Former Vice President Dick Cheney praised President Obama for the success of the mission against Osama bin Laden, but in an exclusive interview with ABC News warned that it would be "a tragedy" to spend so much time "patting ourselves on the back" that we miss the next attack.
"The administration clearly deserves credit for the success of the operation," Cheney told ABC News, adding that getting bin Laden has long been "the ultimate goal, the ultimate objective" of the U.S. counterterrorism program.
Cheney praised President Obama for the judgment he exercised in making the call to go forward with the raid.
"We all owe him the same sense of satisfaction that I'm sure they feel," Cheney said.
Cheney even had good things to say about President Clinton's early pre-Sept. 11 effort to get bin Laden, calling the operation part of "a continuum" spanning three administrations.
"I mean, it's not just one day you get up, bang, and you got Osama bin Laden," Cheney said. "It's the kind of thing where an awful lot of people over a long period of time -- thousands have worked this case and these issues and followed on the leads and captured bad guys and interrogated them and so-forth."
Above all, he credits the men and women of the military and the intelligence community.
"It's taken a long time," Cheney said. "They never gave up. They never backed off. They just kept pluggin' along until they got it right."
Cheney has been a harsh critic of Obama's anti-terrorism policies, especially his decision to end the CIA enhanced interrogation program started by President Bush. Even as he praised Obama, Cheney suggested that program, and its aggressive interrogation of terror of detainees like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, contributed to the ultimate success of the operation against bin Laden.
So, while Obama deserves credit for making the call, the former vice president said, the effort began long before he was in the White House and even before the Sept. 11 attacks.
"It started in the Clinton administration, was carried forward -- very aggressively -- in the Bush administration and now the Obama administration with the results we're all very pleased to see today," Cheney said.
Asked if he thinks Bin Laden's demise makes America safer, Cheney said, "I think so," but he added a grim warning.
"It would be a big mistake for us now to assume, 'There. That's taken care of. It's all over with.' Al Qaeda is a big organization and they're very active now in the Arabian Peninsula down in Yemen," Cheney said.
"There's every reason to believe there will be further attacks attempted against the United States," he said. "For us to spend so much time patting ourselves on the back because we got bin Laden that we miss the next attack would be a terrible tragedy."
Cheney spoke to ABC News in New York City. He said he learned of bin Laden's death the way most Americans did -- by watching and reading news accounts Sunday night. As of this afternoon, he still had not spoken to President Bush about it, but said he would soon.
Asked if the Bush administration ever got close to getting Bin Laden, Cheney replied, "I can't say that."
"You work it so hard, day in and day out," Cheney said. "You get reports. Some of which turned out not to be true. But ultimately what happened is what needed to happen. You had success plowed on success plowed on success that ultimately led to his capture."
For the full transcript, click HERE.