EXCLUSIVE: Dick Cheney Critical of Biden, Obama National Security Policies

Former vice president says Bush-era policies deserve more credit.

February 12, 2010, 3:29 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2010— -- Former Vice President Dick Cheney, in an exclusive appearance on ABC News' "This Week," offered a sharp critique of the Obama administration's handling of national security and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying any achievements over the past year largely stemmed from policies implemented under President George W. Bush.

"If [the administration is] going to take credit for [Iraq's success], fair enough ... but it ought to come with a healthy dose of 'Thank you, George Bush' up front and a recognition that some of their early recommendations with respect to prosecuting that war were just dead wrong," Cheney told ABC News' Jonathan Karl.

Earlier Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Cheney "either is misinformed or he is misinforming" about what policies have been most effective in combating terrorists.

Biden has also suggested that Iraq may end up being one of the Obama administration's greatest successes.

"Obama and Biden campaigned from one end of the country to the other for two years criticizing our Iraq policy," Cheney said. "If they had had their way, if we'd followed the policies they'd pursued from the outset or advocated from the outset, Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Baghdad today."

On Afghanistan, Cheney said he is a "complete supporter" of President Obama's decision to send more troops to the region and praised the selection of Gen. Stanley McChrystal to head the effort.

But the former vice president repeated his rebuke of the administration's handling of suspected terrorists, including would-be Christmas Day bomber Umar Abdulmutallab.

Following the attempted attack on Dec. 25, Abdulmuttallab was interrogated for 50 minutes, read his Miranda rights and has been arraigned in U.S. federal court. The Obama administration also has promised to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, try several high-profile suspected terrorists in U.S. federal courts and repatriate others abroad.

Cheney said the Mirandizing and detention of convicted shoe-bomber Richard Reid by law enforcement officials in December 2001 was appropriate at the time because military commissions were not yet operational.

"We hadn't had all the Supreme Court decisions handed down about what we could and couldn't do with the commissions," he said.

Reid was arraigned in U.S. federal court but never faced a trial because he pleaded guilty.

"I do see repeatedly examples that there are key members in the administration -- like Eric Holder, for example, the attorney general -- that still insist upon thinking of terror attacks against the United States as criminal acts of war," Cheney said.

Cheney: Biden 'Dead Wrong' on Chances of Another Attack

Cheney said the Obama administration's "mindset" is putting the country at risk of a terrorist attack and cited as an example Vice President Biden's recent statement that another attack on the scale of 9/11 is "unlikely."

"I just think that's just dead wrong," Cheney said. "I think the biggest threat the United States faces today is the possibility of another 9/11 with a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind. And I think al Qaeda is out there -- even as we meet -- trying to do that.

"You have to consider it as a war," Cheney said. "You have to consider it as something we may have to deal with tomorrow. You don't want the vice president of the United States running around saying, 'Oh, it's not likely going to happen.'"

The former vice president acknowledged that the debate over whether to treat threats to national security as criminal or wartime acts was waged within the Bush administration, too.

"We had a major shootout over how this was going to be handled between the Justice Department that advocated that approach and the rest of us that wanted to treat it as an act of war," he said.

Cheney said he disagrees with Obama administration's decision not to use so-called enhanced interrogation techniques and said he argued for them within the administration during the Bush years.

"I was a big supporter of waterboarding," Cheney said. "I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques. ... I think you ought to have all of those capabilities on the table."

Cheney, who said he has not seen former President George W. Bush since they left office over one year ago, may be the previous administration's most outspoken member.

He added that he was "deeply offended" by attempts to investigate and prosecute the Bush administration and CIA officials who helped construct and justify their counterterrorism policy.

"I thought it was important for some senior person in the administration to stand up and defend those people who'd done what we asked them to do," he said.

Cheney Undecided on Palin for President

When asked about former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska's presidential qualifications, Cheney said, "I haven't made a decision yet on who I'm going to support.

"I think all of the prospective candidates out there have got a lot of work to do if in fact they are going to persuade a majority of Americans that they are ready to take on the world's toughest job," Cheney said.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released this week found 71 percent say "no" when asked if Palin is qualified to serve as president. Among Republicans polled, approximately 52 percent think she's not qualified to be commander in chief.

Cheney took issue with Palin's suggestion that President Obama could help himself politically if he declared war on Iran.

"I don't think a president can make a judgment like that on the basis of politics," Cheney said. "The stakes are too high, the consequences too significant to be treating those as simple political calculations. When you begin to talk about war, talk about crossing international borders, you talk about committing American men and women to combat, that takes place on a plane clear above any political consideration."

In an interview last week on "Fox News Sunday," Palin said that if Obama "toughen[ed] up" and "secured our nation," people might think differently about him.

"Say he decided to declare war on Iran or decide to really come out and do whatever he could to support Israel, which I would like him to do," Palin said. "[I]f he decided to toughen up ... I think people would perhaps shift their thinking a little bit and decide, 'Well, maybe he's tougher than we think he's, than he is today.'"

Gays in the Military: Reconsider 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' Cheney Says

Cheney said he thinks it's time to "reconsider" the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military.

"Twenty years ago, the military were strong advocates of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' when I was secretary of defense," Cheney said. "I think things have changed significantly since then."

Cheney served as the secretary of defense from 1989 to 1993 in the first Bush administration.

"I'm reluctant to second-guess the military in this regard," Cheney said. "When the chiefs come forward and say, 'We think we can do it,' then it strikes me that it's time to reconsider the policy.

The former vice president plans to see his former boss, President George W. Bush, at an administration reunion in the coming weeks, he said.

Cheney has been keeping busy by penning his memoir, which is due on bookshelves next year.