–Vice President Cheney, March 19, when asked about the American public’s disapproval of the Iraq War
“I must say, I’m a little envious. If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed. It must be exciting for you…in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks.”
–President Bush, March 13, speaking by videoconference to American military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan
These are not adolescents talking. This is the Leader of the Free World and his Number Two (you figure out which is which) demonstrating their unfitness for office. Their words encapsulate all we know about the selling and conduct of the Iraq War: Cheney’s, the contempt for the decent opinion of mankind that led us to charge into war over the objection of virtually every world leader not known as Bush’s poodle; Bush’s, the delusional thinking that led us into the Middle East and expected a baseball-and-apple-pie democracy to pop up in response.
The two statements also make clear how deeply grounded in one another are the arrogance and the ignorance that have given us this long, awful war. Cheney, in his scorn for public opinion, matches Bush in his detachment from the realities of war. Bush, in his Alfred E. Neuman view of armed conflict, matches Cheney in his contempt for the experience of the people he’s charged with leading.
I suppose we shouldn’t be shocked to hear Dick Cheney, who has devoted the past thirty years to rendering unto the presidency the things that are Caesar’s, dismiss the small matter of the wishes of the citizenry that employs him. From his energy-policy pow-wows with oil magnates at the beginning of the Bush Administration to his shotgun discharge in the direction of a fellow rich guy to the actual nature of his role in the Administration and its warmaking, he’s never felt the need to explain anything to anyone.
Indeed, it seems he’s gotten better at this posture as the years have gone by: He told the American public in one word what it took two words to tell Pat Leahy on the floor of the Senate. (Now that’s GOP efficiency!)
But is it too much to expect Dick Cheney–who did, after all, spend a year at Yale before flunking out–to know a lick of history? Anyone who knows the first thing about our previous quagmire understands that an American war fought without the support of the American populace cannot be sustained. The antiwar movement notwithstanding, public support for the war in Vietnam remained strong until February 1968, after the Tet Offensive gave the lie to promises of a light at the end of the tunnel.
Of course, Dick Cheney may not have been paying much attention to the war as it was happening, busy as he was bedazzling Lynne to sire the offspring that would keep him safely out of harm’s way. But in the years since, he surely has had time to crack a book or talk to someone who fought in Vietnam. Wherever historians or veterans fall along the Vietnam divide–we should never have fought; we should never have fought with one hand tied behind our backs–they all accept Vietnam’s lesson that in our democracy, a war must have the backing of the people. And lies–as abundant today as forty years ago–offer the surest way to squander that support.