Can this nation survive four more years of Dick Cheney running the show? Probably, but it is a risk that few thoughtful Americans, conservatives included, should want to take.
Whatever one thinks of George W. Bush–do you see a smile or a smirk?–it is now patently obvious that the most powerful vice president in US history is in charge of the White House. Cheney’s ultra-secretive, anti-democratic and crony-capitalist instincts have defined this Administration.
Perhaps we should have expected all this from a man who, as head of the Bush vice presidential search team, selected himself. It was a forewarning of the Machiavellian arrogance that has made him the leading individual in an Administration that has consistently believed that self-serving ends–such as helping Enron at the expense of California’s energy needs or boosting Halliburton’s profits at the expense of American troops–justify lying, secrecy and pre-emptive war.
In the hours after the 9/11 massacres, some Americans may have been reassured to have the older Cheney around at a time when the “real” President was confusedly sitting in a classroom listening to a story about a pet goat. However, in hindsight, this was clearly misguided faith in a man who presents himself as a stern father figure but is just an irresponsible ideologue whose disrespect and disregard for the US Constitution are manifest in all his actions.
It was the Vice President who served as the power behind a tiny group of fringe right-wing lawyers that secretly created a system of unaccountable White House-controlled military tribunals. Despite indelibly staining America’s reputation as a leader in democratic principles and endangering the lives of American prisoners of war in current and future conflicts, these proceedings have proved totally useless in the war on terror, with zero terror convictions to date.
Never mind: After the tribunals decree was signed by Bush, Cheney was off leading a new misguided crusade, deploying a slew of manipulated and misrepresented intelligence factoids, clever innuendoes and outright lies to fool Congress and the public into supporting the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
As the Washington Post‘s Bob Woodward reports in Plan of Attack, his insider account of the Bush White House, Secretary of State Colin Powell “detected a kind of fever in Cheney…. Cheney was beyond hellbent for action against Saddam. It was as if nothing else existed.”
And through the reports of the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee and 9/11 commission, and an exhaustive compilation released last week by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) of the Senate Armed Services Committee, it is now possible to read in excruciating detail about Cheney’s role in convincing a majority of Americans that–strong evidence to the contrary–Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, was moving toward the production of nuclear bombs and was an ally of Al Qaeda.
As recently as June and contrary to the 9/11 commission’s final report, to give but one of many examples, Cheney was still insisting that lead hijacker Mohamed Atta had a meeting in Prague with a high-ranking Iraqi intelligence agent before the 9/11 attacks. This is an unconscionable and obviously knowing use of the Big Lie technique, given that the CIA and FBI repudiated that baseless yet titillating claim in 2002.
Lately, as the war has become an unmitigated disaster for the United States and Iraq, Cheney and the President have been on the defensive against charges by numerous terrorism experts–and presidential candidate John F. Kerry–that the invasion of Iraq was a dangerous distraction from the fight against Al Qaeda and its affiliates.
Undaunted, Cheney tells us the Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi, who has been blamed for many anti-American attacks in Iraq, originally entered Iraq with Hussein’s permission; thus Cheney tries to post facto justify the invasion as a legitimate pillar of the war on terror. But it’s just another lie, with the CIA stating the opposite: The fundamentalist Zarqawi first sneaked into Hussein’s secular and nationalist dictatorship using a false identity.
That Cheney clearly has a huge personal interest in the war makes all of this that much more sickening.
The latest report in a never-ending stream of conflict-of- interest revelations about this Administration appears in the current issue of Time magazine. It detailed how the Pentagon favored Halliburton–which Cheney headed from 1995 until 2000–with long-term, no-bid contracts. No problem. In Cheney’s world, messianic ambition and personal greed can happily co-exist.
Next Tuesday, voters should retire this malevolent force.