By Sam Youngman - 10/22/09 11:25 PM EDT
President Barack Obama’s delay in deciding a new strategy for Afghanistan has reignited tensions between the Bush and Obama administrations.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs lashed out at former Vice President Dick Cheney and the George W. Bush administration Thursday for failing to focus on the war in Afghanistan. Gibbs spoke in response to criticism from Cheney on Wednesday night.
Cheney accused the president of “dithering,” saying that Obama “seems afraid to make a decision and unable to provide his commander on the ground with the troops he needs to complete his mission.”
Cheney’s latest attack also included the disclosure that after Bush officials presented the Obama transition team with a review of Afghanistan policy, the president-elect’s advisers asked that outgoing officials not divulge that the review had occurred.
Gibbs said Thursday that he had not looked at the review provided by the Bush administration, and criticized Cheney for prodding Obama to send more troops when the Bush administration team declined to do the same despite a military request to do so.
Gibbs explained that military leaders has asked the previous administration to increase troops, and that the request was only approved by Obama in March.
He called it “interesting” that Cheney is “blaming us for something that he didn't see fit to do over, best I can tell, seven years of war in Afghanistan.”
The latest fight between the current and past administrations was triggered when White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Sunday on CNN that “when you go through all the analysis, it's clear that basically we had a war for eight years that was going on, that’s adrift. That we're beginning at scratch, and just from the starting point, after eight years.”
Cheney labeled that charge as false and noted the review provided during the transition.
Former Bush adviser and spokesman Tony Fratto said the Obama team is simply blaming Bush instead of taking responsibility. He defended Obama's prerogative to take his time in making a decision on the way forward in the region, but blasted administration officials whom he said are using their predecessors as a diversion while Obama waits to decide.
“People can agree or disagree with his decisions or his process, but President Obama is the commander in chief and he can take whatever time he feels is necessary and appropriate with the national interest,” Fratto said. “What can't be done — and Rahm Emanuel and Robert Gibbs know this — is to blame the delay on President Bush. That's garbage and they know it. President Bush went out of his way to help his successor and shouldn't be repaid with this misinformation.”
In response, one Obama official said “we hardly started this.”
Cheney argued that the Afghanistan policy Obama announced in March “bears a striking resemblance to the strategy we passed to them.”
“Now they seem to be pulling back and blaming others for their failure to implement the strategy they embraced,” Cheney said. “It’s time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity.”
One senior administration official acknowledged it was received, but said “that they did an assessment is immaterial — the reason it needed to be done was out of neglect.”
The official pointed to an article appearing in Time in early March that noted the Bush administration actually presented Obama's team with three reviews, but none of them were “entirely satisfactory.”
Gibbs continues to say that Obama's decision on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan will come in the coming weeks, even as Obama hinted in an interview with NBC that he might make a decision before the country's Nov. 7 presidential runoff election but not announce it until afterward.
On Thursday, Obama held a meeting by videoconference in the White House Situation Room with Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and he has continued to meet with lawmakers as he formulates a plan. Emanuel and many of the president’s top national security advisers were also in the meeting.