Dick Cheney's recent and ongoing media blitz has been defined not just by the fervor with which he has defended his approach to national security affairs but also the extent to which he is willing to pin blame on others.
On Monday, the former vice president took to the National Press Club to discuss, once more, the policies he helped push and oversee while in office. Insisting that the Bush White House did everything it could to keep the American public safe, he placed responsibility for their most glaring failure on the counter-terrorism czar.
"Richard Clarke was the head of the counter-terrorism program in the run up to 9/11," Cheney declared. "He obviously missed it."
It was about as harsh an attack as the former vice president could muster -- blaming the death of 3,000 Americans on a single person. It is also deeply debatable. There is, of course, the August memo, handed to the president, which declared that al Qaeda was determined to attack the United States. Clarke himself wrote in his book that in the run-up to 9/11 he expressed deep concern over such an attack, but to no avail.
Reminded of this, Cheney replied, "That is not my recollection. But I haven't read his book."
There was the slightest of laughs from the audience.
It was not the only time Cheney threw a former colleague under the bus. Earlier in the event, the former vice president argued that the administration's suggestion of an operational link between al-Qaeda and Iraq was not driven by a neo-conservative fantasy, but by the CIA chief at the time.
"The prime source of information on the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda was George Tenet, who was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and who testified, if you go back check the record, in the fall of '02 before the Senate Intelligence Committee in open session that there was a relationship, a collaborative relationship, an operational relationship," said Cheney, "that there was a relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq that stretched back ten years. That is not something I made up, that is not something I thought of. That is what the director of central intelligence was telling us."
Cheney and others in the Bush administration have accused the former CIA director of producing the war's faulty rationales before. But by Tenet's own account, Cheney was running with intelligence that everyone knew to be far from concrete. Most contemporary reporting, moreover, suggests that it was the vice president's office who was applying pressure on the CIA to find a tie between al-Qaeda and Iraq.
In the end, the press club performance, like those that preceded it, showed Cheney at his most defensive and combative. There were, by his estimation, few if any mistakes made under his watch. And if there were mistakes, they were the responsibility of others. As for the current debate over the efficacy his national security policies, the critics, Cheney reasons, are either forgetful or ungrateful for the security with which they live.
"I don't have much tolerance or patience for those who suggest now with the benefit of hindsight eight years later, who have forgotten what in fact happened on 9/11," Cheney said. "It was the right thing to do. The threat is still out there."
Clarke did not return a request for comment.
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