SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (Reuters) - After nearly two years of leading the Republican charge against President Barack Obama, a kinder and gentler Dick Cheney is reining in some of his harshest criticisms of the White House.
The former vice president, a frequent and sometimes brutal critic of Obama early in the president's administration, has eased off his attacks recently and even offered occasional compliments.
At a tribute to former President Ronald Reagan in California on Saturday, Cheney said he saw "good news" in some of Obama's recent steps on counter-terrorism and he described the commitment of more U.S. troops in Afghanistan as "a plus."
During a question-and-answer session, Cheney ignored several opportunities to criticize Obama and said he was hopeful about the president's counter-terrorism approach.
"The good news is I sense they have backed off on some of their more outrageous propositions," said Cheney, who served as vice president under George W. Bush. "I'm hopeful that what we will see is a solid, steady hand at the tiller."
That followed an NBC News interview last month in which Cheney praised Obama's speech after the Arizona shooting rampage in which U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was critically wounded and six people killed. He still predicted Obama would be a one-term president in part because of public outrage over the healthcare overhaul.
"I think he has learned from experience," Cheney said of Obama in the NBC interview, backing away from his claim Obama had made the United States less safe.
That claim had been at the heart of Cheney's criticisms. He accused Obama of trying to dismantle the Bush administration counter-terrorism policies championed by Cheney and put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Cheney condemned Obama's ban on the controversial interrogation technique of waterboarding, questioned the decision to deal with the Christmas Day 2009 underwear bomber as a criminal rather than an enemy fighter and criticized Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
Obama has not been able to meet his promise to close Guantanamo and he has boosted troop levels and ramped up the use of unmanned predator drone attacks against Taliban targets in Afghanistan.
'GOT MY DANDER UP'
At the Reagan tribute, Cheney said what originally "got my dander up" was discussion that the Obama administration might prosecute intelligence agency personnel involved in anti-terrorism interrogations -- another report that never happened.
"Cheney has kind of backed away lately, largely because Obama has met Bush and praised him when it comes to things like Afghanistan, the use of drones and interrogation," said Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas.
On Saturday, Cheney took clear pleasure in Obama's problems emptying out and closing the Guantanamo detention camp. "I notice Guantanamo is still open," he said dryly, to cheers from the conservative crowd.
A thinner Cheney, who has had five heart attacks and could eventually need a transplant, has slowly re-emerged in public after surgery in July to implant a device that helps pump blood through his body.
He spoke at the November groundbreaking of George W. Bush's presidential library. Cheney, defense secretary under the first President Bush, also joined the former president and other administration officials at a public forum in Texas last month to discuss the 20th anniversary of the first Gulf War.
He plans to expound further on his views and memories in a book planned for publication later this year titled "In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir."
He told the crowd at the Reagan tribute, part of the celebration of the late president's 100th birthday on Sunday, that the book was going well.
"I'm deep into my years as vice president and let's just say I'm not having writer's block," Cheney said.
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