Cheney vs. Obama... and Cheney Wins

(On May 21, former vice president Dick Cheney and president Barack Obama gave separate speeches on national security, Cheney before the American Enterprise Institute and Obama at the National Archives. Below are excerpts comparing the two speeches, with comments.)


Cheney: Being the first vice president who had also served as secretary of defense, naturally my duties tended toward national security. I focused on those challenges day to day, mostly free from the usual political distractions. I had the advantage of being a vice president content with the responsibilities I had, and going about my work with no higher ambition. Obama: Already, we’ve taken several steps to achieve that goal.  For the first time since 2002, we’re providing the necessary resources and strategic direction to take the fight to the extremists who attacked us on 9/11 in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We’re investing in the 21st century military and intelligence capabilities that will allow us to stay one step ahead of a nimble enemy.  We have re-energized a global non-proliferation regime to deny the world’s most dangerous people access to the world’s deadliest weapons.  And we’ve launched an effort to secure all loose nuclear materials within four years.  We’re better protecting our border, and increasing our preparedness for any future attack or natural disaster. Comment: Notice Obama says “we”. What he really is talking about are conservatives like Dick Cheney who have served for decades to protect our nation.


Cheney: To make certain our nation country never again faced such a day of horror, we developed a comprehensive strategy, beginning with far greater homeland security to make the United States a harder target. But since wars cannot be won on the defensive, we moved decisively against the terrorists in their hideouts and sanctuaries, and committed to using every asset to take down their networks. Obama: But I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values.  The documents that we hold in this very hall — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights — these are not simply words written into aging parchment.  They are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality, and dignity around the world. Comment: Obama and his left-wing allies are always hiding behind the Constitution to weaken the nation, yet it is a document that they personally disdain and seek to undermine at every turn. To them, the Constitution is completely flexible… except when dealing with threats to our nation from without or from within. Then it is rigid and unquestionable. Free speech, open trials and constitutional rights for terrrorists.


Cheney: Everyone expected a follow-on attack, and our job was to stop it. We didn’t know what was coming next, but everything we did know in that autumn of 2001 looked bad. This was the world in which al-Qaeda was seeking nuclear technology, and A. Q. Khan was selling nuclear technology on the black market. We had the anthrax attack from an unknown source. We had the training camps of Afghanistan, and dictators like Saddam Hussein with known ties to Mideast terrorists. Obama: But I also believe that all too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight; that all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.  Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, too often we set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford.  And during this season of fear, too many of us — Democrats and Republicans, politicians, journalists, and citizens — fell silent. Comment: Hindsight is so very, very clear and convenient to a demagogue like Obama. Nobody knew after 9/11 what could happen. Fear was damned well founded.

Cheney: In top secret meetings about enhanced interrogations, I made my own beliefs clear. I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do. The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people. Obama: It’s the reason why enemy soldiers have surrendered to us in battle, knowing they’d receive better treatment from America’s Armed Forces than from their own government. It’s the reason why America has benefited from strong alliances that amplified our power, and drawn a sharp, moral contrast with our adversaries. It’s the reason why we’ve been able to overpower the iron fist of fascism and outlast the iron curtain of communism, and enlist free nations and free peoples everywhere in the common cause and common effort of liberty. Comment: If we are so wonderful, as Obama says, why has Obama’s Democrat party made political hay for decades by saying that America is the evil entity in the world?


Cheney: Our government prevented attacks and saved lives through the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which let us intercept calls and track contacts between al-Qaeda operatives and persons inside the United States. The program was top secret, and for good reason, until the editors of the New York Times got it and put it on the front page. After 9/11, the Times had spent months publishing the pictures and the stories of everyone killed by al-Qaeda on 9/11. Now here was that same newspaper publishing secrets in a way that could only help al-Qaeda. It impressed the Pulitzer committee, but it damn sure didn’t serve the interests of our country, or the safety of our people. Obama: Now, I should add, the arguments against these techniques did not originate from my administration.  As Senator McCain once said, torture “serves as a great propaganda tool for those who recruit people to fight against us.” Comment: Two things serve as infinitely more powerful recruitment tools for terrorists: 1) Obama’s New York Times allies telling terrorists about all of our techniques for fighting terrorism. 2) Successful attacks against the United States, which haven’t happened since Bush/Cheney made sure they did not.


Cheney: Releasing the interrogation memos was flatly contrary to the national security interest of the United States. The harm done only begins with top secret information now in the hands of the terrorists, who have just received a lengthy insert for their training manual. Across the world, governments that have helped us capture terrorists will fear that sensitive joint operations will be compromised. And at the CIA, operatives are left to wonder if they can depend on the White House or Congress to back them up when the going gets tough. Obama: And we will be ill-served by some of the fear-mongering that emerges whenever we discuss this issue.  Listening to the recent debate, I’ve heard words that, frankly, are calculated to scare people rather than educate them; words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country. Comment: You, Mr. President, have instigated fear and division at home and abroad by telling everything to the world, and making us more afraid of how the terrorists and the international community will use that propaganda against us.


Cheney: As a practical matter, too, terrorists may lack much, but they have never lacked for grievances against the United States. Our belief in freedom of speech and religion, our belief in equal rights for women, our support for Israel, our cultural and political influence in the world–these are the true sources of resentment, all mixed in with the lies and conspiracy theories of the radical clerics. These recruitment tools were in vigorous use throughout the 1990s, and they were sufficient to motivate the nineteen recruits who boarded those planes on September 11, 2001. Obama: Now, several weeks ago, as part of an ongoing court case, I released memos issued by the previous administration’s Office of Legal Counsel.  I did not do this because I disagreed with the enhanced interrogation techniques that those memos authorized, and I didn’t release the documents because I rejected their legal rationales — although I do on both counts.  I released the memos because the existence of that approach to interrogation was already widely known, the Bush administration had acknowledged its existence, and I had already banned those methods. Comment: Add to terrorists’ list of grievances an interrogation method that Obama’s left-wing friends are labeling ‘torture’ in order to give the terrorists another grievance against America. Waterboarding three terrorists has been made the biggest issue of our time. This tiny issue is being used to misdirect us away from our infinitely more serious national security interests.


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