Former Vice President Dick Cheney said the Obama administration's actions in the war on terror have been just as aggressive as those under George W. Bush, despite Obama's criticisms of his predecessor's tactics.
In a conversation with his daughter and coauthor Liz Cheney at the Washington Ideas Forum, Cheney also revealed vice president isn't his favorite job he's held, left the door open to an endorsement of a GOP primary candidate, and denied he was secretly in charge in the Bush administration.
Cheney recently said on CNN that President Obama should apologize for criticizing he Bush administration's national security policies. What he meant by that, he said Thursday, was that the drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki was at least as tough and potentially objectionable as Bush's use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques and domestic surveillance.
"When [Obama] went to Cairo, he did announce that we'd sort of overreacted to 9/11," Cheney said of the president's 2009 speech to the Arab world. Obama, he said, claimed "that President Obama had been the one who'd sort of brought an end to torture -- implying that we were torturing, and we weren't."
But in killing al-Awlaki in Yemen last week, "they executed, in effect, an American citizen with a missile strike," Cheney said. "When you lay that alongside our enhanced interrogation program, I thought they might want to reconsider the criticisms they leveled at us back when they went to Cairo in 2009."
Liz Cheney's questioning of her father was gentle, rarely challenging him or pressing him to elaborate, and giving him wide range to reflect nostalgically on his long public career.
She asked him, for example, what was his favorite of the jobs he's held. Dick Cheney said it was secretary of defense, because of the opportunity to work with the military.
On the 2012 field, the former vice president said, "I haven't endorsed anybody yet. I've stayed very carefully away from the contest."
The next couple of months, he said, will be critical as voters get a chance to size up the candidates. Cheney said he understands the economy is at the top of people's minds but he wants to hear more from the candidates about national security. In particular, he said he wanted assurances that the Defense Department won't face major budget cuts in the course of dealing with the debt.
Asked whether he had any regrets from his time as vice president, Cheney said he did not.
"I think basically, on balance, we got it right under difficult circumstances," he said. "Obviously, I believed very much in the policies that we pursued with respect to what we needed to do to keep the country safe."
The proof, he said, was that the U.S. wasn't attacked by terrorists domestically again. "From my perspective, it worked. We achieved our objective, at some price in terms of my reputation and our standing in the polls. Politicians like to be loved, obviously. ... I'd probably rather be respected."
"Were you really secretly running things?" Liz Cheney asked.
"No," her father said.
As proof, he cited the fact that President Bush once had Cheney's dog banned from a section of Camp David.