No doubt President Obama was deeply stung over the weekend to hear Dick Cheney criticize his new national security team. At a Wyoming Republican Party dinner, the former vice president briskly dismissed Obama's choices as "dismal," saying that America needs "good people" rather than the "second-rate" figures selected by the president, particularly Vietnam veteran and long-time U.S. senator Chuck Hagel, nominated by the president as Secretary of Defense.
For sage advice on security policy and personnel, after all, there is no living person whose approval could be more meaningful than Cheney. It is hard to imagine a record as profoundly impressive as that of the Bush-Cheney administration, back when everyone knew that he was really in charge of everything important — especially the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.
True, Cheney's intelligence apparatus failed to capture or kill Osama bin Laden after 9/11 — indeed, failed to prevent the 9/11 attacks, despite ample warnings that began with Bill Clinton's farewell message in January 2001 and culminated in a blaring President's Daily Brief from the CIA in August 2001. True, Cheney's defense command allowed bin Laden and Mullah Omar to escape following the invasion of Afghanistan, while American and NATO troops slogged through that deadly conflict without a plausible goal or even an exit strategy. And true, the national security cabinet run by Cheney misled the nation into war against Iraq, on false premises, without adequate preparation or clear objectives, at a cost of many thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. And true, too, the ultimate result was to embarrass the United States repeatedly while increasing the regional power of the mullahs in Iran.
How can Obama presume to compare his own record with all of that?
Obviously Cheney's success cannot be measured by achievement alone. That wouldn't be fair at all. No, his success resides in the capacity to commit disastrous misconduct and malfeasance in office and still be taken seriously by the serious people in Washington, D.C.
If only the president were sensible enough to appoint figures of the same caliber as Cheney's choices in the Bush years — men such as Donald Rumsfeld, whose capacity to deceive the public remains unequaled a full decade after he first declared utter certainty about the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein's huge, perilous cache of "weapons of mass destruction."
"We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat," explained Rummy somewhat inanely. He also assured us that the Iraqi people would warmly welcome U.S. troops, that the war would require a commitment of no more than six months and that we wouldn't need to send an overwhelming force of troops to prevail.
Like his old comrade and boss Cheney, Rumsfeld remained perfectly arrogant and absolutely rigid to the end and beyond, even as all his predictions and promises proved tragically hollow. Even when he came under attack by the neoconservative propaganda apparatus, led by Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, for "glibly passing the buck" for administration failures, Rumsfeld never admitted any fault or responsibility. Leaving office in disgrace, he spent years composing a farrago of falsehoods to be published between hard covers, seeking to justify his reign of error — and topped the bestseller lists following a triumphant tour of television and radio.
Now there was a first-rate Defense Secretary. President Obama, please take note.
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