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A Dud From ‘Darth’
Posted on Sep 8, 2011
By John Dean
“In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir”
When I saw Dick Cheney dressed as Darth Vader to promote his new memoir, making a joke of his horrific behavior as vice president, all I could think about was how that video might play at his war crimes trial, if he ever were to undergo one. The prospect is not as farfetched as it might seem, particularly in light of his latest round of boasting about approving the use of “water-boarding” and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” From time to time I check in with acquaintances who are experts in international law and war crimes. They have long told me that Dick Cheney cannot risk leaving the United States, for there are a number of highly respected prosecutors in other countries who will not hesitate to charge him for his war crimes if they get the opportunity.
Some think Cheney’s in-your-face behavior over his memoir is his pre-emptive effort against the potential of such a prosecution by a foreign prosecutor. (The Obama Justice Department has clearly given him a pass.) Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell, told ABC News he believes that Cheney has “developed an angst and almost a protective cover, and now he fears being tried as a war criminal so he uses such terminology as ‘exploding heads all over Washington’ because that’s the way someone who’s decided he’s not going to be prosecuted acts: boldly, let’s get out in front of everybody, let’s act like we are not concerned and so forth when in fact they are covering up their own fear that somebody will Pinochet him,” alluding to the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was arrested for war crimes. A few think that Cheney dressed up as Darth Vader because he’s got a great sense of humor, but those who know him best say that, in fact, he has almost none. (In the end, the Darth Vader character comes out something of a hero in “Star Wars,” so Cheney no doubt identifies with those who go to the dark side to do what they believe is for the greater good.)
In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir
By Dick Cheney; Liz Cheney
Threshold Editions, 576 pages
After reading Cheney’s new memoir, watching several of his recent interviews about the book and revisiting my research for my three books about the Bush/Cheney presidency—“Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush,” “Conservatives Without Conscience” and “Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches”—I have a different take on Dick Cheney. The fact is that Cheney just does not get it. He believes what he did as vice president was necessary to protect the country and sees himself as a hero, the steady hand on the tiller during the Bush years when taking the ship of state through the storm.
In truth, his memoir confirms that Cheney is a small-minded man, and a prototypical authoritarian conservative. He is doing what these personalities do, because they just do not understand they might be wrong.
The memoir also reveals that its author is not a man inclined toward any real introspective thinking. Nor is his man-of-few-words style evidence of a great depth of thought; to the contrary, it shows the opposite. Cheney’s memoir is the work of a highly superficial thinker, his explanations are all starved rationalization and his reactions to others suggest he’s incapable of understanding their points of view.
Assisted by his two daughters and wife, who employed their much better cogitative skills while working with researchers and speechwriters, Cheney has produced a thin and deeply flawed narrative history that is most striking for its petty attacks on others. Cheney’s tale of his vice presidency takes cheap shots and settles scores with those who did not share his views, including George W. Bush but more particularly Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, along with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. There is only one person whom Dick Cheney appears to hold in truly high esteem: Dick Cheney, a person he believes is always correct. And he likes his mentor Don Rumsfeld, for whom he always has embarrassing, brown-nose praise. This is the way it is with authoritarian personalities.
The book contains absolutely nothing new about the key historical events of the Bush/Cheney presidency; it glosses over, or simply ignores, material essential to gaining any true understanding of this administration. (Given the fact that Cheney departed the Bush II White House with his vice presidential papers—one of the countless facts he ignores in his book—we may never know what he was really doing, or why, only what he generalizes and is willing to address.) Suffice it to say, his effort to spin history to look favorably on his tenure is not merely weak, it is at times unexpectedly boring. Cheney’s trust-me-I-know-what-I-am-doing tone may have worked with George W. Bush (during their first term, anyway), but in a narrative with no new facts or insights it gets old quickly.
This memoir reads like the work of a retired military figure, rather than a former White House chief of staff, congressman, cabinet officer and vice president. Though Cheney slides over his five draft deferments during Vietnam (claiming he would have loved serving if called), his memoir reveals an endless fascination with war. In high school, he reports, he was reading about the war in Vietnam with great interest. After getting kicked out of Yale and while working as a lineman back home in Wyoming during the days, he says, he read Winston Churchill’s multivolume World War II memoir at nights. In truth, the Cheney book itself is a war memoir, with about 20 percent discussing political wars and 80 percent addressing military wars; he tolerated the former but relishes rehashing the latter from his own point of view.
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