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The Ghoulish Trollery of Dick Cheney

He barely remembers his old friend Ahmed Chalabi and imagines nuclear terror scenarios in detail. Has he lost it?

Former US vice-president Dick Cheney leaves after attending the ceremonial funeral of British former prime minister Margaret Thatcher at St Paul's Cathedral in central London on April 17, 2013


Former Vice President Dick Cheney is a man who apparently sits around imagining nuclear terror attacks. Something is coming that will be worse than 9/11, and soon,  he told radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday night. “You can just imagine what would happen, somebody could smuggle a nuclear device, put it in a shipping container, and drive it down the Beltway outside of Washington, D.C.”

Hewitt egged him on with what sounded like martial law porn, a fantasy of the whole government collapsing: “Do you see the government reconstituting?” he asked Cheney breathlessly. “Because it would have to be military rule for a period of time at least.”

Oooh, baby, “military rule.” Bring it on!

Cheney shares with Hewitt his experience with “the continuity of government program” during the Cold War. “It involved having a government waiting, if you will, ready to go in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States, so that we could always maintain the constitutional base of governmental authority. I was part of that program for several years, and a lot of it, I’m sure, is probably still classified. But it was very, very important.”

I’m sure it was, because Dick Cheney is a very, very important man. Who may nonetheless have lost a step. In a long, rambling conversation with Hewitt, he often talked in weirdly high-gloss, low-detail terms, like “I’m big on the Kurds,” though “I’m not sure you want to be in a position of advocating [greater Kurdistan].” He starts to warn about a scary terrorist President Obama has fecklessly emboldened in Iraq, and then he stops. “I’m trying to think of his name now, is it al-Baghdadi?”

“Yeah, al-Baghdadi,” Hewitt assures him.

But the most outrageous part of the Cheney interview was the way he distanced himself from the man he once wanted to run Iraq, serial fabricator Ahmed Chalabi. When Hewitt asked if Chalabi should be in the running to replace Malaki, the garrulous Cheney clammed up.

Well, I don’t know about that. I’ve met him a few times. I don’t know him that well. A lot of people look on him as a bit of an opportunist, always, you know, around, eager to insert himself into a situation. He was fairly active in the opposition to Saddam before we went in, one of the expatriates. I don’t know him well enough to be able to determine whether or not he’d be a positive force. A lot of people are very critical of the way he’d operated in the past.

Of course in the early days of the war Cheney was a huge booster of Chalabi, and the bogus intelligence he shared to gin up the case for war. Former CIA director George Tenet wrote in his 2007 memoir: “You had the impression that some Office of the Vice President and DOD reps were writing Chalabi’s name over and over again in their notes, like schoolgirls with their first crush.”

David Frum had a similar take in his own book.

I was less impressed by Chalabi than were some others in the Bush administration. However, since one of those “others” was Vice President Cheney, it didn’t matter what I thought. In 2002, Chalabi joined the annual summer retreat of the American Enterprise Institute near Vail, Colorado. He and Cheney spent long hours together, contemplating the possibilities of a Western-oriented Iraq: an additional source of oil, an alternative to U.S. dependency on an unstable-looking Saudi Arabia.

Now Cheney says, “I don’t know him that well. I’ve only met him a few times.” We shouldn’t be surprised that Cheney lies, but this lie is too easily challenged (although of course Hewitt didn’t try).

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