The No-Dick Rule
Why former Vice President Cheney should no longer be allowed on network TV.
Obama delivered his speech at Cairo University on June 9, 2009, as part of his effort to mend U.S. relations with moderate Muslims. Yes, he did say that the 9/11 attacks provoked a “fear and anger,” which “in some cases … led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals,” adding that he was now “taking concrete actions to change course,” for instance banning the use of torture. But he also spoke out, at much greater length, against violent extremism by al-Qaida and other jihadist groups; he derided many Muslims’ attempts to stereotype Americans; he defended the right of Israel to exist; and he insisted that he would not hesitate to use force to defend the United States and its allies.
It was a remarkably measured speech. Cheney should read it sometime to see what statesmanship looks like.
The real eyebrow-raiser here, though, is the fact that the Cheneys are criticizing Obama for damaging America’s image in the world. As dozens of senior U.S. military officers and even a good number of Republican lawmakers have attested, America’s image was most grievously damaged in the past decade by those policies that Cheney most avidly endorsed while vice president: the invasion of Iraq under false pretenses, the expansion of Guantanamo Bay, and, above all, the water-boarding of detainees.
McCain, who rarely passes up a chance to criticize the Democrat who crushed his last hopes for the White House in the 2008 election (but who also knows something about torture), had the good grace to defend Obama against Cheney’s charges, noting in his own CNN interview, on Oct. 3, that “quote ‘enhanced interrogation,’ i.e., torture” (as he crisply put it) was “one of the great recruitment tools” that swelled the ranks of al-Qaida. McCain also noted that, whereas the drone attack on Awlaki had been authorized by Congress and approved by the Justice Department, torture is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and by a Senate resolution that passed 90-6.
One more bit of shamelessness. When Crowley observed that Obama “certainly has killed more [terrorists] than were killed in the Bush administration,” Cheney replied, “Right, but we developed the technique and the technology for it.”
This simply isn’t true. The Predator drone, the first “unmanned aerial vehicle” to carry both a video camera and a smart bomb, was developed during the Clinton administration. It was successfully tested with a Hellfire laser-guided missile in January 2001, just before Clinton left office. The Air Force mission statement for the weapon noted that it would be ideal for hitting “fleeting and perishable” targets—a phrase that could refer to tanks on a battlefield or terrorists on the move. Richard Clarke, Clinton’s counterterrorism chief, sent a memo to Condoleezza Rice, President-elect Bush’s incoming national security adviser, recommending “going forward” with the weapon and the new missions it made possible.
Finally—and here we’re getting to the nub of the matter—Cheney talks as though Obama’s actions and policies vindicate the Bush administration. In fact, he’s slaying imaginary dragons in a personal battle that he lost long ago.
It was George W. Bush who decided to stop water-boarding detainees in 2006, halfway through his second term as president—and against Cheney’s recommendation. It was Bush’s Justice Department that boasted of indicting 512 accused terrorists in civilian criminal courts—against Cheney’s urgings that they be tried before military tribunals. (By the time Bush left office, prosecutors had won 319 convictions, with the remaining cases yet to be heard. Military tribunals, by contrast, had resulted in one conviction.) It was John McCain, who in 2005 sponsored the amendment that passed 90-6, banning “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment of detainees in U.S. custody and limiting interrogation techniques to those in the Army’s manual (which explicitly excludes torture).
In Cheney’s mind, Obama is the bête noir of national defense who first defiles the glorious legacy of his predecessor, then revives it without giving due credit or apologizing for the earlier slander. But all this is entirely in Cheney’s mind, from start to finish. It is time to let him retire in peace with his pension, his royalties, his wondrous pacemaker, and his fantasies.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.