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Biden and Cheney talk terrorism and war, and agree on little

The vice president and former vice president trade verbal jabs on separate talk shows. One area of agreement: the war in Afghanistan.

February 15, 2010|By Katherine Skiba

Reporting from Washington — Vice President Joe Biden and former Vice President Dick Cheney sparred Sunday from the safe distance of separate talk shows, disagreeing on the greatest threat to the U.S., the use of torture and going to war in Iraq.

The Democratic vice president and the Republican he replaced found little common ground in a spectacle that played out over three morning TV programs.

A rare zone of agreement was the Obama administration's prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. But even then, Cheney suggested President Obama should have acted faster in deciding to send in more troops.

"I thought it took him a while to get there," Cheney told ABC News' "This Week."

Biden, speaking from the Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada, appeared live on CBS' "Face the Nation" and on a taped segment on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Biden told CBS that the country's biggest threat was from Al Qaeda metastasizing into small-bore operations arising from the Arabian Peninsula.

But Cheney said he thought another Sept. 11-caliber attack was in the cards and that it was "dead wrong" to think otherwise. He warned that the next large-scale attack could involve a nuclear weapon or biological agent and said the Obama administration needed to do everything it could to prevent it.

Cheney has been a loud and frequent critic of the Obama administration, saying it has been soft on national security matters.

Biden sought to rebut that view.

"We are at war with Al Qaeda, and we are pursuing that war with a vigor like it's never been seen before," Biden said. "We've eliminated 12 of their top 20 people. We have taken out 100 of their associates. . . . They are on the run."

Then he took a jab at Cheney, saying he was either "misinformed or he is misinforming."

On the Iraq war, Biden said the administration was successfully winding it down but said he didn't think the war was worth it. He cited the "horrible price" in loss of life and said the U.S. took its "eyes off the ball" in Afghanistan.

Cheney said he believed "very deeply" that Iraq "was the right thing to do," adding, "We got rid of one of the worst dictators of the 20th century."

On the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day, Cheney said the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, should have been treated as an "enemy combatant," not a civilian criminal. He said the case showed the administration wasn't equipped to deal with the aftermath of an attempted attack.

Biden said Abdulmutallab had been treated the same as the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid, during George W. Bush's administration.

On the avowed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Cheney said it would be wrong to try him in New York.

The administration announced plans to try Mohammed and four suspected associates in federal court in Manhattan, but it has since backed off amid complaints about costs and security. Biden said that a decision about the trial was being made and that a military court was a possibility.

Cheney said Mohammed should be tried before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He said there was "great reluctance" in Congress to appropriate money to close down the detention center there.

Cheney, when asked whether the detention center would be open when Obama left office, said he "wouldn't be surprised" and called it a "valuable facility."

On waterboarding, Cheney said no tool should be off the table in fighting terrorism. But Biden said he could never envision using the interrogation tactic on anyone. "It's not effective," he said.

kskiba@tribune.com

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