Daniel W. Drezner

The perceived and real sins of Dick Cheney

James Fallows blogs about how George W. Bush has acted like all ex-presidents by refusing to criticize their successors in their first year of office — as opposed to ex-VP Dick Cheney.  To Fallows, this is an unforgivable sin:  I am not aware of a case of a former president or vice president behaving as ...

James Fallows blogs about how George W. Bush has acted like all ex-presidents by refusing to criticize their successors in their first year of office -- as opposed to ex-VP Dick Cheney.  To Fallows, this is an unforgivable sin

I am not aware of a case of a former president or vice president behaving as despicably as Cheney has done in the ten months since leaving power, most recently but not exclusively with his comments to Politico about Obama's decisions on Afghanistan. (Aaron Burr might win the title, for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, but Burr was a sitting vice president at the time.) Cheney has acted as if utterly unconcerned with the welfare of his country, its armed forces, or the people now trying to make difficult decisions. He has put narrow score-settling interest far, far above national interest.

I confess that I've been on the fence about Cheney's outspokenness to date.  On the one hand, I think Fallows is correct in pointing out the breach of protocol.  On the other hand, I think Cheney genuinely believes that he has an obligation to speak out on foreign policy matters.  In his mind, the stakes are huge enough, and the policies Obama is pursuing are wrong enough, to warrant his criticisms. 

James Fallows blogs about how George W. Bush has acted like all ex-presidents by refusing to criticize their successors in their first year of office — as opposed to ex-VP Dick Cheney.  To Fallows, this is an unforgivable sin

I am not aware of a case of a former president or vice president behaving as despicably as Cheney has done in the ten months since leaving power, most recently but not exclusively with his comments to Politico about Obama’s decisions on Afghanistan. (Aaron Burr might win the title, for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, but Burr was a sitting vice president at the time.) Cheney has acted as if utterly unconcerned with the welfare of his country, its armed forces, or the people now trying to make difficult decisions. He has put narrow score-settling interest far, far above national interest.

I confess that I’ve been on the fence about Cheney’s outspokenness to date.  On the one hand, I think Fallows is correct in pointing out the breach of protocol.  On the other hand, I think Cheney genuinely believes that he has an obligation to speak out on foreign policy matters.  In his mind, the stakes are huge enough, and the policies Obama is pursuing are wrong enough, to warrant his criticisms. 

So I’m inclined to cut Cheney some slack for his decision to speak out.  On the other hand, when we read the Politico interview, Cheney’s actual sins come out: 

Cheney rejected any suggestion that Obama had to decide on a new strategy for Afghanistan because the one employed by the previous administration failed.

Cheney was asked if he thinks the Bush administration bears any responsibility for the disintegration of Afghanistan because of the attention and resources that were diverted to Iraq. “I basically don’t,” he replied without elaborating (emphasis added).  

Seriously?  Seriously?  I dare any Cheney supporter to make the argument that Afghanistan was hunky-dory until January 20, 2009, at which point things went to hell in a handbasket. 

For the rest of us on the Planet Earth, there’s no way to read that passage and not come to one of two possible conclusions:

  • Richard B. Cheney is a liar;
  • Richard B. Cheney is so unconnected from reality that it is impossible to trust anything he says. 

I don’t mind that Cheney speaks up for what he thinks is right — I mind that he’s a liar.

Or, to paraphrase Garry Trudeau, "That’s LIAR!  LIAR!! LIAR!! LIAR!!"

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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