Dueling VPs: Biden, Cheney Parry on Terror

Vice President Joe Biden and former Vice President Dick Cheney CBS/AP

Last Updated 12:28 p.m. ET

The threat of al Qaeda acquiring control of a nuclear weapon is legitimate but unlikely, Vice President Joe Biden said on "Face the Nation" today, despite what former Vice President Dick Cheney has said.

Biden also belittled Cheney's criticism of the Obama administration's commitment to fighting terrorism as either "misinformed or he is misinforming."

The public back-and-forth between current and former administrations played out across the Sunday talk shows like a ping pong match: Biden's NBC appearance taped Saturday night from the Olympics in Canada, allowing Cheney to respond on ABC's "This Week," before Biden got the last word later on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Biden accused Cheney of not listening to what's going on around him and trying to rewrite history.

Cheney has been a leading Republican critic of the Obama administration's handling of national security, contending that President Barack Obama is "trying to pretend" that the U.S. is not at war with terrorists. The result, Cheney says, is that Americans are less safe.

"To say that, you know, that was a big attack we had on 9/11, but it's not likely again, I just think that's dead wrong," Cheney said. "I think the biggest strategic threat the United States faces today is the possibility of another 9/11 with a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind, and I think Al Qaeda is out there even as we meet trying to figure out how to do that."

Cheney said the administration needs to do everything possible to prevent that. "And if the mindset is 'It's not likely,' then it's difficult to mobilize the resources and get people to give it the kind of priority that it deserves."

"The reason why I do not think it's likely," retorted Biden, "is because of all the resources we have put on this, considerably more than the last administration did, to see to it that it will not happen."

Biden said that under President Obama's direction, the U.S. has been more successful at killing al Qaeda leaders and their followers than it was during the years George W. Bush and Cheney were in the White House.

The vice president told moderator Bob Schieffer that the administration has eliminated more than a dozen of al Qaeda's top 20 operatives and another 100 of their associates. Al Qaeda has been unable to work in a coordinated fashion, he said, leading to more small-bore operations coming out of the Arabian Peninsula.

"We agree, the worst nightmare is the possession of nuclear weapons or a radiological weapon by al Qaeda," Biden said, but added, "the reason it's unlikely is because we have been relentless, absolutely relentless in isolating al Qaeda."

"I don't know what Dick doesn't understand," Biden said. "The worry is legitimate. The reason why I do not think it's likely is because of all the resources we have put on this, considerably more than the last administration did, to see to it that it will not happen."

Biden said a Qaeda has not been able to operate as in the past because "They are on the run.

"I don't know where Dick Cheney has been," Biden said. "Look, it's one thing, again, to criticize. It's another thing to sort of rewrite history. What is he talking about?"

Cheney, Biden said, "either is misinformed or he is misinforming. But the facts are that his assertions are not accurate."

Biden also said the Iraq war hasn't been worth its "horrible price" and that the Bush administration mishandled it from the outset by taking its "eye off the ball." That, he said, left the U.S. in a more dangerous position in Afghanistan, the al Qaeda stronghold where Osama bin Laden and his cohorts plotted the Sept 11 terror attacks.

Biden also countered Cheney's claim that the attempted Christmas Day terror attack showed that the Obama administration is not ready to handle the aftermath of a terrorism attempt.

Cheney said today he had disagreed with Bush administration officials who pursued a criminal conviction of Richard Reid, saying the shoe bomber should have been tried by a military tribunal, and disagreed with the Obama administration for seeking a criminal trial of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

"I don't know what Dick's been doing lately," Biden said. "We did exactly what he did with the shoe bomber, Richard Reid... We brought in the experts... the F.B.I. Interrogators."

Cheney also said that the Obama should keep all options for handling terrorists on the table, even waterboarding.

However, when asked whether waterboarding is effective, Biden today unequivocally said, "No. It's not effective."

Saying Abdulmutallab has provided "incredible amounts of information," without being waterboarded, and even after being read his Miranda rights, Biden said of Cheney and the Shoe Bomber, "Thank God the last administration didn't listen to him at the end."

The war has also cost the United States support from other nations around the world, he said.

Cheney took issue with Biden's assertion that the Obama White House had been successful in winding down the Iraq war. "For them to try to take credit for what happened in Iraq is a little strange," Cheney said. "It ought to go with a healthy dose of thanks to George Bush."

Still, Biden said Iraq will have successful parliamentary elections next month and the U.S. is likely to bring home some 90,000 combat troops by summer's end.

More than 4,370 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq since Bush ordered the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been wounded or killed.

Turning to the main issue on the minds of most voters, Biden said Obama inherited a shrinking economy with financial institutions that were on the edge of collapse, threatening to move the world into a depression.

Biden said the economy expanded at 5.8 percent during the last quarter and the U.S. has "stopped the hemorrhaging of jobs."

He said there was "tangible evidence" economy was moving in the right direction.

By the time of November's elections, he said, "in addition to bringing home 90,000 American troops, troops out of Iraq, the story of this administration is going to be more clearly told, and we're going to just fine."
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