Dick Cheney should no longer be allowed to appear on network TV talk shows. The issue here is not one of ideology or censorship, but rather of compassion and pity. The former vice president has long been a disgrace to his political office; now he is also an embarrassment to himself.
The devolution hit bottom on Oct. 2, with Candy Crowley’s CNN interview of Cheney and his obeisant daughter, Elizabeth (transcript here). Asked about President Obama’s drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, Cheney called it “a very good strike … a very effective use of our drone technology,” but then added:
Thing I’m waiting for is for the administration to go back and correct something they said two years ago when they criticized us for “overreacting” to the events of 9/11. They, in effect, said that we had walked away from our ideals, or taken policy contrary to our ideals, when we had enhanced- interrogation techniques. Now they clearly have moved in the direction of taking robust action when they feel it is justified. I say, in this case I think it was, but I think they need to go back and reconsider what the president said when he was in Cairo.
After a few more exchanges of this sort, Crowley said, “You’d like an apology, it sounds like.” Cheney replied, “Well, I would.”
Have we ever had a vice president—especially one as powerful and putatively hard-headed as Cheney—who, after serving two full terms, proved himself so thin-skinned and peevish? Cheney makes Nixon, even in his darker days, seem almost dignified.
More than that, Cheney is simply wrong on multiple counts, and in ways that heighten the impression that we’re dealing with a feeble, foolish man. Let us parse the ways.
First, in claiming that Obama has adopted Bush administration policies he’d once criticized, Cheney seems to believe there’s no difference between, on the one hand, torturing captured detainees and, on the other hand, “taking robust action” (as, he allows, Obama has done) against an avowed enemy of the United States who has done our people harm and is in a position to do more.
This is just silly, and not just for the obvious reason. For one thing, it’s not at all true that Obama has only recently “moved in the direction of taking robust action,” as Cheney put it. In March 2009, barely two months after taking office, Obama ordered 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan and, at the end of that year, 30,000 more. He doubled Bush’s rate of “drone” strikes against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. He authorized the use of force against Somali pirates at sea. Under his command, U.S. troops, commandos, and pilots have killed hundreds of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, not least of all Osama Bin Laden himself.
One might disagree with some of these actions, but it’s ludicrous to claim Obama has until recently been a softy. As far back as August 2007, fairly early in the race for the Democratic nomination, Obama was asked if he would consider bombing al-Qaida camps in Pakistan, with or without the consent of then-President Musharraf. “Let me make this clear,” Obama replied. “There are terrorists holed up in those mountains that murdered 3,000 Americans. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets, and if President Musharraf will not act, we will.”
Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain, then the Democratic and Republican front-runners, criticized Obama for threatening to bomb an ally, as they put it. Some of Obama’s campaign advisers suggested he backpedal, but he held firm.
The second way in which Cheney displayed his self-destructive tendencies was his charge that Obama weakened our national image when he told students in Cairo that the policy of “enhanced interrogation” marked an abandonment of America’s core principles. Cheney said:
That sends a signal out there to the world where U.S. stature does matter, where our position in the world and our ability to influence events and make progress, for example on Mideast peace, turns very much on how people look at us. If you’ve got the president of the United States out there, saying we overreacted to 9/11 on our watch, that’s not good.
Liz Cheney added that Obama’s speech “did tremendous damage. I think he slandered the nation and I think he owes an apology to the American people.”
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