Monday, September 18, 2006

Joan Didion On Cheney

Joan Didion has a new composition that (as per usual for this great American essayist) gets directly to the truth of the matter, in this case the political philosophy of Dick Cheney.

Watergate, Cheney has long maintained, was not a criminal conspiracy but the result of a power struggle between the legislative and executive branches. So was the 1973 War Powers Act, which restricted executive authority to go to war without consulting Congress and which Cheney believed unconstitutional. So was the attempt to get Cheney to say which energy executives attended the 2001 meetings of his energy task force. This issue, both Cheney and Bush explained again and again, had nothing to do with Enron or the other energy players who might be expecting a seat at the table in return for their generous funding (just under $50 million) of the 2000 Republican campaign. "The issue that was involved there," Cheney said, misrepresenting what had been requested, which was not the content of the conversations but merely the names of those present, "was simply the question of whether or not a Vice President can sit down and talk with citizens and gain from them their best advice and counsel on how we might deal with a particular issue."

The 1987 minority report (on Iran-Contra -- drafted with then-congressman Cheney's input) prefigures much else that has happened since. There is the acknowledgment of "mistakes" that turn out to be not exactly the mistakes we might have expected. The "mistake" in this administration's planning for the Iraq war, for example, derived not from having failed to do any planning but from arriving "too fast" in Baghdad, thereby losing the time, this scenario seemed to suggest, during which we had meant to think up a plan. Similarly, the "mistakes" in Iran-contra, as construed by the minority report, had followed not from having done the illegal but from having allowed the illegal to become illegal in the first place. As laid out by the minority, a principal "mistake" made by the Reagan administration in Iran-contra was in allowing President Reagan to sign rather than veto the 1984 Boland II Amendment forbidding aid to contra forces: no Boland II, no illegality. A second "mistake," to the same point, was Reagan's "less-than-robust defense of his office's constitutional powers, a mistake he repeated when he acceded too readily and too completely to waive executive privilege for our Committees' investigation."

The very survival of the executive species, then, was seen by Cheney and his people as dependent on its brute ability to claim absolute power and resist all attempts to share it.

Didion points out that Cheney is not really a neo-con:

To what end the (pre-Iraq war intel) story was being cooked was hard to know. The Vice President is frequently described as "ideological," or "strongly conservative," but little in his history suggests the intellectual commitment implicit in either. He made common cause through the run-up to Iraq with the neoconservative ideologues who had burrowed into think tanks during the Clinton years and resurfaced in 2001 in the departments of State and Defense and the White House itself, but the alliance appeared even then to be more strategic than felt. The fact that Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle and Elliott Abrams shared with Cheney a wish to go to war in Iraq could create, in its confluence with September 11, what many came to call a perfect storm -- as if it had blown up out of the blue beyond reach of human intervention -- but the perfect storm did not make Cheney a neocon.

He identifies himself as a conservative, both political and cultural. He presents himself as can-do, rock-solid even if he is forced to live in Washington (you know he only does it on our behalf), one politician who can be trusted not to stray far from whatever unexamined views were current in the intermountain West during the 1950s and 1960s. He has described a 1969 return visit to the University of Wisconsin, during which he took Bill Steiger and George H.W. Bush to an SDS rally, as having triggered his disgust with the Vietnam protest movement. "We were the only guys in the hall wearing suits that night," he told Nicholas Lemann.

UFB. I wonder how that looked on their FBI files.

Cheney leaves no paper trail. He has not always felt the necessity to discuss what he plans to say in public with the usual offices, including that of the President. Nor, we learned from Ron Suskind, has he always felt the necessity, say if the Saudis send information to the President in preparation for a meeting, to bother sending that information on to Bush. ...

Bob Woodward, in Plan of Attack, describes an exchange that took place between Cheney and Colin Powell in September 2002, when Cheney was determined that the US not ask the UN for the resolution against Iraq that the Security Council, after much effort by Powell, passed in November:
Powell attempted to summarize the consequences of unilateral action.... He added a new dimension, saying that the international reaction would be so negative that he would have to close American embassies around the world if we went to war alone.
That is not the issue, Cheney said. Saddam and the clear threat is the issue.
Maybe it would not turn out as the vice president thinks, Powell said. War could trigger all kinds of unanticipated and unintended consequences....
Not the issue, Cheney said.
In other words the Vice President had by then passed that point at which going to war was "not about our analysis." He had passed that point at which going to war was not about "finding a preponderance of evidence." At the point he had reached by September 2002, going to war was not even about the consequences. Not the issue, he had said.


Blogger Meatball One said...

I find him to be a ruthless business man, first, second...ninth - and tenth he is a one per cent man, a champion of executive power,and an homo ideologicus ...but this latter jive ain't nuthin' but apologetics deployed by a man who remains nothing more than a ruthless and lying businessman for which all else is subservient, including public service.

What was it he once said...'holding public office is conducting business by other means'.

9/18/2006 4:37 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


I hadn't heard that quote, but it sure fits his M.O.

The business angle being the motivating factor for the Iraq enterprise had been my longtime assumption. Now I am convinced it was so.

It is surprising that more people haven't seen the congruence of interests involved. Or if they have noticed, that they haven't screamed bloody murder. They must assume that he is an honorable type who wouldn't let something like $11 Billion (to Halliburton) influence policy.

9/18/2006 4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article. Thanks for pointing it out...

Why is it that inspite of all the excellent writing by all these excellent writers -- Joan Didion, Kurt Vonnegut, Gore Vidal, etc... Americans won't wake up??

I really want to see how this godawful story is going to end for Cheney and Rumsfeld. Will they just ride of into the sunset or be set on fire?


9/19/2006 9:11 AM  
Blogger Effwit said...


You are quite welcome for the link.

A big reason that Americans ignore our greatest and most insightful commenters, especially those you mention, is that their books and articles are only read by the most intelligent segment of our society. Thus, they don't sell very well.

Most of the Americans that actually read books (a very low percentage of the population) read crap like Tom Clancy and Danielle Steel.

America has become vocally anti-intellectual.

And I also am looking forward to the karmic wheel catching up to Cheney and Rumsfeld. I only hope it doesn't only come in their next life.

9/19/2006 11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Danielle Steel? How could you say that about Danielle Steel? I think that even might be Mr. Meatball's mostest favoritest writer... ;-)


9/19/2006 12:18 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


He would probably prefer Jackie Collins.


He actually knows literature, believe it or not. Mass market ratshit would not likely be his thing.

9/19/2006 1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point Effy. Danielle is too tame.

( -- Of course I'm just kidding -- I know an erudite meatball when I see one... I mean how many meatballs do you know who can use the word Apocrypha in a sentence?)


9/19/2006 2:33 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


I mean how many meatballs do you know who can use the word Apocrypha in a sentence?

Good point. They have got to be as scarce as hen's teeth.

9/19/2006 2:57 PM  

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