Former Vice President Dick Cheney held back no criticism Thursday of President Barack Obama, strongly questioning the administration's policy in Afghanistan and its approach to combating terrorism.
Cheney, speaking to the Economic Club of Southwest Michigan, was harshest when addressing a Department of Justice investigation into so-called "enhanced interrogations" used by the CIA and military on detained suspected terrorists.
"I find that absolutely abhorrent," said Cheney, who served under George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009. "It bothers the heck out of me that we would go after those people who have been instrumental in preventing further attacks against the United States."
The techniques, he said, were approved by Bush's justice department and closely monitored by the CIA. It did not amount to torture and broke no laws or international agreements, and the simulated drowning technique known as "waterboarding" was used only three times, he said.
In all instances, he said, the methods used produced valuable information about terrorist operations. A future administration prosecuting Americans for what a previous president asked them to do, Cheney said, is a "fundamentally flawed concept."
"There are thousands of Americans alive tonight because of what we did with those intelligence
programs," he told the 2,500 club members gathered in Lake Michigan College's Mendel Center. "I think the results speak for themselves."
Cheney is the third speaker in the club's annual lecture series, which included former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf and Michigan State men's basketball coach Tom Izzo. Former First Lady Laura Bush will speak in March, followed by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in April.
Obama's wavering stance
A former Wyoming congressman, Cheney served as chief of staff to President Gerald Ford and defense secretary under President George H.W. Bush. Regarded as one of the most powerful vice presidents in history and an advocate for a strong, relentless foreign policy, Cheney decried what he sees as Obama's wavering stance on success in Afghanistan.
When the Bush administration re-evaluated its position on the Afghanistan war in late 2008, Cheney said, it passed on the results to the new administration instead of changing course itself. Obama followed that advice at first, he said, but now seems to be backing off.
"Our adversaries take heart from our hesitation and vacillation," he said, "because it underlies their basic strategy: If you kill enough Americans, you can change their policy."
While George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, in speeches to the club earlier this year, said they would refrain from commenting on the new administration's policies, Cheney made no such promise.
He accused Obama of bending to pressure to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. Success will only be attained, Cheney said, if a long-term strategy is employed and the focus remains on winning the war, not rapidly bringing soldiers home.
"If there is no military reason to reduce the size of our troop deployment, then the consideration may be a political one," he said. "I think that is wrong."
It was Cheney's second address to the club, first speaking here in 1994, shortly after leaving office with the first Bush president. The 46th vice president took 40 minutes of open questions from the floor after his 30-minute address.
Sympathy for Fort Hood families
He opened his remarks by expressing sympathy for the families and friends of victims of a deadly shooting at the Fort Hood military base in Texas.
"I think all of our hearts and prayers go out to the families of those directly affected," he said. "Obviously it's a deeply disturbing development."
Cheney entered the banquet hall to a standing ovation, though the applause and cheers were somewhat reserved. He cracked a few subtle jokes, but kept to his typical serious demeanor.