Jacob Heilbrunn

The Return of Dick Cheney

  In his memoir Decision Points, George W. Bush barely alludes to Dick Cheney. But the former vice president is not so easily avoided as that. In an interview with Brian Williams on NBC, he discusses President Obama, terrorism, and his heart problems. Like a piece of gum stuck to your shoe, he seems almost impossible to ignore. No matter how hard you try.

As Cheney mouthes off, it's hard to avoid the impression that he has nothing to offer the GOP. He seems more a testament to the discredited past than a trailblazer into the Republican future. He is offering a path straight into the morass. It's remarkable how little he has to say that's new. This is a man who is intellectually stuck on repeat mode.

What's most telling is that he rehearses the same old lies in new dress about terrorist policies. Thus Cheney observes about Obama,

I was concerned that the counterterrorism policies that we'd put in place after 9/11 that had kept the nation safe for over seven years were being sort of rapidly discarded. Or he was going to attempt to discard them. Things like the enhanced interrogation techniques or the terror surveillance program.

They'd been vital from our perspective in terms of learning basic fundamental intelligence about al Qaeda, about how they operated, who they were, where we could find them. And we were able to put in place a successful policy that did prevent any further major attacks against the United States over all those years. And he campaigned against all of that.

As I say, I think he's found it necessary to be more sympathetic to the kinds of things we did. They've gotten active, for example, with the drone program, using Predator and the Reaper to launch strikes against identified terrorist targets in the various places in the world.

 

Here's the problem. There is no evidence that the Bush waterboarding program elicited any useful information from terrorists. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was apparently waterboarded no less than 183 times. All that the CIA agents got for their exertions was a man coughing up, not secrets, but water.

The Predator program, by contrast, represents the kind of focus on Afghanistan that the Bush administration, obsessed with a bogus threat from Iraq, ignored. Who let Osama bin Laden hotfoot it out of Tora Bora? The blunt fact is that Obama appears to be more serious about stopping terrorism than the Bush administration. Writing in the New York Times about a new book by Peter Bergen, Tom Ricks notes that "Cheney appears less a brooding presence and more a red-faced buffoon, which may well be how history comes to regard him."

Cheney has other advice to dispense about health care being the program that will bring Obama down and ensure that he is a "one term" president. Not so fast. The GOP will have to field a candidate who is looking toward the future with a real program rather than simply opposing Obama. It's interesting that Mitt Romney has been keeping a low profile rather than getting embroiled in the controversy over Arizona.

Meanwhile, Cheney is working on his memoirs. He likes to pontificate about world events. He takes himself very seriously even if no one else should. It's a pity that he found someone in Bush who not only listened to him, but handed over the presidency for six years to his nominal subordinate. Bush belatedly asserted himself in his final, and best, two years. But there's no reason for anyone else to pay attention to Cheney now that he's exited office. He may look slimmer, but he remains a buffoon.

 

(Photo by Paul Balcerak)