Cheney sets the trap
Nice try, Dick.
You’d think that the at-long-last-former vice president of the United States might take his eight years of power and his 13 points of public approval and slink off permanently to one of those undisclosed locations he liked so much.
But no—here he is, just weeks after the end of his administration (and just between us, it was his administration, wasn’t it?), and instead of maintaining his customary silence, Cheney is suddenly chatty.
Which is how he came to be sitting down for an interview last Tuesday with three reporters from Politico. An interview, and some major pre-emptive damage control.
In a sentence? If the big one happens, it’s not his fault.
But Cheney being Cheney, it was phrased much more subtly than that. When you’re trying to lay some future catastrophe on someone else’s head, subtle is what you want. Otherwise, you could look like a conniver. Or a coward.
So here’s how the Politico story began: “Former Vice President Dick Cheney warned that there is a ‘high probability’ that terrorists will attempt a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack in coming years, and said he fears the Obama administration’s policies will make it more likely the attempt will succeed.”
And later in the story, from Cheney himself: “Whether or not they can pull it off depends [on] whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts, since 9/11, to launch mass-casualty attacks against the United States.”
Get it? Since we already know that the Obama administration intends to change, has already begun changing, some of those policies, we’re supposed to conclude that if there’s a future attack, it’s entirely because those policies were changed.
And not, say, because George Bush and Dick Cheney left their successors (and the rest of us) a world laced with an even wider network of plotters, with the abuses of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, “black sites,” etc., giving potential enemies even greater incentive to do us harm, and with the mastermind of 9/11 still alive and still turning out inflammatory videos.
A more dangerous world, in many ways. Yet Cheney wants us to believe that the next attack, if and when it comes, will be all Obama’s doing.
Nice try, Dick.
Set aside for the moment the whole question of whether Bush and Cheney “kept us safe,” as the phrase goes, after 9/11. (Set aside, too, the inconvenient question, “And what about before 9/11?”) After all, we can agree that there was no further terrorist attack on American soil between Sept. 11, 2001, and the end of the Bush-Cheney administration on Jan. 20, 2009—more than seven years.
But then what do we make of the period between the first attack on the World Trade Center, in February 1993, and the end of the Clinton administration in January 2001—more than seven years, too!
Do we conclude that the Clinton administration also “kept us safe”? Or that they failed to deal with a growing danger? Or that Al-Qaida takes its time?
Reasonable questions—if you’re trying to be reasonable. Not if you’re trying to set a trap for the new guys.
But don’t think that Bush and Cheney are ducking responsibility for absolutely everything that happens from now on: They’re willing to take credit, too. Consider this little gem from the final week of lame-duckery:
“Washington—President George W. Bush said Friday that while the current economic crisis has sent shock waves around the world, he believes steps taken by his administration have ‘laid the groundwork for a return to economic growth and job creation’ early in the administration of President-elect Barack Obama.”
Absolutely true—in exactly the same way that you can “lay the groundwork for headache relief” by pounding on your skull with a mallet.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at email@example.com.