Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dick Cheney's view of the world

For all we know, Dick Cheney shot the guy in the face just so people would have something else to focus on.

Because Dick Cheney has bigger fish to fry than worrying about jokes about his aim on the Daily Show or musings by the left that if a heart attack doesn’t get him, maybe a manslaughter charge will. Cheney remains steadfast in his focus on the big picture and for five years now has used the platform of the Bush presidency to address what he views as the singular problem facing America and the world.

The problem is simple and the numbers do not lie. The world today consumes around 80 million barrels of oil per day. By 2025 demand for oil is expected to grow by 50% to around 120 million barrels per day. While the President may bemoan U.S. oil addiction in his State of the Union speech, the truth is that the growth in demand is not a product of our profligacy, but rather is a direct result of our victory in the Cold War.

Over the past twenty years, as national economies have opened up and nuclear weapons have stood down, an estimated 1.4 billion people have entered the world labor markets. As those nations––including India, China and the former Soviet Republics––continue to develop, and as their people strive to better their lives and achieve a middle class lifestyle, the demand for oil will continue to climb.

Hummers or no Hummers, with or without hybrid cars, however one constructs the scenario, world energy demand is going to rise. Faced with low approval ratings, the President bought some applause with his crowd-pleasing but reality-distracting line, but the fact is that our oil addiction is beside the point. World demand in the future will drive prices and will drive scarcity. Our national economy is inextricably tied to the fate of our trading partners and reducing our dependency on Middle East oil, and even achieving so-called “energy independence,” is a chimera, an illusion and a false goal.

If Cheney was President, he would have stated bluntly that we will live or die with the rest of the world, and therefore we have no choice but to lead. America is the dominant nation in the world today and it is our singular responsibility is to take the steps necessary to assure long-term stability in the future. Stability in markets, stability in resource availability, stability in trade, stability in energy flows. Even China, the last remaining antagonist of the Cold War era, clearly understands that her growth demands world stability, and that world stability demands effective American leadership. American failure in this regard over the next two decades will surely lead to a world of scarcity, economic isolationism, political turmoil and, ultimately, war.

Understanding this imperative, Cheney had two goals for a Bush presidency six years ago. First, after almost 30 years, it was essential to reverse the whittling away of the powers of the presidency that he witnessed beginning in the aftermath of Watergate when he served as Gerald Ford’s Chief of Staff. Second, it was imperative to reestablish the credibility of United States military power on the ground––particularly in the Middle East, the key source of both geopolitical instability and oil.

As he saw it, these two goals were inextricably linked. The erosion in presidential authority and executive power had dangerously undermined our credibility in the world. From Arabia to Korea to the Straits of Taiwan, America was seen as a paper tiger. As Bin Laden was quick to point out, people follow the strong horse, and as America became weaker others were quick to seize the advantage.

This could not continue. And for Dick Cheney, the war in Iraq was the essential first step to pulling the world back from the precipice.

That war was not about WMD. They didn’t matter then and they don’t matter now. For the Neocons, WMD was the argument for going to war, but it was never the reason to go to war. As Paul Wolfowitz laid out the history in Vanity Fair magazine, the Neocons in the Administration had four reasons to take out Saddam, (i) his support for terrorism in the region, (ii) his criminal treatment of the Iraqi people, (iii) his history of instigating wars with his neighbors, and (iv) the WMD threat. They settled on the WMD argument simply because it would sell.

Cheney went along, but he is not now and never was a Neocon. He is an old school Cold Warrior and Realist. While the Neocons held out theories of the power of democracy, Cheney remained focused on the direction of the world economy and the looming train wreck he saw two decades down the road.

For Dick Cheney, the invasion of Iraq addressed the fundamental problem facing the United State and the world: the decline of American power and credibility in the Middle East. By the time the tanks rolled into Iraq in 2003, Jihadists were a concrete threat to stability in the Middle East. Fearing Al Qaeda’s wrath, Saudi Arabia had already asked the United States to remove its forces from the kingdom. Iran was emerging as a threat. By failing to respond America was validating Jihadists claims about American weakness.

American power in the Gulf was in freefall, and in the Middle East power is the ultimate currency. As Cheney saw it, the democratic ambitions of the Neocons may smell sweet in Washington, but in Damascus, in Cairo and in Baghdad, and deep in the caves of Tora Bora, power was the only emollient for what ailed the United States.

For Dick Cheney, the Iraq war was about reestablishing the bona fides of the United States in a region in which power is the only currency that matters. A show of force in Iraq would communicate to the region and the world what needed to be communicated. To the Saudis, it would let them know that we were there for the duration, that their fate was our fate and that we were not to be trifled with or kicked out. To Iran it was a reminder that we were there in force, with boots on the ground on their western and eastern borders. To China, India and the other growing oil importing nations, it established that America was not receding behind its oceans, and would lead the world into the 21st century.

The success in five short years has been as Cheney envisioned it would be. The Bush Administration has reestablished the Presidency as the focus of power in the country. Notions of co-equal branches of government have been firmly set aside. The courts have been reconstituted with greater deference to executive power and Congress has been effectively put in its place.

The debate over the terrorist surveillance program provides clear evidence of this success. The Administration is yielding no ground in its assertion of executive power, and will only offer that it is always willing to listen to what the Congress has to say or offer on the subject. But no more than that. The power of the White House has been restored.

And from Cheney's vantage point, the war in Iraq has achieved its main goal: the United States has boots on the ground in the Middle East and the powers that be in the region understand that the United States is not to be trifled with. While the election results in Iraq, Iran and the Palestinian Authority spell the end of the Administration’s infatuation with the Neocon agenda, Cheney’s deeper strategy is firmly in place and he sees ample evidence of its success:

First, three years after demanding that the U.S. leave the Kingdom, Saudi Ambassador Turki Al-Faisal this week declared that Saudi relations with the United States were as strong as they have ever been. The Saudis have committed billions to building oil refineries in the Kingdom, as well as in China, in Russia and in Korea, to do their part to meet future growth in worldwide demand.

Second, in Pakistan, Musharraf is no longer on the fence, and is building a new intelligence service to undermine the power of the ISI, one of our long-time antagonists.

Third, Egypt and its intelligence services are cooperating with us with no public equivocation. When Hamas came to Cairo seeking support after their electoral victory, the Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman laid down the law: they must recognize Israel and renounce their terrorist ambitions.

Finally, Iran is increasingly isolated and the world is acting in concert with little equivocation. Europe is no longer waffling, and both China and Russia have agreed to a common strategy to quell Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

As Cheney looks at the world, the success of his plan is unarguable, if not yet recognized. While the media storm around him continues, and regardless of what comes next, he is resting easy knowing that in five years he has achieved what he set out to do.

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