Cheney backs Obama policy on drone strikes

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Former Vice President Dick Cheney defended President Obama’s policy on armed drone strikes, calling it a “good program” amid growing congressional scrutiny.

“I think it’s a good program and I don’t disagree with the basic policy that the Obama administration is pursuing now in those regards,” said Cheney in an interview with CBS News's Charlie Rose, aired on Tuesday.


Cheney offered support for the administration’s killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen living in Yemen, in a drone attack.

“He was clearly part of al Qaeda,” said Cheney. 

Cheney’s comments follow growing congressional concern over the administration’s drone program, in particular its use against U.S. citizens suspected of terror ties abroad.

Lawmakers are pressing the administration for more information on its legal justification for those strikes after the leak last week of a Department of Justice memo outlining the administration’s rationale.

The White House briefed lawmakers on the drone strikes last week before a contentious hearing for top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, who has been nominated for CIA director. Brennan, an architect of the program, faced tough questions from lawmakers on the legality of the strikes and their effectiveness.

But the briefing and hearing have done little to satisfy lawmakers. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have both said they intend to hold hearings on establishing new courts to oversee the drone strikes.

“When we hire the president of the United States he gets to live in a big house, makes all that money, he’s getting paid to make difficult, difficult decisions,” said Cheney, in defense of Obama’s use of the strikes to target suspected terrorists.

Despite his support on the drone program, however, Cheney, who has been a vocal and frequent critic of the administration in other policy areans, said that he was troubled overall by the White House's national security policies. 

"I’m very, very concerned, Charlie, about what I see happening in the national security arena, I think the administration’s policies are very flawed,” said Cheney. “I think the president’s performance by my standards in the international arena, in the Middle East and so forth is worse than many of my friends and colleagues deem his domestic policies.” 

Cheney, who reportedly called Obama’s selections for his second-term national security team “second-rate people,” defended his criticisms. 

"With respect to [former Sen.] Chuck Hagel [(R-Neb.)] and Brennan for Defense and CIA just in the last week, their performance in front of the committees that have to confirm them has been pretty poor. And that's, you know, not my judgment. That's the judgment, as well, of senators on both sides of the aisle," said Cheney.

Hagel, who has been tapped to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, faced a rocky confirmation hearing, and some GOP senators have suggested they might filibuster his nomination.

Cheney said he feared Obama had tapped the former Republican senator to provide political cover for cuts to the Pentagon.

“If you look at what the president's motives are for picking Chuck Hagel, I think he wants a Republican to go be the foil, if you will, for what he wants to do to the Defense Department, which is I think to do serious, serious damage to our military capabilities,” said Cheney.