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Gibbs: Obama More Hawkish Than Cheney

12:53 PM, Mar 17, 2009 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Robert Gibbs was ready for the question. As CNN's Ed Henry asked about criticism of the Obama administration from former Vice President Dick Cheney, Gibbs nodded his head. I knew this was coming.

Having anticipated the question, one might have expected Gibbs to have prepared a compelling, substantive response to Cheney's policy-specific critiques. Instead, Gibbs attacked Cheney's approval ratings in public opinion polls. "I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy," Gibbs said to laughter in the White House press briefing room. "So they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal."

Welcome to the new tone in Barack Obama's Washington.

It's probably a little unfair to blame Obama for the words of his press secretary. Gibbs, a longtime Democratic partisan who was out of work before he ended up on the Obama campaign, combines the cockiness of a frat boy with the intellectual acuity of Homer Simpson.

When Henry asked Gibbs whether Cheney was right that the Obama administration is "trying to take advantage of this crisis," Gibbs shot back: "I think not taking economic advice from Dick Cheney would be maybe the best possible outcome of yesterday's interview."

It's a level of incoherence that makes you long for the linguistic precision and brainpower of Scott McClellan. (At another point in the briefing, Gibbs spoke at some length about the difference between John McCain's claim last fall that the economy was fundamentally strong and Christina Romer's claim this weekend that the economy is fundamentally sound. "Do I think there's a definitional difference between ‘sound' and ‘strong,'" Gibbs asked. "Absolutely.")

Although several people in the White House press briefing room laughed at Gibbs' clever attack on Cheney, Chip Reid of CBS News asked Gibbs whether the mocking the former vice president wasn't a bit excessive.

Gibbs didn't back down. "I hope my sarcasm didn't mask the seriousness of the answer with which I addressed to Ed -- that for seven-plus years the very perpetrators that the Vice President says he's concerned about weren't brought to justice."

What's that? Obama is going to be more aggressive in bringing terrorists to justice than Dick Cheney?

Yes, according to Gibbs:

I would say that the President has made quite clear that keeping the American people safe and secure is the job -- is the most serious job that he has each and every day. I think the President saw over the past seven-plus years the delay in bringing the very people to justice that committed terrorist acts on this soil and on foreign soil; that that delay in seeking swift and certain justice was what he decided to change through his executive order in changing the legal architecture by which these terrorists would finally be brought to justice.

That's news. Gibbs is claiming that the Obama White House is more committed to bringing detained bad guys -- they're no longer "enemy combatants" -- to justice than the Bush administration. Is this a preview of how the Obama administration plans to sell the president's decision to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay? That this administration is in fact more aggressive than the Bush administration?

It'll be a hard sell. While Obama will surely seek high-profile prosecutions of some Guantanamo detainees, administration officials have said repeatedly that a good number of current detainees will be released. (It is the stated position of the Obama administration that "a majority" of the nearly 100 Yemenis currently held at Guantanamo will be repatriated so that they might "make a future for themselves" back in Yemen. The overwhelming majority of those Yemenis have ties to al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations.

The complication: the terrorists currently detained at Guantanamo remain there because they are, with very few exceptions, considered extremely dangerous. Many of them are the worst of the worst.

Gibbs plainly wasn't freelancing. He knew the question was coming and gave this answer twice. Reporters and members of Congress should hold him to it -- they should make Obama administration officials explain how "swift and certain justice" for Guantanamo detainees means releasing and repatriating large numbers of them. This public discussion should include a careful look at Guantanamo detainees who have been released only to return to the jihad. The Pentagon had planned to release a report on those recidivist detainees in early February, but the Obama administration is blocking its release.

Maybe Gibbs ought to spend less of his time attempting humor and more fulfilling the his boss's promise to run "the most transparent administration in history."