No man in the 200-year history of the United States has embodied the “banality of evil” as thoroughly as Dick Cheney, a dumpy, mid-level bureaucrat who ascended the political ladder through hardnosed calculation and cold-blooded vindictiveness. Cheney would be fine behind the counter of a fast-food restaurant snarling at the help and flaunting his authority, but as Vice President he’s been a dead loss.
His appearance on Capitol Hill last week only confirms his moral vacuity and contempt for decency. Cheney addressed the Senate in a closed-door session and made an “impassioned” plea to continue the “cruel, degrading, and inhumane” treatment of prisoners detained in American concentration camps. His arguments follow the twisted logic of Harvard attorney Alan Dershowitz, who claims that state-sponsored atrocities like torture can be justified if they produce greater security. Cheney’s appeal should be seriously considered. After all, this is the warped rationale that underscores the entire war on terror: the end justifies the means. We can see where this thinking inevitably leads by the appalling photos from Abu Ghraib and the reports of starving victims at Guantanamo Bay. These are the fetid sites where Cheney’s theories are put into practice.
The testimony of Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, has clarified Cheney’s role as the mastermind of America’s new torture regime. Wilkerson stated that, “The Secretary of Defense under cover of the Vice President’s office began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to what we’ve seen…There was a visible audit trail from the vice president’s office through the secretary of defense down to the commanders in the field.” (NPR)
Wilkerson puts Cheney at the epicenter of the torture scandal, a claim that the VP does not deny. In fact, he has filled his office with men who share his views and are willing to vigorously defend the president’s right to commit any conceivable transgression in the name of national security. His appearance on Capitol Hill identifies him as the author of the present policy and its main champion. His petition to the Senate is a request that we scrap the Constitution and its explicit defense of human rights, and accept his sordid proposals for state-sanctioned brutality.
Cheney has succeeded in many of his political endeavors, but he’s hit a brick wall on torture. The Senate has overwhelmingly rejected his request, which leaves open the (remote) possibility that the VP could eventually be tried for war crimes. At the very least, Cheney’s role as the architect of this onerous policy is bound to come under greater scrutiny, further highlighting the criminal vagaries of the current regime. It will be interesting to see how Cheney reacts when he’s finally cornered by his own excesses.
During the last five years, Cheney has tried to establish the supreme authority of the presidency. He knew that President Bush was a weak-minded braggart whose acuity never exceeded the political bromides whispered into his earpiece. This gave Cheney the opportunity to work behind the scenes to overturn long-honored treaties, obstruct congressional oversight, and savage constitutional protections. He enthusiastically touted the policies of unprovoked aggression (preemption) and the indefinite suspension of inalienable rights (enemy combatant). He transformed the existing system, with its many checks and balances, into a personal fiefdom for rewarding venal corporate kingpins with “no bid” contracts and for sluicing billions of taxpayer dollars into the coffers of defense contractors.
More than any politician of his era, Cheney demonstrated a Machiavellian flair for transforming public fear into support for unpopular policies. He is the shadowy figure behind the curtain, a Texas Rasputin using the public relations hologram, George Bush, to conceal his raging ambition. A skillful manipulator, Cheney has lurched to the top of the political anthill straddling his Crawford draught horse.
Whoa-there, Georgie boy!
But, Cheney’s political fortunes have hit an unforeseeable snag.
The Plame investigation has left the imperial aircraft stalled in mid-flight and Cheney is increasingly vulnerable. Fitzgerald is putting together a case that will either indict the vice president or leave the administration seriously hobbled. In any event, Cheney’s power base will be gravely eroded.
So, what’s next?
As the Iraq fiasco bogs-down and drains resources. public support will continue to dwindle. The media is bound to turn against the administration in the vain hope that some equally zealous Democrat will assume the mantle of imperial chieftain and clear the path to victory in Iraq. That means that the churlish Cheney is soon to be jettisoned, an unavoidable casualty in a lost campaign.
As we begin to evaluate Cheney’s wretched career in the rearview mirror, we should note the mountain of disgrace he has heaped on the national honor and how ineptly he piloted the ship-o-state to its untimely doom. Cheney “out-Kissingered” Kissinger, dragging the nation into a catastrophic war and ruining its prospects for the future. Historians will undoubtedly look back on this period and marvel at the fact that an unscrupulous vulgarian, with an insatiable lust for cruelty, became the most powerful man on earth.
You’re doin’ a heck-of a job, Dickie!
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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