Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The return of the Sith Lord.

"We stand at a critical moment in the life of our nation. The policies of the last six years have left America diminished and weakened. Our enemies no longer fear us. Our allies no longer trust us... Threats to America’s security are on the rise."

Dick Cheney is back. He is not running for anything, he assured Charlie Rose, so he is free to speak his mind. After six years of the Obama presidency, Cheney sees America's power and prestige declining across the globe, and he wants to do something about it. He has created the Alliance for a Strong America.

This is not new for Cheney. Last time a Democrat was in his second term, Cheney was a signatory in the founding of the Project for the New American Century, the seminal organization created to promote the neoconservative agenda in foreign policy. Both organizations were created in the second term of Democrat Presidents. Both organizations sought to spearhead the promotion of American power and leadership in the world. Both sought to build support for rebuilding American military power.

But Cheney is no longer mincing words and has cast aside the "Neo" label that connoted a commitment to the promotion of economic and political liberty. Cheney never really put his heart and soul into the neoconservative ideology. Spreading "political liberty" and bringing democracy to the Middle East might have been important in the minds of Paul Wolfowitz and Bill Kristol, but never for Cheney. For him, the democracy rhetoric was always a red herring. It may have been useful as a rationale for removing Saddam Hussein from power, but social and political reform was never the point. Cheney was always more Neo-Maoist than Neo-Conservative: forget ideology, power is about power.

Dick Cheney shares the concerns of our "friends" that America is turning away from its historic relationships in the region. Cheney's friends--our guys, to use his jocular rhetoric--are the Gulf monarchies. "Our guys" are the Saudis, whose Wahhabi partners have long been proselytizers of the most extremist branch of Sunni Islam and the lead funders of modern terrorist movements. 

But Americans are no longer so sure who our friends are, as it was our guys who funded the Saudi terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks. In time, we have come to grasp the complexity of the region, the depth of the animosity for the west--and for America in particular--and the duplicity of the Saudi game.

What we do know is that Cheney took America to war once before. He blithely assured us of the dangers we faced and who was behind them, all the while assuring us that we had friends in the region that would rally to our side. Over the decade of war that ensued, we learned the hard way that there are deep historical roots to the conflicts there, and we have to think long and hard when we take sides. Friendship in the Middle East is transactional, and it not as simple as the aphorism "the enemy of our enemy is our friend" might suggest.

No doubt many Americans would agree with Cheney that our policies seems to lack coherence. In Iraq, the US and Iran are now effectively allied in opposition to the Sunni ISIS insurgency. While in Syria, where the Iranians are fighting alongside the Shi'a allied Assad regime, the US is determinedly on the other side, allied with the Syrian opposition and tacitly with their Sunni jihadist allies. Yet even as he decries that incoherence, Cheney suggested to Charlie Rose that although Iran is our mortal enemy, perhaps it is time to switch sides in Syria and consider that Assad may not be the worst threat after all. 

In his broadside against President Obama, Dick Cheney fails to grasp the central irony of his situation. Cheney wants us to respond to his cries of "fire," but does not understand that all we see when he speaks is the arsonist. Speaking to Charlie Rose, Cheney admonished those fixated on how we got into Iraq and, despite repeated prodding, he refuses to amend or apologize for a single word of an historical record on his watch that has been so deeply contradicted. Even as he scorns the President in a manner never seen before by one administration toward a successor, Cheney is a man with no sense of accountability for his own actions and his impact on the world around him.

The debate that led up to the Senate war resolution, like the campaign to build public support for war, was built on a deliberate campaign of misinformation. That debate laid the groundwork for a deepening mistrust across the political spectrum of the use of intelligence that sowed the seeds for the Snowden affair and the elevation of Snowden to heroic status on the right and the left. The residue of the lies and dissembling in the run-up to the Iraq war is the hallmark legacy of Cheney's Vice Presidency. The poisoning of the public square and the political climate change it helped to engender has contributed to declining faith in the ability of our government to honestly deal with problems that we face at home and undermined the credibility of our efforts to promote democracy abroad.

Cheney demands that we heed his warnings, but evinces no awareness of why his credibility is suspect, or why Americans might feel burned for having trusted his words and followed his lead before. He is the poster child for the lies and duplicity of an era, the effects of which continue to ripple forward. Republicans and Democrats alike would rather Cheney just go away. He has become a parody of himself, and if America is at risk, the last way to get Americans to hear that is for Dick Cheney to tell them.  He simply fails to recognize that the man he scorns in the White House came to office not because of that hope and change thing, but because Americans had been lied to by their leaders who took the nation to war, and they wanted out. Dick Cheney may have nothing but contempt for Barack Obama, but the irony is that Cheney is one of the reasons Obama was elected.

Senator Arthur Vandenberg famously observed that our politics stop at the waters’ edge, that foreign policy was the realm of national consensus. If America was to go to war, the nation had to be of one voice and to understand and believe in the cause. Perhaps Vietnam marked the end of that national consensus, but the manipulation of information in the promotion of war in Iraq, in order to steep public opinion and stifle democratic debate, is a legacy for which Cheney bears responsibility. All of Cheney’s words now are colored by that poisoned discourse, which contributed so much to what now remains a deeply damaged nation.

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