Repent, Dick Cheney
WASHINGTON — Dick Cheney certainly gives certainty a black eye.
In a documentary soon to appear on Showtime, “The World According to Dick Cheney,” America’s most powerful and destructive vice president woos history by growling yet again that he was right and everyone else was wrong.
R.J. Cutler, who has done documentaries on the Clinton campaign war room and Anna Wintour’s Vogue war paint room, now chronicles Cheney’s war boom.
“If I had to do it over again,” the 72-year-old says chillingly of his reign of error, “I’d do it over in a minute.”
Cheney, who came from a family of Wyoming Democrats, says his conservative bent was strengthened watching the anti-Vietnam War protests at the University of Wisconsin, where he was pursuing a doctorate and dodging the draft.
“I can remember the mime troupe meeting there and the guys that ran around in white sheets with the entrails of pigs, dripping blood,” he said. Maybe if he’d paid more attention to the actual war, conducted with a phony casus belli in a country where we did not understand the culture, he wouldn’t have propelled America into two more Vietnams.
The documentary doesn’t get to the dark heart of the matter about the man with the new heart.
Did he change, after the shock to his body of so many heart procedures and the shock to his mind of 9/11? Or was he the same person, patiently playing the courtier, once code-named “Backseat” by the Secret Service, until he found the perfect oblivious frontman who would allow him to unleash his harebrained, dictatorial impulses?
Talking to Cutler in his deep headmaster’s monotone, Cheney dispenses with the fig leaf of “we.” He no longer feigns deference to W., whom he now disdains for favoring Condi over him in the second term and for not pardoning “Cheney’s Cheney,” Scooter Libby.
“I had a job to do,” he said.
Continuing: “I got on the telephone with the president, who was in Florida, and told him not to be at one location where we could both be taken out.” Cheney kept W. flying aimlessly in the air on 9/11 while he and Lynn left on a helicopter for a secure undisclosed location, leaving Washington in a bleak, scared silence, with no one reassuring the nation in those first terrifying hours.
“I gave the instructions that we’d authorize our pilots to take it out,” he says, referring to the jet headed to Washington that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. He adds: “After I’d given the order, it was pretty quiet. Everybody had heard it, and it was obviously a significant moment.”
This guy makes Al Haig look like a shrinking violet.
When they testified together before the 9/11 Commission, W. and Cheney kept up a pretense that in a previous call, the president had authorized the vice president to give a shoot-down order if needed. But the commission found “no documentary evidence for this call.”
In his memoir, W. described feeling “blindsided” again and again. In this film, the blindsider is the eminence grise who was supposed to shore up the untested president. The documentary reveals the Iago lengths that Cheney went to in order to manipulate the unprepared junior Bush. Vice had learned turf fighting from a maniacal master of the art, his mentor Donald Rumsfeld.
When he was supposed to be vetting vice presidential candidates, Cheney was actually demanding so much material from them that there was always something to pick on. He filled W.’s head with stories about conflicts between presidents and vice presidents sparked by the vice president’s ambition, while protesting that he himself did not want the job.
In an unorthodox move, he ran the transition, hiring all his people, including Bush senior’s nemesis, Rummy, and sloughing off the Friends of George; then he gave himself an all-access pass.
He was always goosing up W.’s insecurities so he could take advantage of them. To make his crazy and appallingly costly detour from Osama to Saddam, and cherry-pick his fake case for invading Iraq, he played on W.’s fear of being lampooned as a wimp, as his father had been.
But after Vice kept W. out of the loop on the Justice Department’s rebellion against Cheney’s illegal warrantless domestic spying program, the relationship was ruptured. It was too late to rein in the feverish vice president, except to tell him he couldn’t bomb a nuclear plant in the Syrian desert.
“Condi was on the wrong side of all those issues,” Cheney rumbled to Cutler.
Cheney still hearts waterboarding. “Are you going to trade the lives of a number of people because you want to preserve your honor?” he asked, his voice dripping with contempt.
“I don’t lie awake at night thinking, gee, what are they going to say about me?” he sums up.
They’re going to say you were a misguided powermonger who, in a paranoid spasm, led this nation into an unthinkable calamity. Sleep on that.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.