December 2, 2009

Keith talks to Retired U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson about Dick Cheney's recent criticism of President Obama's foreign policy.

OLBERMANN: The very day before Mr. Obama‘s speech tonight, former Vice President Cheney gave an interview primarily about Mr. Obama‘s Afghanistan plan in which Mr. Cheney accused the U.S. president, in legalese, of treason and revealed, not for the first time, that the vice president, who failed to fight terrorism, had instead personally succumbed to its most insidious aspect, panic.

In a 90 minute interview yesterday with “Politico,” Mr. Cheney revealed that unlike authentically tough people, he‘s still so panicked. But he still mistakes acting tough for being tough and makes the corollary error that failing to act tough implies that you are weak.

Because, apparently, in trashing America‘s president the day before a vital foreign policy speech, Mr. Cheney cannot conceive that displays of grace and humility might arise instead from actual grace and humility.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT: Here‘s a guy without much experience, who now travels around the world, apologizing. I think our adversaries - especially when all of that‘s preceded by a deep bow to the head of government or whoever he‘s visiting - I think they see that as a sign of weakness.


OLBERMANN: Wouldn‘t you think when Nixon bowed to Hirohito, the guy is the president of the United States and it was a former elected official you can‘t summon up? Just the boilerplate grim respect your former responsibilities still demand, maybe you should shut up, Dick.

Perhaps betraying just how effective terrorism has been against Mr. Cheney, he described himself as both worried and beginning to get nervous blaming Mr. Obama‘s policies for his lack of nerve, his deficit of courage despite the fact that his own doctor has said, quote, “There was real fear throughout Mr. Cheney‘s office after 9/11.”

Former vice president even imagines others feeling his fear claiming Afghan citizens, after eight years of Bush-Cheney dithering will suddenly now switch sides out of fear if America says, as the president did tonight, it may one day leave.

So cowardly is Mr. Cheney, in fact, that he trembles at the thought of an accused terrorist coming to New York City in chains. So lacking in faith is Mr. Cheney or simply an understanding of America‘s strength that he revealed that he‘s afraid, not of what a freed terrorist might do, but of what a captured terrorist might say.


CHENEY: Our al-Qaeda adversaries out there are going to think that this is a great set of developments for their cause. Because of their top people will be given the opportunity, courtesy of the United States government and the Obama administration to have a platform from which they can espouse this hateful ideology that they adhere to.


OLBERMANN: Which administration distributed and verified all those Osama Bin Laden tapes? Sadly predictable perhaps that Mr. Cheney thinks a feeble, primitive, fear-based ideology would benefit from exposure.

But Mr. Cheney went further in his critique of the Obama administration decision to put Khalid Sheikh Muhammad on trial claiming, quote, “I think it‘s likely to get encouragement, aid and comfort to the enemy,” U.S. Constitution defining giving aid and comfort to America‘s enemies as treason.

The former vice president of the United States accused the current commander-in-chief on the eve of the presidential declaration about the way forward against the enemy with treason.

Joining us tonight, retired U.S. Army Cornel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief-of-staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell and is currently the Pamela Harriman visiting professor at the College of William and Mary. Thank you for your time tonight, Colonel.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Thanks for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Can you think of anyone in our history who served as high as Mr. Cheney did in the U.S. administration accusing a sitting president of the legal definition of treason on the eve of a wartime speech to the American people and the troops and the allies and the enemies?

WILKERSON: I think it would be difficult to find such an example in our history. Keith, I don‘t recognize this man anymore. He‘s not the man that I knew who was Colin Powell‘s boss when he was Secretary of Defense. He‘s a mystery to me.

OLBERMANN: Mr. Cheney was also asked whether his administration bears any responsibility for the current status of Afghanistan as a nation or as a problem today. And he replied, “I basically don‘t.” You were part of that administration. Do you basically don‘t as well?

WILKERSON: Not at all. I saw former Vice President Cheney‘s remarks as sort of being like Macbeth, accusing the king of getting in the way of his lady‘s dagger. This is incredible. In an administration that took its eye off as early as November 2001 in Afghanistan, turned it into an economy of forced (UNINTELLIGIBLE), told Gen. Franks to concentrate on planning for Iraq and then began shifting troops and other assets that her husband did, at best, already, toward Iraq.

It would now be accusing a president, who inherited a mess they created, of malfeasance in office. This is laughable, Keith.

OLBERMANN: You say you don‘t recognize him anymore. There was another thing in the interview that‘s a little bit off the main beaten path of the topic here. But he said that he believes Mr. Obama does not believe that the United States is special, quote, “the greatest, freest nation mankind has ever known.”

And yet, at the same time, he‘s arguing - Mr. Cheney is - for secret prisons and for torture. Do you have a sense of what Mr. Cheney thinks makes America great and particularly free? I mean, is this just sort of knee-jerk nationalism? Or does he even still get what America means and that the ideas of torture and freedom are pretty much mutually exclusive.

WILKERSON: Well, you hit the heart of the matter here. The power that we wield that is most formidable is the power of our ideas and our ideals lived up to on a day-to-day basis.

No one, in a long time, has done a better job of restoring those ideals and restoring what they mean, rhetorically at least, than President Obama. I‘m waiting for him. I‘m waiting on tenterhooks for him to put action behind those words.

And I‘m giving him every benefit of the doubt that he will eventually do that. But I will not brook any opposition from the man who did more to damage those ideals and those ideas than anyone in our history, Dick Cheney.

OLBERMANN: Then, contextualize your reaction to tonight‘s speech in that context. Did the president take the best option of a bunch of bad ones that were available to him? Could he have chosen a different path? What did you think of this speech?

WILKERSON: I‘d have to say that what he did was, in my mind, deliberate at some length, listening to all manner of advice from all manner of people. That‘s good. He didn‘t pull a 45 from his holster and shoot like the last administration did. I know, I was a member of it.

He deliberated and what he came up with was the least worst of a whole range of very bad possibilities. And that was reflected in the speech. It was very realistic. It was very sober and somber.

And I think it was justified given the audience and also given the degree of the challenge that this president and that audience confronts.

OLBERMANN: And do you think that this tone will be recognized by this country that has been used to, when the subject of war has been brought up in the last two presidential administrations has really had the flag kind of thrust foremost into their face before any rational calm, good points, bad points analysis of a situation has been offered to it?

WILKERSON: Keith, I think that - I continue to believe, as I think the president does, he probably wouldn‘t put it this low. But at least 75 percent, maybe 85 percent of the American people are staying sober, pragmatic and realistic. They seek the center, the radical center, if you will.

And those people will understand the challenge the president faced and understand the speech he gave and the decision he has made. The proof of the pudding, of course, will be in the next 18 to 24 months.

I‘m really worried in that regard about the economic situation. The president has a real challenge there that, in many ways, it‘s a bigger threat than al-Qaeda or Afghanistan or Iraq or any other potential foreign threat.

OLBERMANN: Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, formerly chief-of-staff for Secretary of State Powell, now at the College of William and Mary, always, we benefit from your insight. Thank you again for it, sir.

WILKERSON: Thanks, Keith.

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