Biden, Cheney Spar Over National Security

Posted February 14, 2010 at 11:42am

Vice President Joseph Biden battled with his predecessor over national security issues in dueling television interviews Sunday.

On ABC’s “This Week,” former Vice President Dick Cheney took the current White House to task for its general approach to combating the terrorist threat and questioned Biden’s comments from last week that Iraq could prove to be one of President Barack Obama’s greatest successes.

Cheney criticized the Obama administration for approaching its fight against terrorism as a law enforcement issue, and he said he found it strange that Biden was taking credit for Iraq considering he and the president opposed the policies that made success there possible.

“It’s the mindset that concerns me … What the administration was slow to do was come to that recognition that we are at war, not dealing with criminal acts,” Cheney said, adding with some laughter: “Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by my friend Joe Biden. I’m glad he now believes Iraq is a success. Of course, Obama and Biden campaigned from one end of the country to the other for two years criticizing our Iraq policy. They opposed the surge that was absolutely crucial to our getting to the point we’re at now with respect to Iraq. For them to try to take credit for what’s happened in Iraq strikes me as a little strange.”

Biden, in interviews on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and CBS’ “Face the Nation,” accused Cheney of distorting the facts.

“Let me choose my words carefully here. Dick Cheney’s a fine fellow. He’s entitled to his own opinions. He’s not entitled to rewrite history. He’s not entitled to his own facts,” Biden said on NBC. “I don’t think the former vice president, Dick Cheney, listens. The president of the United States said in his State of the Union we’re at war with al-Qaida. And by the way, we’re pursuing that war with a vigor like it’s never been seen before … I don’t know where Dick Cheney has been. Look, it’s one thing, again, to criticize. It’s another thing to sort of rewrite history. What is he talking about?”

On CBS, Biden dismissed Cheney’s criticism that the Obama administration was putting the country in danger by wanting to try alleged terrorists, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in criminal courts.

“I don’t know what Dick’s been doing lately,” Biden said on CBS. “We did exactly what he did with the shoe bomber, Richard Reid.”

But Cheney, speaking on “This Week,” said Reid’s case, which occurred just months after the 9/11 attacks, happened before the Bush administration had established polices for handling such cases, and he suggested that the shoe bomber should in fact have been treated as an enemy combatant.

“When this came up, as I recall, it was December of ’01, just a couple of months after 9/11, we were not yet operational with military commissions, we hadn’t had all the Supreme Court decisions handed down on what we could and couldn’t do with the commission,” Cheney countered. “We could have put him into military custody. I don’t question that.”

Biden said the Obama administration wants to make sure terrorists receive the maximum penalty, and he added that some suspects who were tried in military courts under the Bush administration were released and have continued to pose a threat today.

Responding to Cheney’s comment earlier Sunday on “This Week” that waterboarding should be used in interrogations of terror suspects, Biden was dismissive. “That’s Dick Cheney. Thank God the last administration didn’t listen to him in the end,” Biden said, adding that he does not support waterboarding in any situation because “it is not effective.”

As for the two vice presidents’ public spat over Iraq and whether the Obama administration should take credit for stabilizing the country as Biden said recently, Biden said that really the Obama administration was not taking credit but had had to take responsibility for the “mess that was handed to us.”

He later added that he would give former President George W. Bush some credit. “I’m happy to thank George Bush. I like George Bush,” Biden said.