What George W. Bush Could Teach Dick Cheney

The former veep needs a lecture about classiness.

Dick Cheney is shooting his mouth off again. During a television interview last week, the former vice president stated that President Obama is the weakest president ever, even worse than Jimmy Carter.

Last week, Cheney told ABC News, “I obviously am not a big fan of President Obama. I think he’s been one of our weakest presidents. I just fundamentally disagree with him philosophically. I’d be hard put to find any Democratic president that I’ve disagreed with more.”

Cheney grudgingly gave Obama a little bit of credit for the raid on killing bin Laden but said that it was the intelligence collected during the Bush administration that led to the raid. He also criticized Obama for withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cheney should crawl back under his rock. He is arguably the worst vice president in U.S. history, and served under George W. Bush, arguably the worst two-term president in U.S history. Big time. Although Bush/Cheney talked tough like John Wayne regarding Iran, they acted more like Wayne Newton, basically doing nothing. A year after stating “Dead or Alive” and letting bin Laden escape from Tora Bora, Bush indicated that he was not concerned about bin Laden. The U.S. invasion of Iraq distracted us from the real war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It wasn’t until President Obama came into office that the focus was correctly put back on defeating al-Qaeda, fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and killing Osama bin Laden. Cheney’s criticism of Obama in foreign affairs is like a high-school tennis player criticizing Roger Federer’s serve.

In general, I think that former U.S. presidents and vice presidents of both parties should avoid partisan criticism of a current president. While I disagreed with most of President George W. Bush’s disastrous policies, I think that he has set a good example of what an ex-president should do in that he’s avoided criticizing President Obama and his policies and mostly stayed out of the public eye. He’s been a class act.

Last month, Bush told the Hoover Institute, “I think it’s bad for the presidency to have former presidents bloviating, opining, telling people how it ought to be done. I don’t want to undermine our president, whoever is president. A former president can do that, and I think it’s bad for the presidency itself.”

Not only is Cheney’s criticism of Obama inappropriate, he’s simply wrong. While President Obama’s domestic achievements have been mixed, he has arguably been one of the strongest U.S presidents in the last 100 years as far as foreign affairs. His killing of Osama bin Laden is one of the greatest foreign policy achievements of any president. He planned and signed off on a difficult and risky mission that could have ended in shambles, much like President Carter’s failed attempt to free the Iran hostages through a military effort.

A recent State Department report on terrorism indicated that the killing of bin Laden has put al-Qaeda’s core leadership in an irreversible decline that will be hard to reverse. The report described 2011 as a landmark year, with many high-profile casualties, including Atiyah Abd al-Rahman and Anwar al-Awlaki, a senior al-Qaeda leader in Yemen. The report also indicated that the number of worldwide terrorist attacks fell to 10,283 from 11,461 in 2010.

Under Obama’s directive, the U.S. vastly expanded the number of targeted drone attacks against terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. He led international efforts to oust Moammar Gadhafi from power in Libya.

According to a New York Times book review of the 2012 book by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy titled The Presidents Club, “ … most presidents share mutual respect, a reverence for their office and a willingness to rise above politics to protect it.” The book relates how most modern-day presidents have relied on the counsel and advice of former presidents, such as how Nixon advised Clinton on China and Eisenhower advised Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs.

Former presidents can play a valuable role. Jimmy Carter has done noble humanitarian work with the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity. Bill Clinton formed the Clinton Global Initiative and acted together with George H.W. Bush in charitable and humanitary missions around the world. George H.W. Bush inspired the formation of the Thousand Points of Light Foundation. George W. Bush’s Bush Institute advances global health, among other causes.

With the exception of Jimmy Carter, most former presidents don’t criticize the sitting president. Last month, Carter accused Obama of human rights violations with his extensive use of drones to kill people.

Former presidents and vice presidents had their time in the limelight and in power. They should hesitate in criticizing a current president in a vitriolic manner. Instead of constantly shooting off his mouth criticizing President Obama, Cheney should go back to shooting his gun on a hunting trip. Just don’t bring a friend.

Larry Atkins, a lawyer and a journalist, teaches journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University. He has written for the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Huffington Post, NPR, Philadelphia Inquirer, and others.