Cheney’s basically honest memoir
I know, I never expected to write that headline. But I have to give credit where it is due. I found former Vice President Cheney’s memoir generally to be honest, and also better written than many similar books. I had expected it to be a blamefest like other the memoirs of other Bush Administration hardliners, ...
I know, I never expected to write that headline. But I have to give credit where it is due. I found former Vice President Cheney's memoir generally to be honest, and also better written than many similar books.
I know, I never expected to write that headline. But I have to give credit where it is due. I found former Vice President Cheney’s memoir generally to be honest, and also better written than many similar books.
I had expected it to be a blamefest like other the memoirs of other Bush Administration hardliners, such as those by Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith and Tommy R. Franks, that throw out a lot of accusations, but rarely face up to their own mistakes. But Cheney addresses many of the problems and embarrassments of his life. He is clear-sighted about the failures of the 1991 Gulf War, writing that Saddam Hussein "was able to turn the fact that he had stood up to and survived a massive assault into a personal victory." (P. 224) He explains why he thought it necessary to take a moment on the Senate floor to tell Sen. Patrick Leahy to go fuck himself. He even walks us through how he happened to shoot a hunting buddy, and touches repeatedly on his two drunk driving arrests as a youth.
A big exception to the tone of reasonable self-examination is his treatment of his speech to the VFW Convention in August 2002, an event I consider to be as close as we came to having a declaration of war against Iraq. He discusses his speech, but skips its most memorable line, his argument-ending assertion that, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." This would be a far better and more memorable book if Cheney had seriously pondered how he could have been so wrong. I am not looking for an abject apology, but had hoped for at least a meliorative meditation.
(There is a pattern here: The bigger mistake, the less attention he pays to it. I’ve noticed this frequently in the military, where generals get fired for personal indiscretions but not for professional bumbling. I suggest we call it Yingling’s Rule, for the observation by the lieutenant colonel of that name that nowadays a private who loses his rifle receives more punishment than a general who loses a war.)
The real disappointment to me of the book is that it has little of interest to say about Iraq, and even less about Afghanistan. I get the impression that everyone in the Bush Administration decided around the fall of 2004 that it was someone else’s problem. But again, one exception is the role Cheney took in the fall of 2006 to get the president to stop following the Joint Chiefs and get some outside advice about what to do, which resulted in what we call "the surge," but which really was a reorientation of the American relationship with warring Iraqi factions. Whatever you think of the original insane decision to invade Iraq, and whatever eventually happens there — and I remain pessimistic — the course Cheney and Bush took in Dec. 2006 and Jan. 2007 was, I think, the right thing to do. It took courage to split with their generals and listen to other voices, and to step up the American presence when many would have applauded simply leaving.
Thomas E. Ricks is a former contributing editor to Foreign Policy. Twitter: @tomricks1
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