The Ghoulish Trollery of Dick Cheney

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).

Of course, as in any Cheney sit-down, there was lots of trashing the current Democratic president. “When Obama came in, Iraq was in relatively good shape,” he claims, and he says the president’s commitment to keeping only a small force in Iraq is what led the Maliki government to reject a status of forces agreement – as though 20,000 troops would have been more palatable to the Iraqis than 5,000. Never mind that Americans, not just Iraqis, opposed lingering involvement there. That’s Obama’s fault, too.

“The key is to get the American people to support difficult things,” he instructs Hewitt. “And military action and wars are always very difficult. And you need strong leadership, somebody who will stand up and say this is what we’re going to do, and this is why we’re going to do it.” Hewitt neglected to point out that as Bush and Cheney left office in December 2008, an ABC News/Washington Post Poll found 64 percent of those surveyed said the Iraq War was not worth fighting, while 34 percent said it was worth it, and 2 percent undecided.

Getting a third of the country to “support difficult things” like the Iraq War? Mission accomplished, Vice President!

The conversation closed with the reason Cheney’s currently on his media tour: the PAC he’s established with his daughter Liz, fresh off a failed attempt to carpetbag a Wyoming Senate seat. Their Alliance for a Strong America will search out candidates who share their grim neocon worldview. While Cheney wouldn’t say whom he might support for president in 2016, he made clear there’s one man he won’t: Sen. Rand Paul. Once again calling Paul “an isolationist,” he assures Hewitt: “Somebody with an isolationist view, that is to say that we can hide behind our oceans and everything will be OK, doesn’t fit that test.”

Obviously I’m no Rand Paul backer, but credit where it’s due: On NBC’s “Meet the Press” he put the blame for the current Iraq mess on those who led us into war under false pretenses.

They didn’t really, I think, understand the civil war that would break out. And what’s going on now, I don’t blame on President Obama. Has he really got the solution? Maybe there is no solution.

That was brave of him, and he’ll pay for it politically. If Paul runs, you’ll likely see that very sentence – “What’s going on now, I don’t blame on President Obama” – in ads sponsored by Cheney’s PAC, to rile up a base that doesn’t like neocon interventionism. Cheney may no longer have the name of every bad guy on the tip of his tongue, but he knows the name of the one who counts, Barack Hussein Obama, and he’ll be reviling it as long as he’s breathing.

I’ve given up hoping the media would tire of promoting the rantings of Mr. Five Deferments, the man who never saw a war he didn’t like, but also never found one he’d like to fight in. Maybe Paul can gain some traction with a Republican base that’s weary of war but thinks if Obama’s against something, they have to be for it. It’s up to Paul now to consign Cheney to history.


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