The National Catholic Review

Democrats do not know whether to pity former Vice President Dick Cheney or to vilify him. Once again, he has launched criticisms of President Obama’s security policies that are more partisan than professorial, akin to the kind of thing a mid-level communications director would say more than the words of a statesman. Indeed, there was a juvenile flavor to Cheney’s statement that Obama is "pretending" we are not at war and that such pretending makes Americans less safe, especially the way he repeated the charge of "pretending."

We accord former chief magistrates and their top assistants the status of statesman. We look to them to embody the role by transcending partisanship and engaging in more thoughtful contributions to the nation. Even Richard M. Nixon, despite the humiliations of Watergate and his forced resignation, was accorded the role of statesman and he fulfilled it with some measure of dignity, publishing learned books on foreign policy. After all, Presidents and Vice Presidents see things and experience things that the rest of us don’t. They make history every day. We want them to contribute from that unique source of knowledge and experience to our collective knowledge, so that the entire nation can learn from their time in the Oval Office or near it. This is why we spend so much money on presidential libraries and why someone like James Baker, who never held either of the top jobs, has an institute at Rice University.

 Former Presidents and Vice Presidents may come out of retirement every four years to address their party’s conventions, but mostly they work on non-partisan activities. Indeed, the joint efforts of former Presidents George H. W. Bush (#41) and Bill Clinton on behalf of the victims of the Tsunami in 2004 and Katrina in 2005 exemplify how statesmen should act in their retirement. Bush and Clinton had fought a bitter campaign against each other in 1992. They two could scarcely have come from more divergent circumstances, one the privileges of Kennebunkport and Greenwich and the other from the rural poverty of Hope, Arkansas, but both men joined the small club of former presidents and that common experience trumped their previous rancor.

None of this has characterized Mr. Cheney’s time since he left office. Unlike most vice presidents, Cheney did not aspire to the top spot. So, his transition to post-partisan could have been immediate. Instead, he has engaged in the kind of gutter attacks that do dishonor to his office as well as to himself.

How should the Democrats reply? They should pay Cheney for his remarks. It is hard to imagine someone with less credibility about foreign affairs than Mr. Cheney, the genius behind the Iraq War. That war, and the zeal, to say nothing of the distortions, with which the administration made the case for it, took the nation’s focus off Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism. The Iraq War recruited hundreds, maybe thousands of new militants for the ranks of Al-Qaeda and similar groups. The Iraq War cost America the support of our allies. Yet, this is the man we should listen to? Instead of implementing, and evaluating the implementation, of the 9/11 Commission Report, Cheney was too busy selling the existence of non-existent WMDs in Iraq. That is why Mr. Abdulmutallab was able to get on a plane bound for Detroit with a bomb in his underwear. Indeed, while Cheney has denounced Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo, the leaders of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, where Mr. Abdulmutallab received his orders, had been released from Guantanamo by the Bush-Cheney administration. Yet, it is this man Cheney that we should listen to?

Cheney is undoubtedly sincere, but sincerity is a terribly low bar. If his track record were not so poor, the content of his charges, and the manner in which they are delivered, would also suggest that the Democrats should pay him for his efforts. He is not only churlish but childish. His venom is so palpable, his Manichaean worldview so relentless (and so tinged with anti-Muslim race baiting), and his willingness to assess the President’s motives so sophomoric, the Democrats should want nothing more than for this man to be the face of the GOP.

Comments

Marc Monmouth | 1/5/2010 - 11:15am
Steph, I don't fell God is calling me to be a Deacon. We need good and faithful lay people in the Church.  All of us, even you, must always be willing to speak out against abortion and all attacks against the dignity of life. Thank you, I am happy that you think I would be a good deacon, but I don't feel God is calling me.
S Bond | 1/4/2010 - 10:19pm
Milbo, why not go into training as a Deacon?  And you can use a modulated voice and lobby milquetoast opinions and drive every conversation to the topic of abortion and be really ''appropriate'' at all times, if that's your vision of what a Deacon should be.
 
Deacon Eric, thank you for your service.
Marc Monmouth | 1/4/2010 - 7:40pm
Glad you agree.
Eric Stoltz | 1/4/2010 - 4:19pm
Whatever.
Marc Monmouth | 1/4/2010 - 3:04pm
It is a very sad state of affairs when a Deacon refuses to say whether he preaches against abortion-an intrinsic evil.  Some of the things he admits to preaching about are subject to debate, but abortion is never subject to debate.  The Deacon writes "...as a minister of the Gospel I am not required to extend consideration to those who advocate breaking the Commandments as though they had some legitimate claim to an equal voice. They do not."  A very judgmental deacon is not what the Church needs, but rather a deacon who extends the love of Christ to all and stands up for all atrocities.  Further proof that diaconate formation is inadequate at best. 
Marie Rehbein | 1/4/2010 - 12:34pm
S Ellis,
I am almost positive that President Obama's primary motivation in accomodating the request for more troops in Afghanistan is not bi-partisanship.  However, the Republican position on the matter is clearly in favor of more troops, and I would suggest that that is a politically motivated position. 
 
Whenever I evaluate what a president does, I try to put myself in his shoes.  Therefore, if I were president, I would be considering whether bringing more troops into Afghanistan might improve the situation there before we leave, especially if the general on the ground there were recommending it.  Since no one is actually clairvoyant, it would seem to me that the only way to know would be to give it a shot.  This is what I think President Obama's decision amounts to.  I do not consider it an escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan.
 
On the other hand, whenever I put myself in President Bush's shoes, I would come up with a different approach and be disturbed by his choices.  So long as the UN inspector was saying that he was finding no evidence of WMD in Iraq and that inspections were thorough and would be ongoing, I found no justification for invading and destabilizing Iraq.  It seemed rather like fulfilling the wishes of Osama Bin Laden whose strategy was to get us to deplete our nation militarily and economically.
 
That the Bush approach has not turned into a complete disaster may have to do with God's grace.  It certainly has nothing to do with brilliant leadership.
Eric Stoltz | 1/4/2010 - 11:46am
sophistry: a subtle, tricky, superficially plausible, but generally fallacious method of reasoning.
Eric Stoltz | 1/4/2010 - 11:43am
Milbo: The title of this post is "What to Do About Cheney." It's not "What Does Deacon Eric Preach About."
 
If you want to discuss the current role of Mr. Cheney, this is the place. If you really want to talk about just anything else, you could start your own blog. Opening up rabbit holes in this thread and trying to lead people down them does not hide the poverty of your arguments.
Eric Stoltz | 1/4/2010 - 2:04am
Milbo said: "It is interesting that you fail to mention [abortion] that in your list of priorities."
 
The post is about Dick Cheney. To my knowledge, no one has accused him of having an abortion; nor do I.
Helena Loflin | 1/4/2010 - 12:40am
It's amusing how, whenever the wingnuttia are losing an argument, which is all they can do, they always drag in abortion. 
Marc Monmouth | 1/3/2010 - 9:02pm
Deacon Eric, you therefore would not extend the Gospel to advocates of abortion-last time I checked, there was a commandment against killing or have you taken the personhood away from the unborn child?  Also, the topics you mention would be fine if you also delivered a homily against abortion.  It is interesting that you fail to mention that in your list of priorities. Also, to set the record straight, I will always receive the Body of Christ. I would not receive it from you. You don't seem to have a sense of Christian charity and it seems that you only interpret the Commandments to the extent they fit your purposes. 
Eric Stoltz | 1/3/2010 - 4:05pm
S. Ellis, I noted the ideology I saw inherent in your post: that American lives are worth more than Iraqi lives. You claimed progress was shown because there were no American fatalities in Iraq in December. Yet during that same month 437 Iraqis died violently as a result of the civil war that arose from the American occupation. If that's not what you believe, then I apologize, but you can certainly see how someone would assume that from what you wrote.
 
Milbo, I believe love of neighbor extends also to people who are not American. If hearing a homily against war, torture, lying, secret prisons and mass murder would offend you to the point that you could not receive the Body of Christ, the Prince of Peace, then that is certainly your choice. But to call people to love of neighbor and to heed the Great Commandment and the Ten Commandments is not political, and as a minister of the Gospel I am not required to extend consideration to those who advocate breaking the Commandments as though they had some legitimate claim to an equal voice. They do not.
Domingo Mendez | 1/3/2010 - 3:06pm
Milbo,
You see the speck in the Deacon's eye. But you don't notice the log in your own eye.
Peace.
Marc Monmouth | 1/3/2010 - 2:29pm
The Deacon's comments ( #15) are troubling. They are unbecoming for a member of the clergy who purports to be a representative of Christ and His Church. The Deacon needs to practice Christian charity. Deacon Eric, how would you minister to those who disagree with you?  I am glad you are not a deacon in my parish. I would walk out when you were giving a homily (Physician, heal yourself!). The hypocrisy of Deacon Eric preaching about love of neighbor! I would also never take Communion from you.  We expect our ministers to serve without judging others1 Perhaps you should stop using the Church as a vehicle for promoting your political agenda.
S Ellis | 1/3/2010 - 1:10pm
Maria,
Certainly if I knew then what I know now I would not have supported the war in Iraq. However I and many national Democrat leaders had the info we had and based our support on such. With that said it is also true that no WMDs have been found in Afghanistan, would it be fair to say that it also was not and is not a threat?
I am glad you unlike so many blind haters do not tread the ground of presuming to know Bushs' motives. Speculation is fine but too often the accusations are stated as fact. Similarly I will not presume to know BOs motive for continuation of the Afghanistan war but would speculate that his motive is not bipartisianship, and I would hope not for it would demonstrate a lack of moral principle that he would fight a war for political gain. So why are we continuing this war? Wish Mr Winters would address that.
Marie Rehbein | 1/3/2010 - 11:00am
S Ellis,
What did the war in Iraq accomplish except the enrichment of Bush friends and relatives?  We weren't in any danger from Iraq.  They did not have WMD, remember?  It is being generous to say that Bush-Cheney made a mistake with regard to Iraq out of fear of Saddam Hussein, but it looks far more likely that they took advantage of fear they induced in order to benefit themselves.
 
While it may be the same in Afghanistan whether we stay or go, it is the case that it should not have been left in the condition it was in so that our efforts could be directed toward Iraq.  In my opinion, trying to fix it now has all the promise of time travel - none likely.  However, Obama does serve Republicans as well as Democrats, and clearly he is bowing to Republican preferences in attempting to finish up things in Afghanistan.
S Ellis | 1/3/2010 - 8:39am
The Deacon wrote
"Do you really think one month out of seven years is a significant barometer of success?"
No I do not but I do think the steady progress over the years indicates what I stated which was that the war in Iraq is winnable if not already won. Contrast that with Afghanistan where no matter when we leave al-Queada and the Taliban are sure to return.
Eric you have no idea what my ideology is, to be sure most of us are complex and not easily confined to your nicely created boxes. My intent was not so much to defend Cheney as to highlight the hypocrisy of Mr. Winters and any who are so blinded by ideology as to find an action objectionable based on who performed the act rather than the act itself.
With that said, Dopey has escalated the war in Afghanistan!! Where is the outrage from the left? Cheney cannot send men and women into an unwinnable war to kill and die. BO has.
S Ellis | 1/3/2010 - 8:02am
The Deacon wrote
"Do you really think one month out of seven years is a significant barometer of sucess?"
No I do not but I do think the steady progress over the years indicate what I stated which was that the war in Iraq is winnable if not allready won. Contrast that with Afghanistan where no matter when we leave al-Queada and the Taliban are sure to return.
Eric you have no idea what my ideology is to be sure most of us are complex and not easily confined to your nicely created boxes. My intent was not so much to defend Cheney as to highlight the hypocrisy of Mr Winters and any who are so blinded by ideology as to find an action objectionable based on who performed the act rather than the act itself.
With that said, Dopey has decided to escalate the war in Afghanistan!! Where is the outrage from the left. Cheney cannot send men and women into battle to kill and die in an unwinnable war, BO has.
Eric Stoltz | 1/3/2010 - 2:17am
S. Ellis wrote: ''CNN reported that not one US troop was lost in Dec in Iraq''
 
Wow. Is that your defense of Cheney? To take one month our of seven years and tout it as a success? And how many Iraquis died in the same time period? Oh, that's right, they don't count Iraqi deaths; that's ''collateral damage.''
 
Seriously, dude, you're going to have to do better than that. Do you really think one month out of seven years is a significant barometer of sucess? Or is that some lame-ass attempt to justify your idealogy?
Eric Stoltz | 1/3/2010 - 2:04am
Walter wrote: ''I don't recall any successful Islamic terrorist murders of Americans on American soil those last 6 1/2 years of the Bush/Cheney administration.''
 
How convenient to eliminate 9/11 from any evaluation of the Bush Administration, but to include all terrorist atacks as an indictment of the Obama Administration. Also, regarding the implied efficacy of the Bush policies in preventing terrorist attacks, post hoc ergo propter hoc much?
Eric Stoltz | 1/3/2010 - 1:56am
Mr. Cheney is so upset that his contributions to America are deemed so reprehensible that he feels the need to defend his policies despite the tradition of former presidents and vice presidents maintaining a dignified distance. Among his manifold contributions are the establishment of torture and secret prisons, imprisoning American citizens without charges or trial, secret wiretapping of American citizens, lying to provoke a war, alienating and insulting our oldest allies, sending our miltary into war without sufficient defenses, feeding a constant stream of recruits to our enemies, creating a system of mercenaries to fight our wars without oversight (an approach actually condemned in the Declaration of Independence), increasing his personal wealth through war profiteering and fraternizing with and enriching dictators. But he has the effrontery to criticize Obama for a supposed lack of zeal in protecting the United States. He has zero credibility. He needs to shut up, and the media needs to stop grovelling before him and allowing him to spout his venom without questioning or fact-checking. His worldview is not Manichaean; at least Manichaeans had a moral sensibility.
Helena Loflin | 1/2/2010 - 11:40pm
Republicans are shameless when it comes to most things, including projecting their failures on Democrats.  Nice try, but the Obama Administration is Nirvana compared to the grossly incompetent, unethical, fear-mongering, big spending, economy destroying, tax cutting for the wealthy, and lying to the American people Bush/Cheney 8-year fiasco.  Apparently, only 20% of the voting population is still buying the tired old GOP tricks.  Proves the GOP can STILL fool some of the people some of the time.  Sad.
S Ellis | 1/2/2010 - 4:58pm
Are you kidding me? Former presidents Cater and Clinton still have not stopped criticising "W". Gutter attacks and lack of statesmanship are the hallmarks of former democrat presidents and vice presidents and I for one am glad to see a Dem prez get a taste of the dem meds. Not only that but I am glad its brought to them by Cheney while "W" kicks back and acts statesman like as Carter,Gore and Clinton should have.

Mr Winter criticises Cheney and by extention the Bush administration for taking its focus off an unwinnable war in Afghanistan and focusing instead on one that was winable. CNN reported that not one US troop was lost in Dec in Iraq. Mission Accomished?

Finally it is laughable that nearly a year into Mr Obamas presidency Mr Winters would blame former president Bush's alleged failure to implement the 9/11 Commission Report for the successes of the Underwear Bomber. When will the dems stop making excuses for BOs failed presidency like I make excuses for my six year old?

PATRICK DARCY | 1/1/2010 - 12:37pm
A well-written article.  Unfortunately, Cheney and his ilk are totally oblivious to any reasoned argument except their own.  The man lives in his own isolated world, unable to accept any blame for the mess he and Bush got this country into.  The Bush-Cheney obsession to get us into Iraq took the focus off the terrorists in Afghanistan.  I remember seeing a clip of Cheney explaining why Bush I didn’t push into Bagdad.  The very reasons he gave were on target; unfortunately, he forgot what he said and everything he predicted if we went into Bagdad came true.  I think the man has mental problems.  Any person unable to see how disastrous his actions were and to accept any blame for them cannot be in his right mind. 
Helena Loflin | 1/1/2010 - 11:11am
Speaking of jokes, the Bush-Cheney debacle released 600 suspected (and imagined) terrorists under pressure from Democrats, liberals and media.  Right.  My sides are hurting!
The only pressure the Bush-Cheney debacle responded to was from Wall Street and the military-industrial complex.  That's how losers "govern."
 
John Smythe | 1/1/2010 - 2:55am
Someday one hopes the People will awaken (like in Plato's 'Allegory of the Cave') and realise those who are chosen to run in the elections are not those who are actually in power but merely the mask.
 
Two party system?!  What a sad, pitiful, satanic joke.  More like the twin heads of the same coin.  Oh wait, that more realistically represents capitalism and communism.
Marc Monmouth | 12/31/2009 - 3:34pm
Michalel Binder speaks for God, now?? God help us all!!
Marc Monmouth | 12/31/2009 - 3:26pm
Yes, the terrorists were released under Bush-Cheney. This is further evidence that the Republicans should not listen to the Democrats, liberals and media. The detainees were released under pressure from these groups. The liberals and Democrats are more interested in protecting the rights of terrorists than the safety of the American people. Republicans go with your instincts!  Al Qaeda is evil!!!!  Do not listen to the Democrats and liberals!!!
Helena Loflin | 12/31/2009 - 1:37pm
MSW nailed it.  Cheney has been a serial draft-dodging loser and liar his entire political career.  His credibility is zero or less.  He is the consummate conservative without a conscience. 
Jeff Bagnell | 12/31/2009 - 12:53pm
Cheney continues to be the only true adult in the room, and Obama would do well to listen to him.  
Al Qaeda's attack on us in 2001 was a direct offspring of Sadam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, and our subsequent occupation of the "holy land" in Saudi Arabia - - which the good for nothing Saudis begged us to do to save them from an invasion.  
Bin Laden attacked us because the Crusaders were back in their desert holy land, near Mecca, everyone with a rudimentary understanding of the history knows this.  
Michael Bindner | 12/31/2009 - 10:33am
Investigate the very real crimes committed under his orders, and if violations of domestic or international law are found, prosecute him (and his underlings) to the full extent of the law. The rule of law demands no less. We can't insist on the rule of law in Iraq or Afghanistan if we do not respect it here.

I suspect that his outbursts are an attempt to poison the jury pool or to cast suspicion on any prosecution as politically motivated. Hopefully Obama and his Justice Department have the courage to investigate and prosecute despite such ham handed tactics by Mr. Cheney.

Of course, the statute of limitations on war crimes does not run out, so if Obama fails, some later President my go forward. Death does not do Cheney any good either, since there are no statute of limitations on God, especially if no evidence of repentence is shown.
virginia parker | 12/31/2009 - 10:04am
As always, MSW, a provocative post, so on target. Perhaps a little too targeted though,  with that final comment of yours. I get your thrust w/  your parting riposte, ''The Democats should want nothing more than for this man to be the face of the GOP.''  But shouldn't someone blogging for a Catholic, Jesuit publication show at least some non-partisan charity and kindness in hope for a better future for the Republican Party than the one you propose?
Anonymous | 12/31/2009 - 9:58am
If Cheney and Palin remain the face of the GOP our two party system may disappear.
Fran Rossi Szpylczyn | 12/31/2009 - 9:11am
I usually don't comment unless I have something to add to the conversation. I can't say that I do here- as you have done it all and done it rather brilliantly. Thank you for posting this - it needs to be read by many.
Marc Monmouth | 1/4/2010 - 7:17am
Deacon Eric's comments are an example of sophistry at its finest. The question must be asked "Deacon, do you only preach about and against Dick Cheney in your homilies?'
Chris Seeber | 1/3/2010 - 2:10pm
I'm reading some fine diatribes regarding Mr Cheney yet NO ONE, including Mr Winters, attempts to defend or rebuke Mr Cheney's premise:  Is President Obama serious about fighting the war on terror?  Looking forward to some ignation discussion and no talking points, please.