The ongoing spat between the Obama White House and former vice president Dick Cheney has, to a large extent, marginalized the one other figure with serious chips in the current national security debate. George W. Bush has faded into private life with only the rare public utterance. And by ceding the task of defense to the second in command, it's become more and more apparent that, towards the end of the previous administration, Bush and Cheney did not see eye to eye on these matters.
In an interview with C-SPAN that will air in entirety at 10.a.m. Saturday, President Barack Obama acknowledged having had conversations with Bush since leaving office, though he insisted on abiding by "a general policy of keeping confidence with your predecessor."
More telling was that later in the segment Obama offered the slightest bit of rationalization for the past administration's national security policies. And, more to the point, he made note that there were two distinct threads of thought that personified the Bush administration's approach to holding and trying detainees.
"I think there was a period of time, right after 9/11, understandably because people were fearful, where I think we cut too many corners and made some decisions that were contrary to who we are as a people," Obama told C-SPAN. "I think there were adjustments that were made even within the Bush administration to try and deal with some of those mistakes. There are still consequences though to some of those earlier poor decisions and I think Guantanamo was one of them."
The extent of Obama's relationship to Bush is one of those intriguing and mysterious subplots to the current debate with Cheney. For starters, the former president has given his successor the freedom and time to craft his own policy without criticism. And the relationship has been mutually beneficial. The Obama White House has praised Bush for his assistance during the transition.
As the president begins crafting his approach to detainee policy, the ability to illuminate the frictions of the past White House and make Bush seem a sympathetic figure could prove politically beneficial. Obama may be inching closer to his predecessor's position -- Bush after all, called for the closing of Gitmo late in his administration -- but he is nowhere close to approaching Cheney.