Imagine that Dick Cheney really did have a respectable understanding of how the world actually worked. Combined with his penchant for manipulating the levers of power, would America be in excellent shape right now? Or are Cheney’s bullying ways completely incompatible with a true understanding of the world? Because from everything we’ve seen, all of his actions seem to coincide exactly with whatever it took for him to get more bullying powers; even if those powers were detrimental to his goals.
For example, torture doesn’t work. It just doesn’t. And even if you call it something else, it still doesn’t work. And we know the methods that work better: You treat them like humans and get them to want to talk about their plans. Act like they’re divulging nothing of importance and just get them to open up. That’s easier said than done, of course. But we have the know-how. We have experts in getting people to talk.
So why didn’t Cheney go with that approach? If he had any concern for getting terrorists to talk, why didn’t he bully Bush into expanding our niceguy interrogating techniques? Is it possible he hasn’t heard of them? Of course not. Is there no one in Washington who could have corrected him on that? Impossible. So the only conclusion is that Cheney really does prefer torture. Who knows. Perhaps he snapped after 9/11 and really just wants to torture Muslims for revenge. I honestly believe that the already feeble-minded Bush snapped after 9/11 and still hasn’t recovered. Maybe Dick suffered the same malady. But I don’t think so. I think he just likes to bully people.
Power for Power
Because I believe that part of the reason he wanted a strong torture policy was because he was denied it. Not necessarily that he ever wanted it used, but he wanted the bullying technique as a way of strengthening the hand of the presidency. To quietly assert that he had these powers and didn’t need the consent of the other two branches of government or the American people. This wasn’t about torturing people, per se. He took the rights because he wanted to assert his authority to do so. And in the short term, it worked.
Same goes for illegal wiretaps and everything else. It wasn’t just the bullying techniques that he wanted. He wanted them simply because grabbing them was all part of his bullying power politics. He could have had a working interrogation policy, but he preferred the illegal one instead. Because his ultimate aim wasn’t to torture people, wiretap conversations, or any of that stuff. His ultimate aim was to thoroughly establish the presidency as being above the law in every respect.
But in fact, the use of these powers has surely undermined Cheney’s power far more than had he used traditional means. Think of all the GOP marketing energy wasted trying to defend against Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, warrantless wiretaps, Cheney’s secrecy, and all these other issues. Sure, it can be argued that the GOP didn’t lose on any of these issues. But they did nothing to help the GOP and they kept the Republicans on the defensive. And for what gain? Can anyone honestly claim that information garnered from these abusive practices was significantly better than the traditional methods? Did they learn anything that significantly helped Cheney or the GOP? I doubt it.
And so for as much as Dick was wanting these powers solely to assert his right to have them, their actual use has only served to undermine his power. And at this point, his “legal” arguments in defense of them are turning him into a laughingstock. If Jay Leno hasn’t already been making jokes about Cheney’s feeble arguments, he soon will. And the more Cheney turns into a punchline, the less he’ll be able to BS his way into power. And in that regard, Cheney’s powergrab has inevitably undermined his ability to grab more power.
And what exactly did Cheney have in mind after 2008? Could he really have been comfortable leaving the presidency with dictatorial powers and simply retiring to Wyoming? Everyone’s always insisted that he wouldn’t be president, but I just find that hard to believe. I’m sure he’d prefer to stay in the fourth branch netherworld of the Vice Presidency, but I’m sure even he has a strong enough grasp of reality to realize the unsustainability of that. As much as I wouldn’t mind a Giuliani-Cheney ticket in 2008, I don’t really see that happening.
So is it really impossible to imagine that he had plans to take the top spot himself? Say if Bush died in a nuclear strike on Washington, and Cheney finished the remaining term as Big Daddy Dick, reassuring the public with his bullshit manner of why times are too perilous to change presidential horses midstream. And if anyone has instituted policies making such an event possible, it would be Dick Cheney.
Oh, and one final note on this: I’m not sure if others have noticed this yet, but if one thing is clear about these Washington Post articles on Cheney, Rove got totally duped. I’ve argued that before, that Cheney was screwing up Rove’s game. But it’s all the more obvious now. Rove was Bush’s political brain, but Cheney was the policy brain, which has surely undermined everything Rove was trying to do. They both saw how policy issues should be used for political gain. Cheney just took it more seriously. And more importantly, he put loyalists in key positions and ensured that everything important got routed through his office. Rove was clearly in way over his head. He should have stuck to rigging elections in Texas and left the bureaucratic infighting to the big boys.
Oh, and here’s a decent post from February where I already covered Dick’s power grab: How Cheney Stole America