CBS's Smith: Is Cheney Criticism of Obama 'Theater' or 'Real'?

Harry Smith, CBS On Monday's CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith wondered if there was any credibility to Dick Cheney's criticism of the Obama administration's handling of the Christmas Day bomber: "...the point that he seems to be trying to make...that this administration, the Obama administration, is not taking terrorism seriously enough. Is this theater or is there a real point to be made?"

Smith directed that question to former Bush advisor Dan Bartlett, who observed: "...it's very salient going into this midterm election and I think the Republicans like the fact that the former Vice President's out there slugging away." Smith also spoke with former Democratic Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. and incredulously asked: "Can an actual argument be made, though...that the Obama administration is weak on terrorism?" Ford argued: "It's hard to....under President Obama and Vice President Biden, great strides are being made all across the globe."

Ford went on to attack Cheney for daring to voice objections to Obama's handling of terrorism: "Why would Dick Cheney suggest to the country and suggest to the world that the President Obama and Vice President Biden administration are weak on terrorism?...other than to be – play cheap politics at this moment?"

Picking up on Ford's accusation against Cheney, Smith turned to Bartlett and tried to dismiss recent Obama administration failures: "Here's the question, is whether or not there's a terrorism trial held in New York City or not, whether or not a defendant has been read his Miranda rights, does this actually get to the heart of this war on terrorism?" Bartlett replied: "...with this current attorney general, Eric Holder, there's a real concern, that is valid in my opinion, that the approach taken is one in which it's taking valuable tools off of the battlefield in order to protect our country."

Bartlett continued: "...in this fight, with a guy getting on a plane and trying to attack Americans, there should have been a different process followed." Smith couldn't help but interject some Democratic Party talking points in reply: "Well, I'm not going to get into the particulars because we go back, it was exactly – almost exactly what happened with Richard Reid."

Smith went back to Ford, asking: "...the Vice President [Cheney] – his point seems to be philosophically you're not taking it seriously and no one would have known better about not being able to connect the dots than the prior administration. Should he – should the Obama administration be at least listening to the tone of that?" Ford replied: "I don't question Vice President Cheney's desire to protect the country. What I do question is his judgment in criticizing this president and vice president."

Here is a full transcript of Smith's discussion with Bartlett and Ford:
HARRY SMITH: Joining me now from Austin, Texas, former Bush adviser and CBS News political consultant Dan Bartlett and here in the studio, former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr., who is chair of the Democratic Leadership Council. Good morning to you both.

HAROLD FORD JR.: Good morning.

DAN BARTLETT: Good morning, gentlemen.

SMITH: Let us talk about Dick Cheney and the point that he seems to be trying to make, Dan, is that this administration, the Obama administration, is not taking terrorism seriously enough. Is this theater or is there a real point to be made?

BARTLETT: Well, I think the irony here is that you can have a weekend where both sides battle it out, the current vice president, the former vice president, and both sides can take away, credibly, a victory. And I think it really is a reflection of our politics where both sides, the base of the Democratic Party can be cheering on Joe Biden and the base of the Republican Party can be cheering on Dick Cheney. And I think it kind of shows that the issue of national security, everybody kind of thought it was going to recede with the economy and the new administration coming in, but with the Massachusetts election in which Scott Brown and a lot of those people feel like the issue of terrorism really was what moved a lot of the independent votes at the end, it's very salient going into this midterm election and I think the Republicans like the fact that the former Vice President's out there slugging away.

SMITH: Can an actual argument be made, though, Harold Ford, that the Obama administration is weak on terrorism?

FORD: It's hard to. Good to see Dan and I appreciate his comments this morning, but the reality is under Obama – under President Obama and Vice President Biden, great strides are being made all across the globe. 12 of the top 20 Al Qaeda operatives, the top ones, have been found, captured, if not killed. To the progress that we're making not only on the ground in Afghanistan with the surge, but there's in doubt there's some building on some of the things, the successes of the previous administration. And as much as Dan may be accurate in saying that Democrats can take away a little, Republicans can take away a little, why have the argument? Why would Dick Cheney suggest to the country and suggest to the world that the President Obama and Vice President Biden administration are weak on terrorism? We have a challenge in Afghanistan. We just heard President Haass on the Council [on Foreign Relations] talk about some of the progress in Iran where the focus should be internally there. Why would Dick Cheney inject other than to be – play cheap politics at this moment?

SMITH: Because, Dan, here's – here's the question, is whether or not there's a terrorism trial held in New York City or not, whether or not a defendant has been read his Miranda rights, does this actually get to the heart of this war on terrorism?

BARTLETT: Well, I do think it's important for Republicans not to question the intention of Vice President Joe Biden, or more importantly, President Obama, when it comes to fighting the war. I think everybody recognizes that everybody's doing everything they can in their own interpretation of protecting the country. The fundamental difference is the approach and the philosophy in which you follow. And I think particularly with this current attorney general, Eric Holder, there's a real concern, that is valid in my opinion, that the approach taken is one in which it's taking valuable tools off of the battlefield in order to protect our country. It's not to say that every way we did it previously has always been right, but it's important to make sure that we have all the best tools on the table. That we stay on offense. That's not to say there's not going to be areas of agreement like there was in Afghanistan, but in this fight, with a guy getting on a plane and trying to attack Americans, there should have been a different process followed. And so there can be differences-

SMITH: Well, I'm not going to get into the particulars because we go back, it was exactly – almost exactly what happened with Richard Reid, but let's move forward to the sense that does the Vice President – his point seems to be philosophically you're not taking it seriously and no one would have known better about not being able to connect the dots than the prior administration. Should he – should the Obama administration be at least listening to the tone of that?

FORD: I'm sure they're listening to it all, but I would not – I would not term it as philosophical differences, I'd just call it temperamental differences. The approach that Vice President Biden and President Obama have is different in that regard. I don't question Vice President Cheney's desire to protect the country. What I do question is his judgment in criticizing this president and vice president.

SMITH: Running or not running?

FORD: Haven't made a decision yet, but if I do, I'll let you know.

SMITH: First?

BARTLETT: I won't weigh in.

SMITH: Not weighing in. And we got a lot to talk about, Texas politics, too. Dan, at another time, I hope.

BARTLETT: Absolutely.

FORD: Good to see you, Dan.

SMITH: Harold Ford, thank you both very much for being here.

FORD: Thank you for having me.

BARTLETT: Good to see you, Harold.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC