Thursday, August 13, 2009


From a Barton Gellman story in The Washington Post about friction between Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, which is likely to be discussed in Cheney's forthcoming memoir (emphasis added):

"What impressed me was his continuing zeal," said an associate who discussed the book with Cheney. "He hadn't stepped back a bit from the positions he took in office to a more relaxed, Olympian view. He was still very much in the fray. He's not going to soften anything or accommodate shifts of conscience. There was no sense in which he looked back and said, 'I wish I'd done something differently.' Rather, there was a sense that they hadn't gone far enough. If he'd been equipped with a group of people as ideologically rigorous as he was, they'd have been able to push further."

Holy crap. Just imagine.

In the parallel universe where the rule of law actually matters in America and Democrats are occasionally allowed to prevail, the smart play, obviously, would have been to impeach and convict Cheney first. Back here in the real America, of course, we were never going to come within a country mile of a two-thirds Senate vote to chuck either of them out of office. Even so, the mere presence of this evil bastard a heartbeat away was enough to keep me from ever saying "IMPEACH BUSH," full stop.


And what ideas drove Cheney all those years, according to Gellman? Well, apart from the notion that Iran and North Korea were "ripe for 'regime change,'" there was this:

John P. Hannah, Cheney's second-term national security adviser, said the former vice president is driven, now as before, by the nightmare of a hostile state acquiring nuclear weapons and passing them to terrorists. Aaron Friedberg, another of Cheney's foreign policy advisers, said Cheney believes "that many people find it very difficult to hold that idea in their head, really, and conjure with it, and see what it implies."

You know what? We don't have a problem conjuring with that idea. We just think it's a problem that needs to be approached with all the tools in the toolbox -- including the ones that don't involve killing, brutalizing, or repressing people. You know -- diplomacy. Multilateralism. Non-proliferation. Maybe a few spies who actually know something about the countries and organizations we're worried about, and who can speak the relevant languages.

But that's not Cheney's way of thinking. He says what drives him is fear of this outcome, but that's just an excuse. What really drives him is the desire to use the tools of authoritarianism. In this, he reminds me of certain gun nuts -- they love guns so much that their entire philosophy of life is structured around gun ownership. They look around and see a country full of criminal and illegal-alien marauders, along with tyrannical or potentially tyrannical government officials. They feel this way because guns seem like the answer to precisely those problems -- so those are the only problems they see. When you have a hammer, all you see are nails.

Cheney obsesses in his peculiar way over the threat of nuclear terrorism because it seems like precisely the problem for which his greatest pleasure, the wielding of state power, is the solution. That's his hammer/nail pairing. When he's in the government, he just wants an excuse to turn the Executive Branch into a dictatorship. Fear of rogues with nukes is Cheney's obsession because it is precisely that excuse.

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