinsurgency strategy with sufficient troops and other resources. But, she said, “the president now has waffled.”

So, according to the Cheney tag team, Obama is dithering, meandering, waffling, and “seems afraid.”

The Obama team and its fan club have not taken the Cheney attacks lying down.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs quickly jabbed back with the charge that the Bush administration -- and its unusually powerful vice president, Dick Cheney -- itself had largely ignored Afghanistan while it looked for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq.

"I think it's pretty safe to say that the vice president was, for seven years, not focused on Afghanistan,” Gibbs said. “Even more curious given that [the request for] an increase in troops sat on desks in this White House, including the vice president's for more than eight months.”

For the man who joked about himself as Darth Vader, it seems to be just the season for Cheney bashing.

“Ooooh, Dick Cheney's back, just in time for Halloween!” says Joan Walsh over at Salon.

“Where do I begin?” she writes. “How does a man who spent much of his vice presidency hiding in a secret bunker get off accusing the president of being ‘afraid’? How does a guy who got five deferments from service in Vietnam, because he famously had ‘other priorities,’ call someone else a coward? How does a guy who dropped the ball on the Afghan war, letting Osama bin Laden escape and the Taliban retrench, blame someone else for ‘dithering’ on Afghanistan?”

Even for some in the military, the Cheneys’ criticisms seem hypocritical.

At the National Security Network, retired Army General Paul Easton says, “The record is clear.”

“Dick Cheney and the Bush administration were incompetent war fighters. They ignored Afghanistan for 7 years with a crude approach to counter-insurgency warfare best illustrated by: 1. Deny it. 2. Ignore it. 3. Bomb it.”

Obama knows that politics ain’t beanbag, but to have the Cheneys on his case can’t be much fun for the president.

But one line of argument on the left holds that in fact it’s good for him politically.

Bush and Cheney left office as “profoundly unpopular men,” writes columnist David Corn at Politics Daily. “Many in this country couldn't wait to see them leave.”

“Since taking office, Obama has justifiably noted over and over that he's been cleaning up the mess left behind by Bush and Cheney,” Corn writes. “That argument will lose its oomph, the smaller Bush and Cheney become in the rear-view mirror. But here comes Cheney, jumping on the hood, pressing his face against the windshield, and proclaiming, ‘I'm here.’ What could be better for Obama?”

Darth Vader mask and all.


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