Musing on the GOP's recent efforts to provide unhinged fearmongering in the War on Terror, Spencer Ackerman took a look at the players in the game and wryly asked: "who really are the next GOP foreign-policy and national security voices? We're seeing the scrubs suiting up." This was a pretty apt observation, given that the leading voices for the past few months have been nobodies like Kit Bond, Pete Hoekstra, and Susan Collins.
But this weekend, on ABC's This Week, former Vice President Dick Cheney returns, yanked from retirement like a creaky, neo-con Bret Favre, hoping to dazzle the media with his grizzle before throwing a few wobbly balls downfield.
The big question: will ABC News be the organization to rightly put Cheney's pants on the ground? If things run true to form -- by which I mean, if they resemble the fawning, gaga-eyed approval of Politico -- it's likely to be an uncritical affair. But if it were me in the interviewer's seat, here are the defensive fronts I'd show Cheney, in the form of twelve questions that are just too good to ever be asked.
1. Back in December, when you were asked by Politico if you thought "the Bush administration bears any responsibility for the disintegration of Afghanistan because of the attention and resources that were diverted to Iraq," your answer was, "I basically don't." Because no journalism was happening at the time, you were permitted to not elaborate. But I'm going to ask you to attempt to elaborate.
Here's why. In October of 2009, the National Security Network said:
In one of the most bizarre attacks on President Obama yet, Cheney, as well as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), accused the President of "dithering" on Afghanistan. These attacks are coming from a Vice President whose own Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff admitted that Afghanistan got short shrift - "In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must," while the Government Accountability Office concluded that the Bush administration had "no strategy" to deal with the al-Qaeda and Taliban safe-haven along the Afghan border. The idea that Cheney, under whose leadership Afghanistan spiraled downward on almost every security, economic, and development indicator, would criticize Obama for cleaning up his mess, demonstrates his continued disdain for the facts and a willful revisionism of the Bush administration's involvement in Afghanistan.
They pointed out that your own Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, said, "Well, I will tell you, I think that the strategy that the President put forward in late March is the first real strategy we have had for Afghanistan since the early 1980s. And that strategy was more about the Soviet Union than it was about Afghanistan... every - we were - we were too stretched to do more. And I think we did not have the kind of comprehensive strategy that we have now."
2. Also, dithering? Really?
In April 2008, two months before he assumed command in Kabul, McKiernan traveled to Afghanistan for a get-acquainted visit. Within days, he concluded that there were not enough troops to contend with the intensifying Taliban insurge ncy.
At the time, the United States had about 33,000 military personnel in the country, about a third of them assigned to combat operations. The rest were in supporting roles. About 30,000 were from the other 42 nations in the NATO-led force, but many had been deployed with onerous rules that prevented their involvement in counterinsurgency activities.
Even more worrisome was a lack of other resources needed to win a war: helicopters, transport aircraft, surveillance drones, interpreters, intelligence analysts. Troops in Afghanistan had a fraction of what they required.
"There was a saying when I got there: If you're in Iraq and you need something, you ask for it," McKiernan said in his first interview since being fired. "If you're in Afghanistan and you need it, you figure out how to do without it."
By late last summer, he decided to tell George W. Bush's White House what he knew it did not want to hear: He needed 30,000 more troops. He wanted to send some to the country's east to bolster other U.S. forces, and some to the south to assist overwhelmed British and Canadian units in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
The Bush administration opted not to act on McKiernan's request and instead set out to persuade NATO allies to contribute more troops.
3. Months into the Obama presidency, counter-terror efforts were stepped up. Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Meshud was killed in an airstrike early on, removing a target that was never much of a priority to your administration, to the consternation of Pakistan. The subsequent elimination of numerous other "high-value targets" followed. Analysts credit the drawdown from the Iraq War as the chief means by which these strategic successes were attained. Doesn't this further success that the Iraq War was a strategic impediment in the War on Terror? And does this not constitute "keeping America safe," or do you agree with the premise that we are not torturing enough people?
4. The Obama administration has made a concerted effort to reach out to Islamic allies to prosecute the war on terror. Pakistan responded to the Mehsud strike by increasing the amount of intel sharing. They were quick to gain stepped-up cooperation from Yemen this year, to the extent that even Senator Lindsay Graham praised the administration for "pushing the envelope" in Yemen. For their part, Yemeni Ambassador Abdullah al-Saidi credited Obama's speech in Cairo as being a pathbreaking event that led to further cooperation.
But all of this required a "toning down" of rhetoric between the United States and allies. Do you regret not having done more to achieve these diplomatic gains and their subsequent strategic successes?
5. You consistently supported trying Zacarias Moussaoui in Federal Court, based upon the quality of the case against Moussaoui, and your opinion that national security would not be imperiled in that setting. So, surely you have no objection with the same process in the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, right?
6. And while we're on the subject, just because I've heard so many people hilariously attempt to make some sort of grand distinction between Richard Reid and Abdulmutallab, I figured I'd give you a shot, too.
7. Just to clarify: it took the Bush White House six days to brief the nation on Richard Reid, right?
8. You've spent a considerable amount of time since leaving office making media appearances, defending the policies of your administration, and celebrating their efficacy. Why didn't you do more of that when your policies were in play, to build the case for them? And how do you respond to the criticism that since leaving office, you've seemed to want to take credit for "keeping America safe," without having to assume any of the responsibility for the means by which this supposed safety was obtained?
9. In a December 2009 chat with a tape recorder owned by Politico, you intimated that President Barack Obama was "trying to pretend we are not at war." You went on to say:
"As I've watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won't be at war. 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. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of Sept. 11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won't be at war.
"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. He seems to think if he gets rid of the words, 'war on terror,' we won't be at war. But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren't, it makes us less safe. Why doesn't he want to admit we're at war? It doesn't fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn't fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency -- social transformation -- the restructuring of American society. President Obama's first object and his highest responsibility must be to defend us against an enemy that knows we are at war."
Of course, at the time, you couldn't have known about how successful the Abdulmutallab interrogation would turn out to be. But this was all some time after Obama had actually escalated the counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan, and, as noted already, the administration had stepped up the number of drone attacks in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. So, I have to ask, was it your intention to come off like an idiot, in that interview?
10. For a long time you've been really angry that Scooter Libby didn't receive a pardon. But Scooter had his sentence commuted. He walks the earth a free man. His cronies got him a multi-million dollar legal defense fund and a perch at the Hudson Institute. He's going to be filthy rich for the rest of his life, and want for nothing. Isn't it time you just let go of this grievance, since it's basically impossible to take seriously?
11. In a speech you gave in May of 2009, you insisted that our use of torture "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people." Given that, you sort of have to tolerate the fact that our enemies are going to see the potential of torturing American troops as a means of self-preservation, correct?
12. Finally, since it's the four year anniversary of the incident, I figured I should ask, how is Harry Whittington's face holding up?