Last week, in a telephone interview from his undisclosed location, Vice President Cheney spoke with reliably deferential commentator Rush Limbaugh on Fox News. Limbaugh noted that the House Armed Services Committee now under Democratic leadership has decided to abandon the phrase “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) from its defense budget documents because it “doesn’t like the phrase.” Actually it’s because the leadership feels that it tendentiously connects the (Afghan War) response to the 9-11 al-Qaeda attack with the separate war in Iraq, which has of course been the neocons’ intention all along. But you know how Limbaugh likes to simplify things for his viewers.
Cheney predictably called the decision “just dead wrong,” adding: “Think about it. Just to give you one example, Rush. Remember Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist, an Al-Qaeda affiliate. He ran a training camp in Afghanistan for Al-Qaeda, then migrated after we went into Afghanistan and shut ‘em down there, he went to Baghdad. He took up residence there before we ever launched into Iraq, organized the Al-Qaeda operations inside Iraq before we even arrived on the scene and then of course led the charge for Iraq until we killed him last June. He’s the guy who arranged the bombing of the Samarra mosque that precipitated the sectarian violence between Shi’a and Sunni. This is Al-Qaeda operating in Iraq, and as I say, they were present before we invaded Iraq. There’s no way you can segment out and say, ‘Well, we’ll fight the war on terror in Pakistan or Afghanistan but we can separate Iraq. That’s not really, in any way, shape, or form related.’ It’s just dead wrong. Bin Laden has said this is the central battle in the war on terror.”
“Think about it,” he says, as he proceeds to defy the rational thinking process behind the belated rejection of the cynically misleading Orwellian GWOT term. “Just to give you one example,” he says, as though he’s got lots more in his briefcase but Fox News is allowing him only so much time to unload all the evidence. (Recall that Cheney was the leading proponent of the story that Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence operative in Prague before the 9-11 attack, but this and other concrete charges have been one by one discredited.)
Zarqawi “went to Baghdad,” and “organized the Al-Qaeda operations” there before U.S. forces invaded Iraq and killed him. This is, in fact, as Dan Froomkin pointed out in the Washington Post, “wrong from beginning to end. For instance, Zarqawi was not an al-Qaeda member until after the war. Rather, intelligence sources now agree, he was the leader of an unaffiliated terrorist group who occasionally associated with al-Qaeda adherents.”
Just as the Vice President was speaking, a report by the Pentagon’s Inspector General, Thomas F. Gimble, was released. It documents how the neocons patronized by Dick Cheney, including Douglas Feith who directed the “Office of Special Plans” in the Pentagon, disseminated disinformation about al-Qaeda-Iraq ties in order to help justify the coming war. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, rather too politely summarized the report in part as follows:
“The Feith office alternative intelligence assessments concluded that Iraq and al Qaeda were cooperating and had a ‘mature, symbiotic’ relationship, a view that was not supported by the available intelligence, and was contrary to the consensus view of the Intelligence Community. These alternative assessments were used by the Administration to support its public arguments in its case for war. As the DOD IG report confirms, the Intelligence Community never found an operational relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda; the report specifically states that, ‘the CIA and DIA disavowed any ‘mature, symbiotic’ relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida.’”
But here is the key architect of the war still smugly telling us to “think about” certainties that plainly don’t correspond to objective reality. So I wonder, which is it -- is he proffering poker-faced lies, convinced that this is tactically necessary and morally justifiable; or is he suffering from what a clinical psychologist would call delusions?
My preference is for the former interpretation. Although there is such a thing as mass delusion, the fact that Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Abram Shulsky (who managed the Office of Special Plans under Feith) and the whole neocon faction in the administration including Bush embraced the fictitious link between Saddam and al-Qaeda suggests that it was a calculated lie. So do memos cited in the Inspector-General’s report.
“We don’t seem to be making much progress pulling together intelligence on links between Iraq and Al Qaeda,” wrote Paul Wolfowitz, top deputy to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to Feith on January 22, 2002. “We owe SecDef [Rumsfeld] some analysis of this subject. Please give me a recommendation on how best to proceed. Appreciate the short turn-around.”
This was written a week before Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech plainly targeting Iraq for regime change. Wolfowitz needed “progress” ASAP to tar Iraq with the 9-11 brush. (By the way, Gimble calls Feith’s “alternative intelligence assessments” “improper,” but pronounces them not illegal because Wolfowitz assigned the work! That part of the report I just don’t understand. In a rational world, shouldn’t he be on trial for crimes against peace rather than heading the World Bank?) This was when the CIA and other intelligence agencies were exasperating Wolfowitz with their inability to provide him the evidentiary “product” he demanded. (Recall how Cheney and “Scooter” Libby repeatedly visited CIA headquarters to pressure the agents to make a better case for war.) Their unhelpfulness, as the report suggests, led to the establishment of what Mother Jones has termed Feith’s “Lie Factory.”
So yes, I think Cheney’s lying through his teeth and has been for a long time. He might have told Limbaugh, “Look, there’s an organization called al-Qaeda in Iraq that took shape following our invasion, founded by a guy who had been an independent operative before and who figured he’d acquire some élan from a bin Laden connection. So we’re now having to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq, just as we are in Afghanistan and globally. That means Iraq’s central to the Global War on Terror.” He could, that is to say, recognize the real causal historical relationship between invasion and al-Qaeda in Iraq, and still make a (weak) logical argument. But he’s unwilling to abandon the myth of an al-Qaeda operative in Saddam’s Iraq with Saddam’s blessing. Used to explain the intensity of the Iraqi resistance to invasion, the Zarqawi myth is just too valuable.
Perhaps Cheney reasons that, despite all the debunking of all the myths, despite his personal discrediting and dismal support ratings, he must still strive to sustain the support of the hard-core, Fox-viewing, religious right -- a solid 30% of the population. Well-organized, dedicated, suspicious of critical thought, many with their eyes on the prize of a near-term Second Coming over there in the Middle East, their support will be critical in the wake of an Iran attack. If the liberals are out in the streets making a fuss, the proud-to-be-Americans will be there too supporting the strike as part of the Global War on Terror. I’ll bet that Cheney as he spoke could imagine a sea of wholesomely bovine faces nodding in agreement with his words, and uttering “Amen.” That mental picture must be comforting.
The alternative possibility -- that the veep is deluded -- should not be discounted entirely however. In March 2006, The Smoking Gun published what it called Cheney’s “standard tour rider,” a White House document entitled “Vice Presidential Downtime Requirements” given to hotel staffs in advance of his hotel stays. It specifies among other things:
“All televisions tuned to FOX News (Please let the Advance Office know if it is satellite or cable television).”
Surroundings of such unreality may provide comfort to a man convinced in his mind that his unreal visions constitute the real world. (Kind of like someone shooting at a covey of captured quail on a ranch imagines he’s out in the wilds engaged in manly “hunting.”) On the other hand, if a proper understanding of the actual relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq (or Iran) were required for strategic military planning for more “war on terror,” I think it likely Cheney would happily snap out of his dream world and pay attention to real, bon-a-fide intelligence specialists.
Deluded, dishonest, or both, smug Dick deserves impeachment.
Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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