'Obama doesn't need to beat his chest' to prove US is at war, White House says

The White House has issued a stinging rebuke to Dick Cheney after the former vice president accused President Barack Obama of trying to "pretend" that the US isn't fighting a war against terrorists.

And in a sign that it plans to engage in the political battle over the attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack on flight 253, the White House made it clear it sees the Bush administration as being responsible for the relative lack of success in what it now refers to as the "war against al-Qaeda."

"The former vice president makes the clearly untrue claim that the President -- who is this nation’s Commander-in-Chief -- needs to realize we are at war. I don’t think anyone realizes this very hard reality more than President Obama," wrote White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer.

In a written statement to the Politico news site Tuesday, Cheney said: “We are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe. ... Why doesn’t he want to admit we’re at war?"

Pfeiffer responded by pointing to "numerous" instances in which the president has stated that he considers the US to be at war, and added: "The difference is this: President Obama doesn’t need to beat his chest to prove it, and – unlike the last Administration – we are not at war with a tactic (“terrorism”), we at war with something that is tangible: al-Qaeda and its violent extremist allies. And we will prosecute that war as long as the American people are endangered."

Pfeiffer also outlined an interpretation of the war formerly known as the "war on terror" that places the blame for the continuing existence of al-Qaeda on the Bush administration.

[F]or seven years after 9/11, while our national security was overwhelmingly focused on Iraq -- a country that had no al-Qaeda presence before our invasion -- Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda's leadership was able to set up camp in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they continued to plot attacks against the United States. ... It was President Obama who finally implemented a strategy of winding down the war in Iraq, and actually focusing our resources on the war against al-Qaeda – more than doubling our troops in Afghanistan, and building partnerships to target al-Qaeda’s safe-havens in Yemen and Somalia.

Pfeiffer added that "it is telling that Vice President Cheney and others seem to be more focused on criticizing the Administration than condemning the attackers."

In the debate over the attempted flight 253 attack, some Democratic politicians have spotted weaknesses in Republican arguments against Obama. The National Journal reports that the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Chris Van Hollen, and US House Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) are attacking the Bush administration for failing to address the al-Qaeda threat.

"In general, we are facing the consequences of the Bush administration's failures to deal with al-Qaeda," Van Hollen told the National Journal. "The Republicans have no business in pointing fingers at the Obama administration on terrorism and national security."

In recent days the Obama administration has made it clear it doesn't intend to shift its foreign policy goals in light of the December 25 attempted attack on Northwest Airlines flight 253, allegedly carried out by Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Greg Sargent at the Plum Line reports that the White House has rejected calls by senators Joe Lieberman, John McCain and others to stop the planned shut-down of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in the wake of the foiled attack.

"The detention facility at Guantanamo has been used by al-Qaeda as a rallying cry and recruiting tool — including its affiliate al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As our military leaders have recognized, closing the detention facility at Guantanamo is a national security imperative," said "a senior administration official" in an email obtained by Sargent.