Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney does not hold back his stark criticism of Barack Obama.
In a new interview for the April issue of Playboy, Cheney repeatedly tore into Obama on a wide array of issues, including the racially charged riots in Ferguson, Missouri, and his foreign policy.
“I look at Barack Obama and I see the worst president of my lifetime, without question,” Cheney told journalist James Rosen. “I used to have significant criticism of Jimmy Carter, but compared to Barack Obama and the damage he is doing to the nation—it’s a tragedy.”
Excerpts from Playboy interview written by James Rosen: Playboy written by James Rosen
Cheney said Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, who are both the first black officials in their respective offices, who continuously play “the race card” by suggesting their ethnicity has factored into some of the attacks against them:
I think they’re playing the race card, in my view. Certainly we haven’t given up—nor should we give up—the right to criticize an administration and public officials. To say that we criticize, or that I criticize, Barack Obama or Eric Holder because of race, I just think it’s obviously not true. My view of it is the criticism is merited because of performance—or lack of performance, because of incompetence. It hasn’t got anything to do with race.
Do you feel Obama, either intentionally or inadvertently, has undone your and President Bush’s work?
Oh absolutely. Where do you start? I think with respect to the situation in Iraq, his precipitous withdrawal and refusal to leave any stay-behind forces, to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqis, was a huge mistake; we are paying a price for it now. He’s having to go back in now, and the guy who campaigned on the basis of bring the boys home and get out of Iraq is now redeploying forces to Iraq. I think his apology tour, when he went to Cairo in the summer of 2009 and said the U.S. overreacted to the events of 9/11, was a huge mistake. I don’t think he ever bought into the notion that we’re at war, in terms of a war on terrorism; I think he always wanted to treat it as a law-enforcement problem. I think he’s done enormous damage to the military. I think what’s happened to the military in terms of morale, in terms of financing, budget and so forth is just devastating. The way Obama is functioning now, he’s crippling the capacity of future presidents to deal with future crises. It takes a long time to build up that military force. And I am absolutely convinced there will be a future president—two or three times down the road, perhaps—who will be faced with a major crisis and will not have the military capability he needs to deal with it. We are limiting the options of future presidents because of what is happening to the defense budget today. I can go on for hours.
What was your reaction when President Obama backed off from launching air strikes in Syria, in August 2013, in response to Bashar al-Assad’s having crossed the president’s “red line” and using chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war?
That’s a classic example, where Obama got everybody ready to do something about Syria and then at the last minute pulled the plug. I had a prominent Mideast leader talk to me when I was there last spring. First time I’d ever heard him say this; he’s always been very self-confident and very much in command. He said, “You assume there is no political price to be paid for those of us over here who support the United States—wrong assumption. It is sometimes a real question of leadership these days whether or not it’s smart, politically, for us, with our people, to be friendly to the United States.” General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the new president of Egypt, has been to Moscow; he hasn’t been to the United States. It’s not because he loves Russians; it’s because the political price he would have to pay domestically, inside Egypt, to come to the United States and be seen with Barack Obama would be very damaging for him. Our friends no longer trust us, and our adversaries no longer fear us. We’ve created a huge vacuum in that part of the world, and ISIS has moved in big-time. Now we have a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
President Obama argues that under his leadership, “core Al Qaeda” has been “decimated.
”We have had a massive spread in the number of Al Qaeda–type organizations. The RAND study that came out last summer said that between 2010 and 2013 there had been a 58 percent increase worldwide in the number of Al Qaeda–type organizations. We used to worry, at 9/11, just about Afghanistan; now it stretches from Mali and Nigeria in West Africa, across North Africa, through the Middle East, all around into Indonesia, where you’ll find potential sanctuaries and safe harbors for Salafi Islamists, the terrorists, the Al Qaeda types. It’s a very dangerous situation. I think the threat is growing steadily, and I think our capacity to deal with it is rapidly diminishing. I look at Barack Obama and I see the worst president in my lifetime, without question—and that’s saying something. I used to have significant criticism of Jimmy Carter, but compared to Barack Obama and the damage he is doing to the nation—it’s a tragedy, a real tragedy, and we are going to pay a hell of a price just trying to dig out from under his presidency.
You worked closely with both presidents Bush. What were the most significant differences you observed between them as men and leaders?
Well, I liked them both. I was grateful for the opportunities they provided. I think of them as very different people. You know, we always talked about how 43 was a lot more like his mother in terms of personality and so forth, with a quick wit and a sharp tongue on occasion. Politically, in some respects, he was more successful than 41 because he got reelected. They were different, obviously; they came with very different backgrounds in the sense of their political experience. You know, 43 arrived as a successful two-term governor of one of our biggest states, with a heavy emphasis on the domestic side of the ledger. And from my standpoint, in part, that’s why he wanted me—because I brought my own background and experience on the international side. His dad, on the other hand, came with all the credentials of a guy who had been a naval aviator in World War II and director of the CIA and ambassador to the United Nations and ambassador to China, member of the House and so forth. So, totally different backgrounds.
When you gaze upon the images coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, what do you see?
Well [pauses], what I see is disturbing. It’s always a tragedy when there is a death involved and so forth. But it seems to me it’s a clear-cut case that the officer did what he had to do to defend himself. He was perfectly within his authorities to take action. That if you reach through the open car window and slap an officer upside the head and reach for his gun, you know, there is going to be a response. And I’ve been disappointed, I guess, in the Obama administration’s response. I think there should have been more people who were ready to stand up and say, “Look, the evidence is pretty overwhelming. The grand jury has reviewed it thoroughly. Here’s what we know. This is what happened.” And that we should not sort of throw it all over on the burden of race, or racial inequality or racial discrimination, as being responsible for this particular event. I think that would be wrong, and [pauses] it bothers me that that kind of an incident has generated that kind of response. I don’t think it is about race. I think it is about an individual who conducted himself in a manner that was almost guaranteed to provoke an officer trying to do his duty.
What could the Obama administration be doing right now, with or without the backing of our European allies, to repel Putin in Eastern Ukraine and, more fundamentally, to force him to make the choice that you say Russia “must” make, between its current conduct and being a responsible international stakeholder?
I think you’ve got to repair the damage that’s been done. First and foremost, we’ve got to rebuild the military. You’re not going to be able to do anything long-term if your diplomacy’s not credible, and your diplomacy’s not going to be credible if you don’t restore U.S. military capability—and we are going in exactly the opposite direction. So whether we’re talking about China fooling around in the South China Sea, or the vacuum that’s being created in the Middle East and a loss of confidence on the part of our allies, or Putin’s willingness to throw his weight around in Europe, we’ve got to demonstrate that we’re an administration that believes—if we can get such an administration—that the U.S. has a major role to play in the world as the leader, that it’s backed up by significant military capability, that we’re prepared to keep our commitments in various places around the world and make it very clear to friend and adversary alike that the U.S. is going to be the kind of formidable player we have been for most of the past 70 years. When I look at Barack Obama I see a guy who is not part of the consensus that has governed Republican and Democratic administrations alike since Harry Truman’s day. You can argue about Carter and how committed he was, but there’s been a basic fundamental belief since the end of World War II that United States leadership in the world produces a far more peaceful, less hostile world and greater prosperity. The U.S. has to play a leadership role. And it’s going to take a lot to rebuild the damage that has been done over the past few years, because we’ve actively conveyed to the world the notion—this president has—that we no longer believe that.
Full interview with Playboy
Photos courtesy of Google.com