The Difference Between Obama And Cheney

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President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney delivered major addresses on national security this week, practically simultaneously. What were the messages they were signaling? NPR's Scott Simon and NPR News Analyst Juan Williams contrast Obama and Cheney's speeches.


President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney delivered major addresses on national security this week, practically simultaneously. Our friend NPR News analyst Juan Williams joins us now from member station WLRN in Miami. Morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And what were the overall messages, the headline, if you please, these days the Twitter message, that both President Obama and Mr. Cheney wanted to get across?

WILLIAMS: Well, here goes: I think President Obama could be summed up as saying that the U.S. can be safe and maintain its legal and moral principles as it deals with terrorists, both those who have been detained and those who continue to pose a threat, Scott.

And as for Vice President Cheney, I think his message could be in sum as saying that the U.S. is more vulnerable to attack because of President Obama's decisions in dealing with terrorists, specifically the reversals on Bush-era decisions, by pledging to close Guantanamo Bay and releasing memos that detailed enhanced interrogations, some say torture techniques, used against the detainees.

SIMON: We've got a couple of clips - one from each gentleman - that we can play. Why don't we go with the president first, of course.

President BARACK OBAMA: I believe that many of these decisions were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people. But I also believe that all too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight.

WILLIAMS: And I think, Scott, he's saying there, you know, he added that he thought that the Bush administration used, or made, what he called hasty decisions to protect America. And he said the nation is hurt by, quote, "fear-mongering" that has emerged in current discussions. And I guess here he was talking about some of the things that Vice President Cheney had earlier said. And he said now - this is President Obama - that he doesn't want to pass on the whole argument about national security to future presidents and he hopes to sort of transcend those politics by saying, you know, President Bush and Vice President Cheney had a sincere desire to protect the U.S. but went astray.

SIMON: Vice President Cheney, for his part, as you suggested, essentially argued that it was the president's constitutional obligation to protect the country after 9/11. And it was that, not political ideology, that prompted the Bush administration to make the decisions that they did. Here's him…

Vice President DICK CHENEY: From that moment forward, instead of merely preparing to round up the suspects and count the victims after the next attack, we were determined to prevent attacks in the first place.

SIMON: Juan, when you brush aside some of the sagebrush, where are the real differences on national security policy?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think the real difference has come down to not Guantanamo Bay, which, you know - remember, John McCain, you know, President Obama's opponent in the last election, said he wanted to close it. President Bush said that he was headed in that direction. No, I think it comes down to really an argument over those memos about how you deal with detainees that was released - that were released by the Obama administration.

Vice President Cheney spoke of contrived indignation, Scott, phony moralizing over the use of those techniques, things like waterboarding, slapping, slamming people into walls, sleep deprivation. And he said that ruling them out was unwise in the extreme, and in his opinion were legal, essential, justified steps to deal with hardened terrorists.

SIMON: And for his part, President Obama has in a sense disappointed a couple of camps - his critics, who may never be satisfied, but also some of his supporters, who thought that the steps he would take to make his policy distinct from the Bush administration haven't gone far enough.

WILLIAMS: Right, especially lately on the use of - saying that he wants to use military commissions. That's clearly upset people, of course, on the left. And of course his decision - reversal, really - on releasing photographs of people who were being arguably mistreated, and he says that they were mistreated under U.S. custody.

So what you see here is an effort, I think, by the - by Vice President Cheney in specific to say, look, the president right now is trying to triangulate. He's trying to find middle ground, but you can't find middle ground when it comes to U.S. security, and that's what makes Vice President Cheney say that the country may be less safe.

But he can't hope for an attack, and ultimately that seems that way, doesn't it, Scott?

SIMON: Juan Williams, thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Scott.

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