Former Vice President Dick Cheney praised President Obama’s approach to counterterrorism this week. The plug was magnanimous on the veep’s part but it prompted a collective cringe from the president’s left-wing base.
In an interview with NBC News on Monday, Mr. Cheney complimented Mr. Obama for learning that the George W. Bush administration’s approach to counterterrorism “was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate.” Mr. Cheney noted the Obama team has “found it necessary to be more sympathetic to the kinds of things we did. … That’s a plus that he’s learned in that regard.”
The former vice president was the object of the left’s most heated vitriol during the Bush presidency. He was called a manipulator, the secret mastermind of the Iraq invasion, and even a Svengali or Rasputin running a shadow government from an undisclosed location. Mr. Cheney jokingly referred to himself as “the Darth Vader of the administration,” but in the same breath he made clear that prevailing against terrorists “means we need to be able to go after and capture or kill those people who are trying to kill Americans. That’s not a pleasant business. It’s a very serious business.” There’s no daylight between that view and current policy, but Mr. Obama isn’t likened to a Sith Lord.
Mr. Obama has talked the talk too. “We will kill bin Laden,” he vowed in an Oct. 8, 2008 debate. “We will crush al Qaeda, that has to be our biggest national security priority.” However, when he took office, concerns grew that he was soft on terrorism. Mr. Obama promised to close the terrorist detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay and ended the use of enhanced interrogation techniques that he declared to be torture. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. loosed a prosecutor on the CIA, and the specter arose of show trials of Bush administration officials for alleged “war crimes.” Mr. Obama meanwhile undertook a high-profile, obsequious outreach to Islam.
Most White House grandstanding has ground to a halt. Mr. Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo in one year was aborted after two, and investigations against the CIA were dropped quietly.
Mr. Obama has continued many policies he inherited from President Bush, especially by expanding and deepening the anti-terrorist drone activity that took off in August 2008. The Obama administration won’t discuss ongoing renditions or holding secret detainees in foreign countries, but our special operations forces and covert operatives are still very active. Most extraordinarily, Mr. Obama has gone beyond the Bush administration in claiming the right to engage in extrajudicial assassination of American citizens abroad and has made new claims of immunity to keep any of this from coming before federal courts.
Whether Mr. Obama will keep America safe remains to be seen. His administration’s persistent blind spot for jihad is troubling. Incidents such as the Fort Hood massacre, the Christmas Day 2009 underwear bombing and the attempted May 2010 Times Square bombing (the latter two of which failed only because of terrorist incompetence) demonstrate that al Qaeda can still reach out and touch the United States. Luck won’t always protect us.
This president has leeway to be stronger. Anti-war extremists haven’t mounted the intense attacks on Mr. Obama that they targeted against his predecessor - and liberals hardly can call the first black president a war criminal. That frees Mr. Obama to continue to embrace his inner George W.