Let’s begin by stating what mostly everyone has become aware of - change is not coming, not in the form that President Obama promised.
Some of the White House’s policies could work out in the end. America’s deficit may be erased in ten years, a breakthrough might be achieved in alternative energy, Iraq could end up stabilizing. But uncertainty and doubt cloud the air and some crucial trends don’t look promising, like Israel and Palestine, Iran, and Afghanistan.
Obama sold himself as something completely new and so far he has failed to deliver. Dick Cheney projects a unique level of magnification onto this reality.
Last week Cheney had questioned Obama’s delayed decision to Afghanistan and his handling of Abdulmutallab and Guantanamo Bay. Vice President Joe Biden soon found himself in Vancouver for the weekend to cheer on Team USA and soak up face time on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The Washington Post reports, “The White House was informed early last week that Cheney would be appearing on ABC's ‘This Week’ and decided to deploy Biden, in the words of one senior administration official, to ‘hold the former vice president accountable to the facts in real time.’"
Biden took to both NBC and CBS to defend Obama’s policies, acting as if he relished the opportunity to throw gas on his personal feud with Cheney. The result was a media brouhaha that left both men looking a little childish - and closer than they usually like to appear.
The bulk of controversy has since settled around torture and “the next spectacular attack” on American soil. While valid concerns, they serve as a distraction to the prime significance of Cheney and Biden’s actions. Though they might appear to hate each other by just glancing at the news, their exchange reveals a different level of interaction.
Observe this LA Times headline: Biden and Cheney talk terrorism and war, and agree on little. The sub-headline follows: “The vice president and former vice president trade verbal jabs on seperate talk shows. One area of agreement: the war in Afghanistan.”
To be clear Biden represents the Obama administration as a whole. His main function is more in line with a traditional vice president - spokesman/decoy/helping hand - and he’s also said to have opposed a military buildup in Afghanistan. If Biden’s dissent was sincere then he is the delay Cheney criticized.
Cheney himself, while considered Bush’s brain, still represents the Bush administration as a whole, thus when they squabble head to head it’s the administrations which are theoretically clashing.
However, a closer look uncovers more than one area of contamination between the two. Bush and Obama’s foreign policies appear to diverge on torture and Guantanamo, yet the current White House’s refusal to investigate any of the past, including Iraq, demonstrates the length the system will go to protect itself. In a way Washington picks the president, and Obama and Biden were deemed acceptable to continue the status quo.
They have not disappointed in that regard. Drone assassinations, covert operations, and PMCs have been embraced. Assassinations are up because Guantanamo are Bagram are shutting down. Israeli favoritism persists, as does selective democracy - Bush in Pakistan and Palestine, Obama in Afghanistan and Iran.
Bush and Obama’s connection is severely exposed by Biden’s reaction to Cheney. Surely Bush would have escalated Afghanistan upon exiting Iraq if he had the chance; Cheney probably wanted Obama to surge right when he took office. Agreement on Afghanistan transcends Afghanistan though, seeping into the fundamental concept of the “War on Terror.”
Obama and his officials have dropped the name, but it’s Bush-like to play pointless mind games with labels. What Biden described in his media blitz is Bush’s “War on Terror” - an endless war across Africa and Asia, and Europe - which Cheney wouldn't object to.
For starters Biden and Cheney both enjoy raising the specter of rogue nuclear weapons from Pakistan.
"We agree [with Cheney], the worst nightmare is the possession of nuclear weapons or a radiological weapon by al Qaeda," Biden coyly alluded to Pakistan, after raising the possibility last week.
After ceding that Cheney’s concerns as “legitimate,” Biden replied, "The reason why I do not think it's likely, is because of all the resources we have put on this, considerably more than the last administration did, to see to it that it will not happen. They are, in fact, not able to do anything remotely like they were in the past.”
Biden insisted, “They are on the run. We are pursuing that war with a vigor like it’s never been seen.” In a line he played multiple times, “We have eliminated 12 of the top 20 people. We have taken out 100 of their associates. We’ve sent them under ground.”
If by underground he means Yemen, Somalia, and West Africa.
Afghanistan is sort of the inverse of Iraq. By luring the bulk of US resources and attention to Kabul, al-Qaeda creates enough room to infiltrate other unstable states and spread its virus. America couldn’t invade Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia at once, which is exactly what al-Qaeda is trying to trigger.
Biden spent most of his interviews falling into the same trap that Bush’s administration sprung on the American people. Triggered by Cheney’s assertion that he doesn’t take the odds of a “spectacular attack” seriously, Biden called Cheney’s statements "factually, substantively wrong,"
But he’s the one confusing the problem and the solution to be the same thing. At one point he says al-Qaeda has metastasized and called it a sign that America is winning the war. Another time he claims the biggest problem is al-Qaeda metastasizing.
“We have been relentless, absolutely relentless in isolating Al Qaeda, central Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda coming out of the Afghan-Pakistan region,” Biden told CBS. “We have been relentless in our effort to deal with keeping them isolated. They’ve been unable to operate in any significant, coordinated way.”
“That’s why you see al-Qaeda metastasize out of smaller operations out of the Arabian peninsula.”
Because this is al-Qaeda’s goal.
al-Qaeda isn’t supposed to be coordinated. It may operate at its peak in this condition, but it was designed to fragment and decentralize to prolong the chase for as long as possible. The strategy is no longer to operate as they once did or plan the spectacular attack, but to create the perception of threat and bleed countries dry trying to chase a ghost.
America has essentially done al-Qaeda’s biding by chasing it into Afghanistan, allowing it to scatter across Africa and Asia as the later phases of al-Qaeda’s post 9/11 strategy dictates. Biden is aware of much of this as he plays Bush’s game, hyping military achievements as total success when he knows the truth is deeper and darker.
Now America must pursue al-Qaeda everywhere beyond Afghanistan, which is what many believe Washington secretly wants and needs to continue justifying its military expansion into the Eastern hemisphere. This was Bush’s plan and nothing seems have changed with Obama.
Not so coincidentally, Biden is even guilty of the same offense he accuses Cheney of when he says, "I don't know where Dick Cheney has been. Look, it's one thing, again, to criticize. It's another thing to sort of rewrite history. What is he talking about?"
He replayed the card during his second interview, saying, “It’s almost like Dick is trying to rewrite history. I can understand why that would be an impulse...”
We, too, can understand the impulse of selling al-Qaeda’s exit from Afghanistan and Pakistan as being “on the run," and why Obama is so vigorous to pursue it into its next hosts. Or why Biden feels a similar urge as Cheney to remind the American public of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons - to justify the war in Afghanistan.
But does he really think Cheney is a great guy too? Biden repeated on "Meet the Press, “he is not entitled to rewrite history without it being challenged," though not before prefacing, “Dick Cheney's a fine fellow.”
Just yesterday Biden said he likes Cheney and doesn't question his patriotism, before again skewering him. Apparently liking a person and blocking their attempt to rewrite history isn’t mutually exclusive with so much in common.
Expecting the Obama administration to represent a true change from the Bush administration was always a futile hope, not necessarily in Obama as in the ability to “change Washington.” Sadly, it appears Washington will end up mutating him with the status quo.