When Dubya picked Dick Cheney as his running mate, the little screen was awash in flatulent flatteries from the chattering classes: “a grown-up,” “presidential,” “all steak and no sizzle” were some of the most-repeated encomiums sprayed in Cheney’s direction. But after Gore surrogates fanned out across the blabshows armed with talking points about Cheney’s reactionary voting record in Congress–against Head Start, school lunches, the liberation from prison of Nelson Mandela, the toxic-waste-cleanup Superfund and the like–Jay Leno cracked to his late-night audience that Bush/Cheney was “the Wizard of Oz ticket: One has no brain, the other has no heart.”
When that equal-opportunity war criminal Colin Powell (the man who helped cover up the My Lai massacre) delivered his prime-time benediction of Cheney to the Philadelphia Republicans, among those chuckling at the enormous hypocrisy of Powell’s effusive blessing was Leon Sigal, a former member of the New York Times editorial board. Sigal’s forthcoming book, Hang Separately: Cooperative Security Between the United States and Russia, 1985-1994, details how Cheney, as Defense Secretary, remained a hard-line cold warrior even after the fall of the Berlin wall and fought Powell’s proposed cuts in military spending and US troops abroad. “Cheney was very skeptical of Gorbachev and kept up his cold war attitude long after Powell and [President] Bush had changed,” Sigal told me. “Powell thought nukes were useless. In 1990, Powell wanted to pull all the nukes off surface ships and out of Europe and Korea, but Cheney opposed it. Bush was about to do it in August of ’90 when Kuwait was invaded. A year later, Powell pushed the proposal again, and Cheney again opposed it.” The pullback was finally announced in September 1991. Cheney’s ostrichlike refusal to admit that the world had changed meant “keeping the defense budget higher than the substantial cuts Powell wanted,” says Sigal, “and keeping conventional forces in Europe at a higher level…. Cheney was very conservative in the sense he didn’t want to move–Powell says this in his memoirs. President Bush, in the book he wrote with Brent Scowcroft [A World Transformed], also says Cheney resisted deeper cuts.”
To take just one example, on page 452 of his memoirs Powell describes his battle against the “foolish” attempt to produce an improved nuclear artillery shell. “I was becoming more and more convinced that tactical nuclear weapons had no place on a battlefield,” Powell writes. “At a time when we were dismantling huge intermediate-range nuclear missiles, why should we be putting money into refining small tactical nukes of questionable value? My argument ran into a stone wall…. Hard-line Pentagon civilian policymakers opposed me, including Dick Cheney.”
The national press has been telling us what a “great manager” Cheney was at DoD. But for whom? Cheney showed a particular indulgence for military-industrial-complex contractors headed by political cronies. Under his predecessor, Reagan Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, the Pentagon had developed an advance procurement system–stretching forward two decades–with no-bid contracts awarded for a raft of weapons and intelligence systems. On leaving government, Carlucci joined the Carlyle Group, a prime military contractor, bringing with him knowledge of which firms would get those contracts. Carlyle then began buying them up, and made a bundle when the Pentagon bucks began flowing their way, later selling many of them at a huge profit.