- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009


An extraordinary scene played out Thursday with what amounted to a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate between a popular sitting president and an unpopular former vice president. The former veep won, hands down.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s speech at the American Enterprise Institute had been scheduled for weeks before President Obama quite obviously tried to drown out Mr. Cheney by speaking on the same topic beginning exactly two minutes before Mr. Cheney was scheduled to take the AEI podium. In his 50-minute jeremiad, Mr. Obama repeatedly took nasty shots at Mr. Cheney and the administration he served, questioning not just the preceding administration’s judgment, but also its motives and integrity.

Against Mr. Obama’s insults, rhetoric and studied poses at his teleprompter, the former vice president answered with forceful words married to an understated tone of utter seriousness, with no electronic aids.

Mr. Obama accused the Bush administration of jettisoning the principles of the Constitution “for expedience sake.” He accused his critics of “political posturing.” And he said that “our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, we too often set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford.”

Mr. Cheney responded that neither values nor the law had been set aside. He said that carefully selected CIA agents had been “especially prepared to apply techniques within the boundaries of their training and the limits of the law. Torture was never permitted, and the methods were given careful, legal review before they were approved. Interrogators had authoritative guidance on the line between toughness and torture, and they knew to stay on the right side of it.”

Those interrogations, Mr. Cheney said, “prevented the violent death of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.” The former vice president complained, rightly, that memos about the interrogations that Mr. Obama released provided “less than half the truth” because they were “carefully redacted to leave out references to … specific terrorist plots that were averted.” Yet: “For reasons the administration has yet to explain, they believe the public has a right to know the methods of the questions, but not the content of the answers.”

The chattering classes have been blasting Mr. Cheney for weeks for speaking out so forcefully on these issues on behalf of positions the chatterers say are deeply unpopular. However, they can’t accuse him of self-serving ambition. As he noted, he spoke “as a private citizen - a career in politics behind me, no elections to win or lose, and no favor to seek.”

The remarkable sight of such a harshly criticized former leader standing so unbowed brings to mind some words from poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Mr. Cheney is exhibiting “some sense of duty, something of a faith, some reverence for the laws ourselves have made … some civic manhood firm against the crowd.”

The crowd ought to heed Mr. Cheney and rally behind him. By defending our intelligence officers, he defended America.

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