Jacob Heilbrunn

Here Comes Dick Cheney Again

If you can't keep a good man down, as the saying goes, then why should Dick Cheney—who regards himself as a better man than most—refrain from injecting himself into contemporary foreign-affairs debates? From the outset of the Obama presidency, Cheney, who visited the American Enterprise Institute, among other places, to issue dire warnings about the president's failure to safeguard the homeland from foreign bad guys, has made no secret of his belief that only the hardnosed policies he espoused during the Bush years are adequate. Now Cheney is making the rounds on Capitol Hill to warn against any impending defense budget cuts.

But does Cheney have the crediblity to warn about defense cuts? Only if you think that the torture policies he espoused were, to borrow a phrase from Oliver North, a neat idea. Only if you thought, or continue to think, that invading Iraq was a good idea. Only if you think that American military might, in other words, can turn the Middle East into a democracy on the Jeffersonian order overnight.

If some nagging doubts remain on this score, however, then Cheney's visit may not seem like the return of a solon to Washington, DC, but something else. It might seem like the act of a wretched, vain, petty man whose real concern, all along, has not been as much with the country's welfare as with scoring political points. Fortunately, as the Los Angeles Times observes, Cheney's act has worn rather thin. He may have met Senate Republicans at a luncheon on Tuesday. And he may be meeting with other top GOP leaders in the evening. But he can only preach to the already converted.

Cheney's adjurations no longer carry weight. One reason is that he specialized in apocalyptic warnings. Another, of course, is the Iraq fiasco. And yet another is that George W. Bush himself put Cheney on ice during the last two years of his administration, refusing to issue a full pardon to Scooter Libby. But it's also the case that, as the White House is reminding everyone, Cheney himself once famously declared that deficits don't matter. But as the American public seems to realize, he's wrong. They do matter. That the military should be held sacrosanct, exempt from any cuts, is untenable. The budget cannot be balanced without cuts that include it.

Now that the Pentagon faces sequestration unless a budget deal is reached, however, Republican hawks are scrambling to try and subvert the very accord that they reached with Obama. Meanwhile, the Democrats are announcing that they're ready to let all tax cuts lapse unless the GOP proves more accommodating on the issue of raising taxes on the wealthy. The perfect storm is developing. Perhaps it will impel both sides to reach a deal, to reform the tax code. Perhaps.

The more likely scenario is that some last-ditch temporary deal will be reached. But the attempts of Cheney to warn piously about the danger of subjecting the military to cuts rings hollow. If a deal is reached—and it should be—it won't because Cheney helped create one. It will be in spite of him. The last thing Republicans should be doing in an election year, of all years, is embracing the vice president who most epitomizes what went wrong during the Bush years. Instead, they should repudiate a man who breathes contempt for the very democratic virtues he purports to want to spread across the world.

Image: Gage Skidmore