Cheney says U.S. "has never lost its moral bearings"

The former vice president lashes out again, and chooses a particularly anti-Obama forum for his speech

Published October 22, 2009 12:40AM (EDT)

Former Vice President Dick Cheney got an award Wednesday night, the Center for Security Policy's "Keeper of the Flame Award." As you might expect of Cheney, he didn't use the occasion to bask -- instead, he went on the warpath, attacking his liberal critics generally and the Obama administration specifically.

It was, to say the least, an interesting venue for that kind of speech. Admittedly, the award has been given to plenty of other prominent figures, from former President Ronald Reagan to James Jones, who's now President Obama's national security advisor, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. and Donald Rumsfeld. (Of that last man, Cheney said Wednesday, "truth be told, any award once conferred on Donald Rumsfeld carries extra luster, and I am very proud to see my name added to such a distinguished list.")

But the Center for Security Policy was founded by Frank Gaffney, who remains the organization's president. And in recent months, Gaffney has been an even harsher critic of Obama's than Cheney himself -- and a much more extreme one.

Just this past June, Gaffney wrote an op-ed for the Washington Times that was headlined, "America's First Muslim president?" He didn't really seem to mean it as a question, either, saying:

During his White House years, William Jefferson Clinton -- someone Judge Sonia Sotomayor might call a "white male" -- was dubbed "America's first black president" by a black admirer. Applying the standard of identity politics and pandering to a special interest that earned Mr. Clinton that distinction, Barack Hussein Obama would have to be considered America's first Muslim president ...

After his five months in office, and most especially after his just-concluded visit to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, however, a stunning conclusion seems increasingly plausible: The man now happy to have his Islamic-rooted middle name featured prominently has engaged in the most consequential bait-and-switch since Adolf Hitler duped Neville Chamberlain over Czechoslovakia at Munich ...

[T]here is mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one himself .... In the final analysis, it may be beside the point whether Mr. Obama actually is a Muslim. In the speech and elsewhere, he has aligned himself with adherents to what authoritative Islam calls Shariah -- notably, the dangerous global movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood -- to a degree that makes Mr. Clinton's fabled affinity for blacks pale by comparison.

Before that, back in April, Gaffney was saying, during an appearance on MSNBC, that Obama had been signaling to the world's Muslims that the U.S. would submit to Sharia law. And in an October 2008 column for the Times, Gaffney aligned himself with the Birthers, writing, "Another question yet to be resolved is whether Mr. Obama is a natural born citizen of the United States, a prerequisite pursuant to the U.S. Constitution. There is evidence Mr. Obama was born in Kenya rather than, as he claims, Hawaii .... Curiously, Mr. Obama has, to date, failed to provide an authentic birth certificate which could clear up the matter."

As for Cheney's speech, it struck predictable chords. According to the prepared text as provided to the Weekly Standard, the former vice president called the Obama administration's decision to scrap missile defense in Eastern Europe "a strategic blunder and a breach of good faith," slammed the administration's positions on Iran and Iraq, said of Afghanistan that the White House is "dithering while America's armed forces are in danger" and defended the Bush administration's anti-terror policies.

An excerpt from that last section of Cheney's remarks is below.

Our administration always faced its share of criticism, and from some quarters it was always intense. That was especially so in the later years of our term, when the dangers were as serious as ever, but the sense of general alarm after 9/11 was a fading memory .... Eight years into the effort, one thing we know is that the enemy has spent most of this time on the defensive -- and every attempt to strike inside the United States has failed. So you would think that our successors would be going to the intelligence community saying, “How did you did you do it? What were the keys to preventing another attack over that period of time?”

Instead, they’ve chosen a different path entirely -- giving in to the angry left, slandering people who did a hard job well, and demagoguing an issue more serious than any other they’ll face in these four years. No one knows just where that path will lead, but I can promise you this: There will always be plenty of us willing to stand up for the policies and the people that have kept this country safe.

On the political left, it will still be asserted that tough interrogations did no good, because this is an article of faith for them, and actual evidence is unwelcome and disregarded. President Obama himself has ruled these methods out, and when he last addressed the subject he filled the air with vague and useless platitudes. His preferred device is to suggest that we could have gotten the same information by other means. We’re invited to think so. But this ignores the hard, inconvenient truth that we did try other means and techniques to elicit information from Khalid Sheikh Muhammed and other al-Qaeda operatives, only turning to enhanced techniques when we failed to produce the actionable intelligence we knew they were withholding. In fact, our intelligence professionals, in urgent circumstances with the highest of stakes, obtained specific information, prevented specific attacks, and saved American lives.

In short, to call enhanced interrogation a program of torture is not only to disregard the program’s legal underpinnings and safeguards. Such accusations are a libel against dedicated professionals who acted honorably and well, in our country’s name and in our country’s cause. What’s more, to completely rule out enhanced interrogation in the future, in favor of half-measures, is unwise in the extreme. In the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed.

For all that we’ve lost in this conflict, the United States has never lost its moral bearings – and least of all can that be said of our armed forces and intelligence personnel. They have done right, they have made our country safer, and a lot of Americans are alive today because of them.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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