Biden defends White House foreign policy, fight against terror

Vice President Joe Biden aggressively defended the Obama administration from perhaps its harshest foreign policy critic, ex-Vice President Dick Cheney, in a rare Sunday morning display of a vice president pushing back against his predecessor.

Speaking to NBC “Meet The Press” host David Gregory and CBS “Face The Nation” host Bob Schieffer, Biden consistently refuted numerous recent claims made by Cheney that essentially suggested the current administration has gone “soft” on terrorism. Biden spoke via satellite from Vancouver, where he is attending the Winter Olympics. He spoke to NBC on Saturday night and to CBS on Sunday morning.

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Biden insisted the Obama administration has acted consistently to pursue al-Qaeda, made the correct decision in interrogating the Christmas Day terrorist suspect, and is reconsidering its decision to try suspects of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in civilian courts. Cheney has criticized all three policies of the administration, which both Gregory and Schieffer pressed Biden on.

On NBC, Biden first paused when answering.

“Let me choose my words carefully here… Dick Cheney is a fine fellow. He’s entitled to his own opinion. He’s not entitled to rewrite history without it being challenged. He’s not entitled to his own facts,” Biden said. “It’s one thing to criticize. It’s another thing to sort of rewrite history… I’m not going to guess about his motives. All I know is that he’s factually, substantially wrong on the major criticisms he is asserting. Why he’s insisting on that? Either he’s misinformed or he is misinforming.”

Biden noted that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man accused of trying to destroy an airliner nearing the Detroit airport on Christmas Day, was handled no differently than how the Bush administration handled the case of Richard Reid, the man who used explosives hidden in his shoe to try to destroy an airplane in December 2001. Republicans have recently rallied around the case of Abdulmutallab as an example of administration incompetence, but Democrats have simply pointed to Reid’s case in defense.

“I don't know what Dick's been doing lately,” Biden said on CBS. “We did exactly what he did with the shoe bomber.”

Also on CBS, Biden was asked about Cheney’s recent call for waterboarding — the controversial simulated-drowning interrogation technique that critics have compared to torture — to be considered as an option during current interrogations.

“That’s Dick Cheney,” Biden said. “I mean, thank God the last administration didn’t listen to him at the end.”

On both networks, Biden compared his administration’s success rate at prosecuting terrorists against the Bush administration’s record.

“Under the Bush administration, there were three trials in military courts. Two of those people are now walking the streets. They are free,” Biden said. “There were 300 trials of terrorists who engaged in terror against the United States of America [in civilian courts] who are in prison and who have not seen the light of day.”

“His fight seems to be with the last administration,” Biden said of Cheney, on CBS.

On both networks, asked about the administration’s plans to try terror suspects either in civilian courts or military commissions, Biden expressed “absolute” confidence that 9/11 conspirator Khallid Sheikh Mohammed will be convicted.

However, Biden also reaffirmed that Obama is reconsidering the decision to try Mohammed in New York City, citing a “significant” response from New York officials as well as the state’s congressional delegation. The vice president said the final decision is still being made.

Biden said a military trial for Mohammed was “a less preferrable way to go,” but is “a legitimate question and that’s one we’re considering right now.”

”But one way or another, he will be held accountable,” Biden said.

On NBC, Gregory pressed Biden on the administration’s domestic economic record, noting that the unemployment rate has risen from 7.4 percent when Obama took office to 9.7 percent currently.


Biden responded that the month he was sworn in, 740,000 Americans lost their jobs as a result of the previous administration’s policies.

“Six hundred and forty the next month, before we could get our computers hooked up accurately in the West Wing,” he said. “Here we are, 11, 12 months later, we’re in a situation where the economy grew by 5.8 percent in the last quarter, and we’ve stopped hemorrhaging of jobs… We have pulled us back from the brink. We have made genuine success. This is going to take time. There is tangible evidence that the path we put the country on is moving in the right direction and will become more apparent.”

On other foreign-policy questions, Biden said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim last week that his country has become a nuclear state was an “greatly exaggerated” statement intended to divert world attention from the regime’s human-rights abuses. He also said European countries and Russia have signed on to the effort to isolate Iran through sanctions, and that he is confident China will eventually as well.

On CBS, pressed on the state of the U.S. mission in Iraq, Biden said Obama has handled the transition to Iraq’s security forces “very well.”

But asked on NBC, by Gregory, whether the war was “worth it,” Biden said “no.” The vice president noted that he has traveled to the country 17 times, four of them this year alone.

“I don’t think the war was worth it in the sense that we paid a horrible price, not only in loss of life but the way the war was mishandled from the outset,” Biden said. “We took our eye off the ball, it took us in a much more dangerous position in Afghanistan, we lost support around the world, and it’s taken a lot of work to get it back. But we were dealt a hand, and I think we’re handling it incredibly well.”

Biden voted for the war in 2002, only to say three years later on "Meet the Press" that his vote to authorize the force was "a mistake."