Friday, October 23, 2009

'Who cares' what Cheney says: Biden

US Vice President Joe Biden rebuked his predecessor Dick Cheney over Afghanistan on Friday, and said a war review the previous administration passed onto President Barack Obama was "irrelevant."

"Who cares?" Biden said, when asked to comment on Cheney's claims that Obama was "dithering" on ordering more troops to Afghanistan, as he plows through an exhaustive review of US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"I think that is absolutely wrong. I think what the administration is doing is exactly what we said it would do," Biden said in an interview with a pool of reporters in Prague after a three-nation visit to eastern Europe.

At one point in the interview, Biden appeared set to launch a much more vociferous counter-attack on Cheney, but then interrupted himself, ruefully noting his reputation as a sometimes accident-prone public speaker.

"Who cares what--" Biden said before checking himself. "Yeah, yeah, I can see the headline now," he said. "I'm getting better, guys. I'm getting a little better, you know what I mean?"

Cheney had fired off a blistering attack on Obama administration foreign policy, and its tactics in Afghanistan in particular, at a dinner in Washington.

"Having announced his Afghanistan strategy last March, President Obama now seems afraid to make a decision, and unable to provide his commander on the ground with the troops he needs to complete his mission," Cheney said.

"The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger."

Cheney also said that the former Bush administration dug into every aspect of Afghan and Pakistan policy in late 2008, and briefed Obama's team before he took office.

But Biden said that circumstances had changed since the Bush administration assessment.

"Let's assume they left us a review that was absolutely correct. Is that review relevant and totally applicable to today in light of the changes that have taken place in the region, in Afghanistan itself?

"I think it's irrelevant."

Biden has played a key role in Obama's war council on Afghanistan, which has regular meetings in the White House Situation Room as the president mulls a request by the military for at least 40,000 extra troops for the war.

The vice president is seen as advocating a strategy that would lean away from expanding the counter-insurgency against the Taliban and related groups and focus more strongly on Al-Qaeda, possibly in Pakistan.

He said Obama had honored a deal they made when he selected him as his running mate, namely that he would have an input into every important decision.

"If he reaches a different conclusion than I do, that's okay. He's the president."

Biden later left on his way back to the United States following a trip to Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania.

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