Dick Cheney is a former vice president who had an enormous effect on public policy, and therefore on history. He should be interviewed by media outlets. He should be asked tough questions about every single aspect of his tenure in the White House. We cannot pretend that Cheney does not belong in history books, or that he will vanish if we just wish hard enough.
But the line should be firmly drawn. Cheney is part of history, and there he should stay. But not so much that we pretend he is toothless and apolitical. He should not be steered out as a fun toy, the way Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright and other, shall we say, controversial politicians have been on stunt-cast on shows ranging from Gilmore Girls to The Colbert Report.
Most importantly, Dick Cheney’s new attention-grabbing attempts should be ignored. The man was given a much longer leash than most VPs to wreck the world. He’s done. Unfortunately, Dick doesn’t think so himself.
George W. Bush has been unfairly praised for mostly keeping his nose out of President Obama’s business. But Obama has had his own wars in Libya, and all over the MIddle East via drone. He doesn’t really need the advice of any warmongers beyond his own cabinet.
The question now is who among the 2016 contenders might be the most eager to learn from Cheney. Because Cheney and his daughter Liz do have lots of opinions to share. A whole book of them, in fact. It is called Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America. Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt.
It seems Cheney and Lil Cheney know that it’s “more than likely” a nuclear weapon will be not just acquired by Iran, but that someone will use one due to catastrophic effects of the Iran deal.
Forget Obama’s claim on the word. Audacity thy name is Cheney. Not only is he shamelessly happy to defend the war he started, he is also ready to tell the whole world how America should act. Best of all, he is ready to predict the long-term effects of foreign policy decisions. He is practically a seer, as long as you ignore his incessant refrain that Saddam Hussein was tied in some way to 9/11.
Government is magic like that. But few people are quite as bold as Cheney when it comes to defending a 1.7 trillion-dollar boondoggle that killed hundreds of thousands.
Some people aren’t worried about this nostalgia for 2003. The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman look at CheneySquared’s bid for attention and remained unperturbed. Waldman seems to think that the class of 2016 is not going to give the Cheney spirit attention, so why worry? After all, nearly every candidate – including Jeb Bush! – has suggested that the Iraq war was a mistake as it was fought. Cheney stands almost entirely alone as a national politician in his conviction that it was a good war.
Pardon my pessimism, but the price of allowing Dick Cheney’s freedom is eternal vigilance. His special brand of warmongering may not be in fashion at this precise moment, and neither is the 2003 war he championed, but it can always return in force. Just about every GOP candidate for the nomination has suggested or implied that Obama is a foreign policy wuss. That is, we need a more aggressive policy than the one practiced by the man who claims the right to assassinate anyone – including American citizens – and has waged a robotic, undeclared war that has left thousands of casualties.
It feels so easy now to assume the neocons are ancient history. W. left office with historically low approval ratings. We’ve heard and made ten thousand jokes about supervillain Cheney. His heart is weak, and he’s out of power. In short, we’re all superior to our 2003 selves, and would never again tolerate such an aggressive, arrogant war.
We would, if we were pushed. The American people have a low stamina for long wars, but a strong appetite for starting a new one when they are told it is essential. The idea that the official summary of the Iraq war as a “mistake” means we can relax is a dangerous one. Nobody running with a shot in hell believes that in any substantial way. They believe they have to say it was a mistake, because the popular winds now blow that way. Their war, if they felt they needed to fight one, would be different. Your war is always different.
If the hawks are smart, they will keep going to war by fits and starts. Then they can remake the world the way they wish to. Drone wars are “better” than boots on the ground in Iraq, so not Obama or Bernie Sanders can say anything about them. The cheaper drones get, the easier it will be to keep a constant, psychologically traumatizing presence in countries with which we cannot even be bothered to declare war.
Perhaps ISIS will be met with full military force, perhaps the Iran-hawks will gain an upper hand, but not necessarily. It’s easier to just send a few more advisers and troops back into Iraq. Make your allies bomb instead. Regardless, as The Nation noted this week, the civilian casualties that result from these engagements will remain minor news. Civilian casualties are boring. Keep that war on the backburner, and after a few more years, 2003 will be a thousand years ago, and then maybe the Cheney crowd will come back.
So yes, Cheney should be mocked, disrespected, and condemned for now. His ideas should be ripped to pieces. But it isn’t entirely about him, or whether any of the 2016 GOPers want to explicitly tout his ideas for the world. Cheney is not subtle. Republicans and Democrats today, at this moment, have to be more coy about their imperial ambitions. Often, the only real difference is the honesty.
Forget this dangerous notion that warmongering is so last decade. It is part of our daily life. Forget the idea that since we all boo and hiss when Cheney’s name appears in a byline, the threat of him is long gone. It isn’t. When the leading candidate with antiwar credentials says he supports a limited drone war, you can be assured that the problem is bigger than Cheney, and bigger than the neocons.
Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and a columnist for VICE.com. She previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine. She is most angry about police, prisons, and wars. Steigerwald blogs at www.thestagblog.com.