Biden, Cheney spar on terror-war strategy

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Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Sunday that the Obama administration is successfully following the same recipe the Bush administration used in fighting the war on terror as he and former Vice President Dick Cheney traded shots in a long-distance, time-lag debate on the Sunday political talk shows over how to fight al Qaeda and win the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr. Cheney accused the Obama administration of having the wrong mindset and said the president had taken key tools off the table to fight terrorism. Mr. Biden shot back that even President Bush and his team were ignoring Mr. Cheney’s judgments late in the administration.

“That’s Dick Cheney. Thank God the last administration didn’t listen to him at the end,” Mr. Biden said on CBS‘ “Face the Nation” program.

From who deserves credit for improvements in Iraq to the government’s use of waterboarding to the attempted airplane bombing on Christmas Day, there were few areas of foreign policy where the two men didn’t clash.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Cheney debated as President Obama and his aides sought to calm fears over the handling of the Christmas Day attempted airplane bombing and as coalition troops in Afghanistan mounted the largest offensive in years to try to take back Taliban-controlled territory.

Mr. Biden said Mr. Obama has poured far more resources into pursuing al Qaeda abroad than did the Bush administration, and is using the same range of tools Mr. Bush staked out to bring suspected terrorists to justice. He said the same tactics were used to question and prosecute “Shoe Bomber” Richard C. Reid in 2001.

“We’ve eliminated 12of their top 20 people. We have taken out 100 of their associates,” Mr. Biden said. “They are in fact not able to do anything remotely like they were in the past. They are on the run. 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?”

Mr. Cheney said Reid attempted to blow up an airline by detonating shoe bombs before the Bush administration had set up all the right tools. He said after years of give-and-take with Congress and the courts, Mr. Bush turned over to Mr. Obama a good operation that the new president is dismantling, and added that it showed in the way the current administration handled the airplane incident on Christmas.

“The administration really wasn’t equipped to deal with the aftermath of an attempted attack against the United States in the sense that they didn’t know what to do with the guy,” Mr. Cheney said.

He was particularly critical of Mr. Biden’s suggestion last week that another Sept. 11-style attack is not likely.

“If the mindset is ‘it’s not likely,’ then it’s difficult to mobilize the resources and get people to give it the kind of priority that it deserves,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The back-and-forth played out across the Sunday shows. NBC’s interview with Mr. Biden was taped Saturday, and ABC played clips of the tape for Mr. Cheney to get his reaction, and CBS then played back clips of the ABC interview to get Mr. Biden’s response.

Mr. Biden acknowledged that the Obama administration is reconsidering its decision to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a regular court in New York rather than a military commission. He said the key issue is the cost of a trial.

When it comes to other detainees, Mr. Cheney said, the Obama administration is finding out how difficult it is to close the prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and said he could see a scenario in which the facility would be operating throughout Mr. Obama’s presidency.

“I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s a valuable facility. There’s a reason we set it up,” Mr. Cheney said.

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