After days of essentially unanswered Republican political attacks against the Obama administration, finally, today, we got the big kahuna. The white whale of Republican politics, former Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney, involved in this.
After five days of Republicans owning the airwaves on this issue, doubling and then tripling down on politicizing this thwarted terrorist attack, with almost no opposition from the Democrats, the maestro of terror politics, Mr. Cheney, gave a statement to Politico.com today. Not decrying the terrorist incident itself, but instead using that attack as an opportunity to bash the president, to accuse the president of not keeping America safe.
Now, as is often the case in politics, when attacks from one side go unanswered for a long time, when one side gets the platform all to themselves, that side can sometimes get over-exuberant. They can overplay their hand. Republicans, left to their own devices, have in this case excitedly launched a series of obviously baseless, factually incorrect, demonstrably untrue and hypocritical attacks.
Dick Cheney`s comments today probably the worst among them. He said, quote, "He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won`t be at war."
Remember Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber"? Richard Reid was arrested December 2001, when a man named Dick Cheney was vice president. The Bush Justice Department let him, as they say, "lawyer up," and Mr. Reid later pled guilty in federal court.
Remember 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui? Same deal. Given American rights, tried in the federal courts and convicted, all while a man named Dick Cheney was vice president.
What President Obama is doing right now with this case is the same thing that was done with the same type of cases while Dick Cheney was vice president. But Dick Cheney isn`t letting anything like that hold him back, saying, quote, "Why doesn`t he want to admit we`re at war? President Obama`s first object and his highest responsibility must be to defend us against an enemy that knows we are at war."
According to Dick Cheney, see, this has to be seen as a military issue. This has to be seen as a war. This can`t be seen as law enforcement. This is something -- according to Dick Cheney -- this is something that you handle with the Department of Defense, right? Like Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld did.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, do you have any insights you can share with us about Richard Reid, the American Airlines shoe bomber?Where was Dick Cheney and his outrage when his administration was treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue?
DONALD RUMSFELD, THEN-U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: That`s a matter that`s in the hands of the law enforcement people and not the Department of Defense.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Nothing you can share?
RUMSFELD: And I don`t have anything I would want to add.
But, wait, there`s more. Quote, "He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won`t be at war."
Like, for example, do you mean the Guantanamo prisoners your administration released to go to Saudi Arabia to be put in art therapy? The guys who then became leaders of the al Qaeda chapter in Yemen that is reportedly behind the plot to blow up that flight on Christmas Day? Did Mr. Cheney think that we weren`t at war when that decision was made by his administration? Where was his outrage over his own decision then?
We`re hearing over and over and over again from Republicans how President Obama waited too long to comment on the Christmas bombing.
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Disappointed it`s taken the president 72 hours to even address this issue.Seventy-two hours. How could President Obama possibly wait so long to comment?
REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R), MICHIGAN: The president has decided to stay silent for 72 hours. That -- he needs to explain that.
KARL ROVE, FMR. BUSH WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR: It`s over 72 hours from the time from the incident until the time the president spoke today.
For the record, after the Richard Reid shoe bombing incident in 2001, President Bush was not seen or heard from for six days. Count `em, six days.
Like President Obama, Mr. Bush was on vacation at the time of that incident. He apparently did not see fit to comment on the situation until almost a full week after it happened.
GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: The shoe bomber was a case in point where the country has been on alert. I`m grateful for the flight attendant`s response, as I`m sure the passengers on that airplane, but we`ve got to be aware that there are still enemies to the country. And our government is responding accordingly.Where was the Republican criticism of President Bush back then, for taking so long to make those comments? Perhaps President Bush dodged criticism on matters of terrorism, because of the language he used to talk about the war on terror. Remember, smoke `em out of their caves, bring `em on. That was the type of language that President Bush chose to use when talking about terrorism.
Mr. Obama does it differently. He has a distinctly non-cowboy rhetorical approach to this issue. And that is one of the things that`s also most rankling Republicans right now.
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The important thing now, Harry, is that the president has downplayed the threat of terrorists since he took office. He doesn`t even use the word anymore.He doesn`t even use the word anymore. That is true, only in Jim DeMint`s mind.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Terror and extremism that threatens the world`s stability. Extremists sowing terror in pockets of the world. Suffering and civil wars that breed instability and terror. New acts of terror.He never says the word "terror."
Why let a 30-second Google search get in the way of your good sound bite, Senator?
But, you know, Senator DeMint is doing the country a service here -- at least by clarifying things, by getting at the core of the conservative attack on President Obama. It was the whole point of Dick Cheney`s opportunistic statement today. The whole point was that President Obama ought to talk more about war.
Vice President Cheney said, quote, "He seems to think if he gets rid of the words "war on terror," we won`t be at war. Why doesn`t he want to admit we`re at war?"
Keep in mind -- this is coming from the former vice president of the administration whose record of talking about war includes dandies like these.
BUSH: Thanks to the United States and our fine allies. Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terror. The Taliban is history. And the Afghan people are free!You know, talking about war incessantly, beating your chest about it, acting like a cowboy, making premature declarations of victory over and over and over again might feel good, but those things don`t actually translate into effectively waging war, Mr. Chatty Cathy former vice president.
Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.
DICK CHENEY, THEN-U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I think they`re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.
For the most part, Democrats are letting these charges from Dick Cheney and the rest of the Republicans go unanswered, even though these are charges that collapse very quickly in the face of even rudimentary fact- checking.
But even if you step back from the specific, ridiculous claims that they are making, consider what Republicans are trying to do here. Republicans apparently think they can survive the fact-checking problems they will have here if anybody ever decides to look into these things they`re saying. They think they can survive the fact-checking because they imagine they have this transcendent credibility on national security matters. A credibility on national security that, what, transcends the facts of their record?
The Bush/Cheney administration created the terror watch list system that theoretically should have flagged the Christmas bomber this past Friday. As has been noted, this is a list that has more than 500,000 names on it. That`s handy.
It`s a list that`s full of so much noise, so much useless, incoherent junk that random people like the late Senator Ted Kennedy and the former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens` wife would get hassled at airports all the time because of their position on the list, even though that list could not function properly to keep actual terrorists off of actual planes.
That`s their list. It hasn`t been changed since then. Maybe the problem is that we haven`t cleaned up after the Bush/Cheney administration fast enough.
The Bush-Cheney administration is, inconveniently enough, also on whose watch 9/11 happened -- unless, of course, you ask them about that.
DANA PERINO, FMR. BUSH PRESS SECRETARY: You know, we did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush`s term.Yes, remember how no terrorist attacks happened when Bush and Cheney were in office? Remember when the nation inherited 9/11 from that incompetent Democratic administration that was in place in September in 2001 -- in the Bush administration`s own minds?
MARY MATALIN, FMR. BUSH ASSISTANT: I was there. We inherited a recession from President Clinton and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation`s history.
The rallying cry now from Republicans is that we shouldn`t try the Christmas bomber in civilian court -- that, instead, he should be tried in a military tribunal, declared an enemy combatant. I mean, what`s the value of a military tribunal here, other than trying to make political hay out of this case? Really, what`s the justice, anti-terrorist, counterterrorist value on this?
You really think this kid can`t be convicted? You really think we don`t have enough evidence beyond the -- beyond the, I don`t know, 300 or so eyewitnesses who were on the plane? The fact that we have the weapon that he tried to use? The fact that he confessed? You think that`s not enough to get this kid convicted?
You have that little faith in our criminal justice system? That little faith in the rule of law? You don`t believe that a supermax federal American prison is capable of holding this kid? You think it might be cool, instead, to martyr this kid as some impressive soldier, instead of some idiot confused rich kid who couldn`t even handle blowing up his own junk with a bomb that was secreted in his own underpants?
We`re supposed to take national security advice from you guys? Really?
Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra is still the captain of the team on this one, now raising money off of a terrorist attack on Americans, the attempted murder of 300 Americans -- politicizing this issue by soliciting campaign donations for his run for governor of Michigan on the occasion of this terrorist attack.
We contacted Pete Hoekstra`s campaign today. They told us, we should expect to see more of this type of exploitive solicitation from them. They told us that Congressman Hoekstra himself personally signed of on the "using a terrorist attack on Americans to raise money" effort, proudly saying they think they`ve gotten a significant spike in donations as a result of it. Though it`s too early to tell, fingers crossed, maybe something else horrible will happen.
This is the Republican response to this terrorist attack at the end of 2009.
Again, my friends and colleagues in the media have two choices in covering this. You can just copy down what the Republicans and Vice President Cheney are saying, and click "send," call it journalism, or you can actually fact-check those comments and put them into context. Your choice. It`s your country.