This past January, during an interview with NBC News, Cheney was asked if he still considered Obama a cause of concern: "You said you believe President Obama has made America less safe. That he's actually raised the risk of attack. Do you still feel that way?"
Cheney replied that he was pleased that Obama had intensified the drone attacks on terrorist targets, adding, "That's a plus that he's learned in that regard. But I still worry." That is, Obama still couldn't be fully trusted with national security. Cheney noted that he and President George W. Bush had possessed an "absolute commitment" to preventing another 9/11. As for Obama, Cheney wasn't sure: "I hope President Obama is to that point now where he has that same basic attitude. But we might never find out until there's actually another attack." That wasn't much of an endorsement.
In his statement responding to the Obama-ordered mission that killed Bin Laden, Cheney declared, "[T]he message our forces have sent is clear—if you attack the United States, we will find you and bring you to justice." But during the Bush-Cheney years, that message was not always so clear. In March 2002, Bush indicated that he was not that fixated on Bin Laden. Asked at a press conference about efforts to find the terrorist leader, Bush said:
We haven't heard from him in a long time. The idea of focusing on one person…He's a person who's now been marginalized…I don't know where he is. I just don't spend that much time on it…I'm more worried about making sure our soldiers [in Afghanistan] are well-supplied, that the strategy is clear…I truly am not that concerned about him.
Four years later, conservative journalist Fred Barnes, after interviewing Bush, said that Bush had told him that capturing Bin Laden was not a "top priority." Still, throughout the Bush-Cheney years, intelligence professionals maintained the hunt for Bin Laden. It was Obama, once he took office, who instructed the CIA (which probably didn't need much more motivation) to push ahead. He signaled that nailing Bin Laden was a top priority. And he signed the order authorizing the risky mission that required unilateral military action and that did not include reading Bin Laden his rights. Obama was the commander-in-chief who delivered the message to Bin Laden and other terrorists: the United States will hunt you down and kill you.
This hardly fits the caricature of Obama that Cheney and other Republicans have been promoting since the president took office.
It's unlikely that Cheney will retract his previous remarks. But he and other conservatives who denigrated Obama's devotion to national security have lost a much-valued possession: the Obama-is-weak-on-defense card. They've been playing it since the 2008 campaign and, no doubt, they anticipated deploying it during the 2012 contest. GOP 2012 contenders for months have been slamming Obama on national security issues. But soft on terrorism? If Cheney or anyone else ever again hurls that charge, they will be met with an obvious reply: Obama weak on defense? Just ask Osama bin Laden. Oh, you can't. He's at the bottom of the ocean. Ultimately, this shield against an age-old canard often tossed at Democrats is worth much more than any apology from a grumpy old ex-vice president.