It is unusual for a vice president from the previous administration to attack the national security policy of the current president, but this is exactly what Dick Cheney has been doing. Partially, Cheney wants to defend his legacy, but he could also be laying the ground work for attacks by his party’s 2012 nominee.
With one sentence on CNN’s State of the Union former vice president Cheney criticized President Obama’s national security policy more than any former VP in the last 40+ years. On CNN’s State of the Union last Sunday, Cheney said, “He is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.” Those are strong words from Cheney that led to another rarity in American politics, a sitting president’s responding to a former vice president’s criticism.
Obama will attack the Bush /Cheney in an interview that airs tomorrow night on 60 Minutes, “How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn’t made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment.” Obama talked about the caution that must be used when evaluating these detainees, “There is no doubt that we have not done a particularly effective job in sorting through who are truly dangerous individuals…to make sure [they] are not a threat to us.”
So what is Dick Cheney trying to accomplish here? I think his primary goal is to protect his own legacy. Cheney, along with Donald Rumsfeld, were the two primary architects of the, “war on terror” policy. It speaks volumes that Cheney is the one who is most offended by the Obama policy change. It confirms what has been reported for years about the Bush administration that the vice president’s office was the major policy player on this issue. Cheney has had to watch Obama tear down his legacy in two months. That can’t sit well with any member of a former administration.
Cheney is also filling a leadership vacuum by positioning himself as the leading critic of the Obama administration’s anti-terrorism policy. Because he is a former VP, Cheney’s comments are going to get more media attention, then any other former Bush official, besides the president himself. In essence, Cheney is trying to lead and keep the Republican opposition against Obama organized, until they can find a leader in 2012.
I think Cheney was trying to layout a road map for how to attack Obama on this issue. However, arguing the Obama’s policies make America less safe will only work, if the nation is attacked again during the first term of the Obama presidency. Should the nation not be attacked, Republicans who follow Cheney’s will look like fear mongering fools. It is a pretty safe bet that even if the nation isn’t attacked before the 2012 election, the Republican Party will still make the argument that the country is less safe, because the GOP base loves to be afraid, and to have an enemy.