Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cheney unbound

It was bound to come to this, eventually: a much maligned, willfully controversial former vice president clearly on the last legs of a checkered life, a man who’s long ago given up on getting right with God, deciding instead to get right with history. His history. His story. Never mind the facts; they never bothered him before.

Dick Cheney’s written a book, the smirking former veep’s attempt to rewrite the known knowns of history with more of the savage embroidery of the truth he was complicit in for eight years as vice president in the Bush II White House, a cross between Cardinal Richelieu, Machiavelli and Milo Minderbinder.

The book, “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,” just out from Simon & Schuster, has already flummoxed and enraged many in the nation’s capital for its bold and disloyal revisionism — something the author predicted when he said his revelations would “make heads explode all over Washington.”

Colin Powell, who as Secretary of State was accidentally complicit in the tragic exploding of thousands of innocent heads in Iraq and Afghanistan, took umbrage with Cheney’s off-the-cuff promo phrase on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

“It’s the kind of headline you might see one of the supermarket tabloids wrote,” he said. “It’s not the headline I would have expected to come from a former vice president of the United States of America.”

Maybe Powell’s well-known sense of politesse kicked in right there while he talked to Bob Schieffer on CBS. With eight years of hindsight, time spent sparring and grappling with Cheney in the Bush White House, the general must have seen this coming. For many, many other Americans, this was exactly what they expected to come from this former vice president of the United States. And nothing more.

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Like any dutiful author working to justify his advancer, Cheney’s been making the rounds, thumping his book on CBS, on “Hannity” (on Fox), and in interviews with Jamie Gangel and Matt Lauer of NBC News.

The loftiest distortions of the book, and of the truth, begin with Sept. 11, 2001, when the worst attack on American soil gave Cheney and a Bush White House spoiling for a fight the pretext they needed to do what they’d already decided to do: invade Iraq.

Cheney told NBC: "If you look back at the proposition that we faced after 9/11 with respect to Saddam Hussein, we were concerned with the prospects of terrorists like the 9/11 crowd acquiring weapons of mass destruction. I think that's still the biggest threat we face. At the time, to go after Saddam Hussein and take him down, we eliminated a major source of proliferation.''

We’ve known that was a lie for almost seven years. That’s when Dana Priest and Walter Pincus of The Washongton Post reported that a report by Charles A. Duelfer, the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq and a Bush White House appointee, “contradicts nearly every prewar assertion made by top administration officials about Iraq.”

"We were almost all wrong" on Iraq, Duelfer told a Senate panel in October 2004.

“Duelfer's report is the first U.S. intelligence assessment to state flatly that Iraq had secretly destroyed its biological weapons stocks in the early 1990s,” The Post reported. “By 1995, though, and under U.N. pressure, it abandoned its efforts.”

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We might have seen this coming with the genesis of the phrase “axis of evil” — the first distillation of the Bush Doctrine, the principles formally lashed together in a National Security Council paper and published in September 2002 — a testament to unilateral and pre-emptive belligerence against any country even slightly considered a threat to the United States.

The Bush White House quietly embraced one policy — waterboarding of terrorist suspects — in the name of national security, and in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the United Nations Convention Against Torture, Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

And Cheney’s endorsed the practice since at least October 2006. “It's a no-brainer for me,” he said on a conservative talk radio program from Fargo N.D.

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Less publicized in extracts from his memoir, and less spinnable, is Cheney the polluter profiteer.

In a report released in June 2010, the Center for American Progress found that the infrastructure of responsibility for the BP oil spill, the nation’s worst environmental catastrophe, can be laid at the feet of Cheney and the Bush White House, whose embrace of Big Oil and laissez-faire policies on offshore drilling ultimately made the Deepwater Horizon disaster pretty much inevitable.

According to the Center’s report, in 2001, Cheney (who resigned as CEO of oil-services giant Halliburton to become vice president) was appointed to head a task force defining how to execute the Bush doctrine on energy. “Oil companies — including BP, the National Mining Association, and the American Petroleum Institute — secretly met with Cheney and his staff as part of a task force to develop the country’s energy policy,” the report finds.

An energy bill passed by the House in 2002 offered Big Oil/Big Power $33.5 billion in tax breaks and other incentives over 10 years — mission: to increase oil and gas exploration, develop new coal-burning technologies, and punch up nuclear energy.

A series of budget cuts for renewal energy programs over the next six years underscored just how well entrenched was the baseline pro-Big Oil philosophy really was. On July 14, 2008, President Bush officially lifted the 18-year-old moratorium on offshore drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and ... in the Gulf of Mexico.

The door was open for oil companies to seek federal approval to drill three miles off the coast of the United States, or farther out. One of those companies was BP. It started drilling at the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible oil rig 41 miles off the Louisiana coast in February of 2010.

You already know what happened next.

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Maybe the best thing about Cheney’s literary self-aggrandizement is its valedictory aspect, the fact of its summational finality. The publicized passages of the book that the media has soundbitten on are part of a work that will be, pending another such tome, Cheney’s last word on everything.

You could see it in Cheney’s face in the interview with Matt Lauer: the former vice president, once jowly and rotund, sits across from his interlocutor thinner, his cheeks hollow, his voice thinner and weaker — the physical attributes of a man hobbled by five heart attacks, a quadruple bypass and deep-vein thrombosis. This is a 70-year-old man who, thanks to one fairly recent medical procedure, is a walking emotional metaphor, a man literally without a pulse.

This is also a man fading from the stage but determined to get in one more hurrah, one last chance to speak for the record and clear his name, despite public approval ratings that headed steadily downward from almost the moment he took office in 2002.

“In My Life” won’t change the public’s perception of Dick Cheney — regardless of how many copies are snapped up in bulk by the Newsmax Web site, for use as freebie incentives to get people to buy subscriptions. To go by the excerpts already in circulation, Cheney’s tell-all book finally tells us what we already knew, what we already lived through, what he’s already told us: that he regrets nothing; that he was justified in his actions by unfolding events, regardless of his complicity in creating those events; that he was only a man following orders, when he wasn’t giving them. From a secret undisclosed location, of course.

“[P]reponderantly the histories have been written by the winners,” Alex Haley observed at the end of “Roots.” Cheney has shown us how easily history can be invented by the losers.

Image credits: Cheney: Gage Skidmore. Book cover: Simon & Schuster. Bush: Charles Dharapak/Associated Press. Deepwater Horizon explosion: U.S. Coast Guard photograph.

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