- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2011

President Obama may face a challenger from within his own party next year if his latest jobs plan unveiled Thursday evening fails to jump-start the American economy, former Vice President Dick Cheney predicted.

In an interview broadcast Friday on The Washington Times-affiliated “America’s Morning News” radio program, Mr. Cheney said Mr. Obama “needs to be successful in turning things around or he could conceivably be challenged in his own party.”

Mr. Cheney, who is making the media rounds promoting his just-published book, “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,” refused to back down from suggestions he had made earlier in the week that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is one Democrat who could create problems for Mr. Obama.

“I think Sen. Clinton is a formidable public official. I think she is one of the more capable members of the current Cabinet. I suggested the other day, with a smile, that we Republicans would welcome a challenge by Sen. Clinton or Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries. I don’t know whether it will happen or not, but the president I think is in deep trouble,” he said.

The former vice president said he was trying to stay out of the hotly-contested GOP presidential race, where Texas Gov. Rick Perry has jumped out to a lead in national polls. But he did acknowledge some friction between his old boss, George W. Bush, and his Texas successor.

“It’s a situation where there are relationship issues there and I can’t begin to speak for the Bush camp in that regard. I just don’t know all the details,” he said. “I don’t know all of the history and background to the Bush-Perry relationship. … Obviously, it goes back to Texas politics.”

In a wide-ranging interview, the 70-year-old former Wyoming congressman recalled his time in office, shared his concerns for the country’s future, and, as always, staunchly defended the Bush record.

Americans, he said, don’t believe the Obama administration contention that Mr. Bush is to blame for the country’s ongoing economic slump.

“After three years, people understand that whatever the circumstances are out there, Barack Obama’s the man who’s got the responsibility to try to get it fixed. It’s on his watch,” Mr. Cheney said. “He’s had three years nearly in office, he’s got another year on his term and I think people will hold him accountable.”

Mr. Cheney, the Bush administration’s most outspoken defender since leaving office in 2009, said he feels vindicated by Mr. Obama’s decision to backtrack on campaign promises to close the terrorist detainee camp at Guantanamo, Cuba.

“On things like Guantanamo, after trying very hard to close it, he’s had to back off,” Mr. Cheney said. “Guantanamo is there, we need it, it’s a good facility, it’s been very well maintained. It provides a much better standard of living for the prisoners there than would prisons back in their own home countries. So there’s no question, Guantanamo is needed at this stage. You have to have some place to hold people like Kalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is after all the mastermind of 9/11.”

He said it was Attorney Gen. Eric Holder’s plans for prosecuting intelligence officers involved in implementing the Bush administration’s post-9/11 war on terror that convinced him he had to speak out against the Obama administration’s handling of national security.

“It made me, frankly, very angry. I had not planned to spend a lot of time speaking out after I left office. I thought there are a lot of other people out there younger than I am who could get involved in that effort,” he said.

“But when they started talking about prosecuting the intelligence professionals — the folks who carried out our policies in the counter-terrorism area that had been signed off on by the president and authorized by the Justice Department — when they were going to investigate and potentially prosecute those folks, I thought that was just a travesty.

“I thought it was a terrible precedent to set, to say to people who put their lives on the line for the country and take on very difficult assignments in the intelligence arena that after the next election they could in fact find themselves prosecuted for carrying out the policies that the [Bush] administration … had to ask them to undertake on behalf of the country,” he said.

Mr. Cheney credited new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for turning around the White House.

“As best I can tell, the administration now has backed off that pledge to prosecute those folks. That’s a place where they appear to have reversed course. I think people like Leon Panetta — who’s a good man — I think he had a hand in helping pursuede them they were headed down the wrong road when they were talking about prosecuting our own people who had kept us safer.”

In his book, Mr. Cheney recalls pivotal moments during the Bush presidency, including the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when, after conferring with the president, he gave orders to the Air Force to shoot down any remaining hijacked airliners.

“We both were in agreement that once an airliner had been hijacked, it was in effect a weapon and we’d seen by then the World Trade Center had been hit twice, and that thousands of Americans were dying. And that we would do everything we could to intercept those aircraft before they could do any further damage. It was the kind of decision we didn’t agonize over, we made it quickly and passed it on to the appropriate Air Force personnel.”

He also remembered visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 2003, the morning the Iraq War was launched.

“It was a very special moment because later on that day we … had a lot of young Americans who were going to put their lives on the line for the country. I wanted to go to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial because it was a reminder of how enormously important the civilian decisions were in terms of how we conducted that conflict. And the Vietnam Memorial obviously, the 50,000 Americans who died in southeast Asia. I didn’t want to forget them.”

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