Former Vice President Richard "Dick" Cheney’s interview on ABC over the weekend was fascinating. Cheney has become one of the most vocal critics of the Obama administration, unlike former President George W. Bush who understands that such attacks are a task usually assigned to those who have not retired from public office, that there is something unseemly about them in fact. Ah, but Cheney insists upon what can only be called the "Cheney Difference."
What is this "Cheney Difference"? It is a moral precept that holds, simply enough, that anything Dick Cheney did was right because he did it, and anything Barack Obama does is wrong because Obama does it. It is akin to the climactic moment in the film "Frost/Nixon" when Frank Langella, portraying Nixon, says, "I am telling you that if the President does it, it is not illegal."
When the current administration detained the Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and processed him through the civilian justice system, which includes reading him his Miranda rights, this was outrageous. But, when the Bush administration did the exact same thing with other suspected terrorists arrested on American soil, including the Shoe bomber Richard Reid, whose case is almost identical to that of Abudmutallab, well that was fine. Cheney opined that the Bush administration could have turned Reid over to military authorities. But, they did not. Reid is currently serving time in prison.
The "Cheney Difference" also covers sins of omission. Cheney praised the Obama administration for its current strategy in Afghanistan, a controversial decision to send more troops and adopt the kind of counter-insurgency strategy that will hopefully win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. I am sure that the Obama team is happy to have all the support it can get but the fact remains that at no point did the Bush-Cheney administration do what Obama is doing in Afghanistan. Indeed, because of the diversionary and unnecessary war in Iraq, we lacked the resources, most especially the political will, to pursue the war in Afghanistan.
Cheney, of course, continues to defend the decision to expand the war against terror into Iraq. He rightly notes that Obama did not support that war. But, he fails to see that the primary strategic consequence of the Iraq War was the strengthening of the regime in Iran, with all the ugly consequences of such strengthening that have come to pass. The War in Iraq not only kept us from finishing the job in Afghanistan, it took out one of the Iranian regime’s chief opponents. I am no defender of Saddam Hussein. He was a thug and a criminal. (So, was Stalin.) I think it is debatable, at least, that U.S. interests were not served by his removal from power.
The other great moment in this interview was when Cheney admitted that he was a big fan of water boarding. This frank admission of his support for torture should, but won’t solicit howls from conservative Catholics who have been using euphemisms like "enhanced interrogation techniques" to cloud judgment. Torture, like Obstruction of Justice, is against the law. It is immoral. And, Cheney, like Nixon, cannot plead that it is not illegal because he ordered it. The American people, including the GOP standard bearer last year, Sen. John McCain, who unlike Cheney did not dodge the Vietnam War, oppose torture because they understand that it both violates our standards of civilization and invites the use of torture against our soldiers in return. But, not Dick Cheney. Now, at least, he has the honesty to admit that he likes torture. I suppose that is a type of moral progress.
I confess that I enjoy watching Cheney. I am not sure if it is the tone of his voice, or the way he holds his head down, looking up almost furtively at his interlocutor, but the essential sinister quality of the man’s views is heightened by his on-air demeanor. He is welcome to his views, as are we all, but it is difficult to think of a public figure who more thoroughly misunderstands history, to say nothing of his failure to grasp the essential decency and fair-mindedness of the American national psyche. He has been retired from office but I wish he was retired from the airwaves. There are more thoughtful conservative critics of the Obama administration than this self-justifying man who is worthy of an honorary doctorate in moral idiocy.