The former Vice President settles scores and defends his record in new memoir.
Dick Cheney called his memoir In My Time. Early news reports suggest a better title would be No Regrets.
The former vice president has not backed down from his role in the War on Terror. His support of enhanced interrogations and his role leading up to the Iraq War made him the most reviled politician since Richard Nixon and the most consequential vice president in American history.
Liberals cannot stand Mr. Cheney. Today on “Morning Joe,” NYU professor Jeffrey Sachs spoke for many in academia when he accused Cheney of lying to get the United States into war with Iraq. This refrain was constant during the Bush administration, when the Left frequently claimed: “Bush lied. Troops died.”
The press savaged him as well. Initially he was “Bush’s Brain,” a wise old man who would help the former Texas governor operate in Washington. After the War on Terror began, the New York Times began referring to him as “Darth Vader.”
Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s latest column argues that Mr. Cheney’s “nefarious” interventionism abroad and civil liberties abuses at home weakened America and damaged its standing in the world. The Times titled her column: “Darth Vader Vents.”
Liberals like Dowd have made these charges against Mr. Cheney for the past several years. The attacks became so heated leading up to the 2004 presidential election that Cheney offered to step aside and let George W. Bush select another running mate.
His unpopularity stemmed from his approach to the War on Terror. Throughout late 2002 and early 2003, Mr. Cheney linked Iraq to the global struggle against Islamic terrorism and said American forces must strike Iraq.
US intelligence in 2002 revealed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Hawks argued that Iraq threatened international peace and posed a threat to U.S. security in a post-9/11 world. Saddam must be dealt with now, they asserted.
The WMD talking point sold the war at home and convinced Congress to approve military action in Iraq. When no WMDs were found following the fall of Baghdad, the justification for war fell apart.
The Left immediately jumped on the absence of WMDs and argued it showed how mendacious the administration was. Critics said there were plenty of reasons for invading Iraq: it was a war for oil. Conducted to enrich Cheney’s Halliburton buddies. To complete unfinished business with Saddam.
But Cheney (and President Bush for that matter) didn’t lie to get us into Iraq. Their argument relied on faulty intelligence: a subtle distinction, but an important one. The real issue is how Mr. Cheney responded, in light of this revelation.
In an interview with NBC News “Dateline,” the former vice president said he has no regrets about invading Iraq or supporting enhanced interrogation techniques on enemy combatants. If anything, Cheney would have expanded the War on Terror.
In June 2007, Cheney encouraged President Bush to attack a Syrian nuclear plant. Bush demurred. The Israelis took out the reactor later that year. This insight, perhaps the most revealing part of the “Dateline” interview, showed his growing reservations with the president as the administration moved from a hawkish tone to a more conciliatory one.
The firing of Donald Rumsfeld isolated Cheney even more. President Bush let the defense secretary go without consulting his vice president. Rumsfeld and Cheney had known each other since working in the Ford administration. Cheney called Rumsfeld “the best boss he ever had” and considered him an ally in the Bush administration.
This decision showed Mr. Bush bowing to political reality. The media had called for Rumsfeld’s head repeatedly since 2003. The Democrats had just taken over Congress, running against Rumsfeld’s management of the war. These were some of the darkest days of the Iraq campaign and the Bush presidency. Many feared the war had turned into a quagmire.
The Syrian decision, as the Times reports, showed Mr. Bush was reticent to strike another country after the difficulties in Iraq. The president had tuned out his vice president and now supported his secretary of state’s diplomatic approach.
Condoleeza Rice succeeded Colin Powell at Foggy Bottom following the 2004 election. Powell had stepped down following Bush’s re-election, expressing reservations about the war. Rice, like her predecessor, was a thorn in the vice president’s side. Cheney said her diplomatic approach with enemy-states was naïve, and watched hopelessly as it reshaped U.S. policy in 2007 and 2008.
Hawks feared that the incoming Obama administration would continue Rice’s policies. The Democrats talked about leaving Iraq, engaging Iran, resetting with Russia, closing Guantanamo Bay, and improving America’s image in the world. The Democrats promised to offer “smart-power” and transition to a realist foreign policy.
But in an ironic twist, the Obama administration spent the last three years validating the former vice president. Barack Obama has continued Cheney’s war on terror policies.Guantanamo remains open (much to the chagrin of the current president). Mr. Obama has escalated drone attacks against terrorist havens in Pakistan. He has expanded these attacks into Yemen and Somalia.
Enhanced interrogation gave America the intelligence needed to assassinate Osama bin Laden. These same techniques, which Candidate Obama viscerally opposed while running for office, played a vital role in helping him take down America’s most wanted terrorist earlier this year.
Cheney wishes that accomplishment would have occurred on his watch, but takes solace knowing his approach helped launch the operation.
Killing bin Laden may not vindicate Cheney in the eyes of the public, but it reveals a key aspect of the former vice president’s approach in the post 9/11 world. He was prepared to make unpopular choices to protect the United States.
The Cheney in In My Time is the figure we’ve seen for a decade: a man confident his approach kept America safe. For that, he has no apologies.