The GOP’s Feigned Outrage

It takes chutzpah to protest what you’ve created.

Those who followed news coverage of the “tea party” protests last month will recall that one target of the partiers’ ire was the TARP bailout of the banking system — a policy of the Bush administration that President Obama has carried on.

And yet, in a television interview last month, we find no less a representative of the late administration than former Vice President Dick Cheney endorsing the protesters’ accusations with what is, for him, considerable enthusiasm. “I thought the tea parties were great,” he told Fox News’s Sean Hannity. “It’s basically a very healthy development.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of the Republican Party’s few remaining stars, has also cheered the public’s willingness to “fight back against Wall Street and Washington insiders.”

A Republican who wants to fight Wall Street! A Bush official who thinks protesting Bush policies is “great”! Contemplating these curiosities, we begin to realize how easy it has been for conservatives to swing back into full-throated opposition only months after their cataclysmic defeat. And also to understand why the obituaries for the GOP might be just a tad premature.

After all, there’s something about conservatives’ ferocious “No” that precisely fits the temper of the times. For all the past year’s Democratic victories, the GOP still owns outrage, still has an enormous capacity to summon up offense, to elevate every perceived slight into an unprecedented imposition upon both the hard-working citizen and freedom itself.

What really dazzles the observer, though, is conservatives’ fury over things for which they are themselves responsible.

As an example of this habit of mind, consider the essay that Mr. Gingrich published in Human Events last week. “The current liberal bloodlust over interrogations,” he wrote, referring to the Nancy Pelosi-CIA flap, is merely “the Left’s attempt to hunt down and purge its political opponents.” And yet, in a different essay he published on the very same day (this one in the Washington Times), Mr. Gingrich regretted that, in all the years of Republican rule, “there was a strategic failure to root out the left and the special interests of the left.”

Mr. Gingrich’s side failed to “root out” and destroy their opponents; now he imagines that this is what is being done to his team.

Psychotherapists might call this “projection,” and something similar pervades the essay the remarkable Mr. Gingrich published only two days later in the Washington Post. Here the former speaker can be found calling for a populist revolt in the “great tradition of political movements rising against arrogant, corrupt elites.”

A healthy sentiment, to be sure, except for the fact that “elites” are exactly what decades of conservative rule gave us by unleashing the banks, smashing the unions, and funneling the economy’s gains into the hands of the rich.

Then there are the “lobbyists” whom Mr. Gingrich accuses of running state governments here and there. By this he means “lobbyists for the various unions” who get their way “through bureaucracies seeking to impose the values of a militant left.”

Even so, rule by lobbyists is a subject Mr. Gingrich should know well. It was while he was House speaker, for example, that his No. 3, Tom DeLay, launched the famous “K Street Strategy,” which sought to make Gucci Gulch the exclusive preserve of the Republican Party.

It was Mr. Gingrich’s own beloved House freshmen of 1994, the last bunch of conservative populists to come down the pike, who made the Republican Revolution into a fundraising bonanza. And it was public outrage over the conspicuous purchase of government favors by the moneyed that led to the Democratic triumphs of 2006 and 2008.

Turning to the government of New York state, Mr. Gingrich declares that it has “impoverished the Upstate region to the point where it is a vast zone of no jobs and no opportunities.” Oddly, Mr. Gingrich appears to believe that deindustrialization is the direct result of governance by a political machine in Albany.

In fact, deindustrialization also occurred all across the Midwest. As it ground on through the Reagan years and the ’90s, it was the investor class who called the shots, not the hirelings of organized labor.

And as our factories and steel mills were shuttered an army of politicians and management theorists assured us that the waning of industrial America was the next stage in human development, the coming of the glorious age of information. The most ecstatic and even otherworldly of these was, of course, Newt Gingrich.

In his much-discussed speech last Thursday, Mr. Cheney intoned, “We hear from some quarters nothing but feigned outrage based on a false narrative.” And so we do: A form of protest that persistently misses the point, a type of populism that only empowers the elite, and a brand of idealism that cohabits comfortably with corruption.

Thomas Frank, Wall Street Journal


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Colin Powell’s Truths

Last week’s explosive Cheney-Obama rhetorical showdown ended in a damp fizzle of substantive agreement about the continuation of military commissions, about the need for indefinite detention of some terrorists and about the three-ring foolishness of a “truth commission.” The sharpest dispute, it turned out, concerned interrogation practices discontinued six years ago. Meanwhile, President Obama continues the targeted killings of terrorists by drones in Pakistan and the rendition of terrorists to friends less punctilious in their application of the Geneva Conventions. It is hypocrisy — but hypocrisy in the national interest.

On another front in former vice president Richard Cheney’s media offensive — this one against former secretary of state Colin Powell on the future of the Republican Party — the argument is just heating up. “I didn’t know he was still a Republican,” observed Cheney, at his most terse and acerbic. Powell dismissed the comment as “misinformed,” before criticizing the Republican Party as “very, very narrow.”

In some ways, these two figures are strange representatives of the ideological poles of Republicanism. While Cheney’s House voting record was broadly conservative, he was admired widely by Republican moderates for his reasonable tone. He has always been reticent on controversial social issues — except in his vocal support of gay marriage. Powell, in contrast, was one of the main authors of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuality. And Powell and his wife, Alma, both have been praised (deservedly) by conservatives for their commitments to the mentoring and moral education of youth.

But Cheney has a point about the questionable strength of Powell’s partisan attachments — an uncertainty Powell himself has cultivated. In 1995, Powell pronounced himself unable “to find a perfect fit in either of the two existing parties” and floated the idea of running for president as an independent. Even after embracing his inner Republicanism, Powell has seldom criticized the Democratic Party with the same relish he brings to denouncing Republican excess. And Powell’s endorsement of Obama against John McCain can hardly be interpreted as a protest against Republican extremism. McCain was (and is) a traditional foil of conservatives on issues such as immigration, the environment and campaign finance reform. If Powell couldn’t support McCain against Obama, it is hard to think what Republican would have sufficed.

In spite of all this, it is Powell to whom Republicans should be listening. A party more focused on excommunication than proselytization is in trouble. And Powell is calling attention to some unavoidable truths.

First, it is a myth that a single, conservative message can win everywhere in America. There is no “pure” ideological approach, liberal or conservative, that can consistently carry both Alabama and Oregon. Even at the height of the Reagan Revolution, the Republican Senate included moderate and liberal voices such as Mark Hatfield and Robert Packwood of Oregon, Charles Mathias of Maryland, Robert Stafford of Vermont and Charles Percy of Illinois. A political party that appeals across a diverse, continental nation will be a diverse, ideological coalition.

Second, Powell is correct that the next successful Republican leader must include an element of nontraditional appeal. Powell cites as his ideal the recently deceased Jack Kemp, who “was as conservative as anybody” but who “believed in inclusiveness, reaching out” to minorities and the poor.

Obama’s party has assembled its current majority among groups of growing demographic (and thus democratic) influence — particularly nonwhites, the young and college-educated voters. It is difficult to imagine Republicans regaining momentum in these groups without an aggressive, unexpected message of social justice, inclusion, environmental stewardship and social mobility — in addition to the economic and moral conservatism that will motivate much of the Republican coalition for the foreseeable future.

During the Clinton years, conservatives were casting around for this sort of nontraditional candidate and some were ready to turn to . . . Colin Powell. My colleague Bill Kristol said he was “open to the argument that the interests of conservative realignment could be furthered by the landslide victory of a moderate Republican.” William Bennett urged Republicans to take a “very serious look” at Powell. Bennett observed: “There are some in our party saying, ‘No, we shouldn’t.’ Which seems to me to be crazy. . . . There is a very serious move to sort of purge the ranks of people who aren’t quite pure enough. . . . For God’s sakes, a man like this should be welcomed with open arms into this party.”

Since then, Powell has not proved to be the most loyal of Republicans, but this argument remains valid.

Michael Gerson, Washington Post


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Dick Cheney’s Second Act

The president plays defense on security.

By goading a sitting president into responding to his arguments on his terms, Dick Cheney won the contest with Barack Obama last week before either said a word. And his re-emergence onto the public square seems to be driving everybody nuts.

“Cheney has popped out of his dungeon, scary organ music blaring, to carry on his nasty campaign of fear and loathing,” wrote Maureen Dowd in her New York Times column earlier this month. A talking head on cable declared the former vice president’s speech last Thursday “as sleazy a presentation by a vice president as we’ve had since Spiro Agnew.”

Other news outlets resurrected the image of Mr. Cheney as Darth Vader, the iconic Star Wars villain. And of course fellow Republicans Tom Ridge and Colin Powell rushed in to reassure their audiences that Mr. Cheney didn’t speak for them.

Ironically, it was left to Chris Matthews — one of the vice president’s most unrelenting critics — to offer the best take on last week’s dueling speeches. On his Sunday show, he put it this way: “I saw something from Barack Obama I never even saw in the campaign, a sense he was listening for footsteps, that he could hear Cheney coming at him and he was defensive.”

Think about that. Back in those heady days after the 2008 election, anyone who suggested that Mr. Obama might find himself playing defense to Dick Cheney on Guantanamo would have been hauled off as barking mad. Yet that’s exactly what Mr. Cheney has pulled off, leaving a desperate White House to try to drown him out by adding an Obama speech the same day Mr. Cheney was slated to address the American Enterprise Institute.

Of course, the effect was just the opposite. The White House reaction ended up elevating Mr. Cheney to Mr. Obama’s level, and ensuring that his words would be measured directly against the president’s. Like him or loathe him, Mr. Cheney forced the president to engage him.

For much of the Beltway, the Cheney surge is baffling. After all, when Mr. Cheney left office, his reputation seemed divided between those who thought him a punch line on late-night TV and those who thought him a war criminal. As so often happens, however, the conventional wisdom seems to have blinded Mr. Cheney’s ideological opponents to the many advantages he brings to the table.

First is his consistency. The case he is making now is the same case he has been making for the past seven years. Even people who disagree with that case would have to concede its coherence, resting as it does on the notion that the United States is at war with terrorists and must react as a nation at war.

By contrast, Mr. Obama’s war policies are increasingly incoherent. As a candidate, he excoriated the Bush approach to terror root and branch. As president, however, he has adopted some of the Bush policies, flip-flopped to the Bush side on others, and found himself at odds with his own party on closing down Guantanamo.

His speech on Thursday reflected these contradictions, at once reassuring the antiwar left that the Bush antiterror policies have been fully repudiated while trying to signal everyone else that he has retained most of their substance.

Second, Mr. Cheney is engaging Mr. Obama on an issue where Democrats have traditionally found themselves on the defensive: national security. Understandably, Mr. Obama’s supporters are enraged when Mr. Cheney says the new president is unraveling “some of the very policies that have kept our people safe since 9/11.”

But let’s remember that Mr. Obama has been making much the same attack on the Bush administration. Indeed, the president repeated these attacks on Thursday, saying that the Bush policies on Guantanamo and enhanced interrogation have created more terrorists, betrayed our ideals and made America less safe. In many ways, Mr. Cheney’s attacks on Mr. Obama’s war policies are simply an example of what goes around comes around.

Finally, and perhaps most important, when your approval ratings are as low as Mr. Cheney’s, you have nothing to lose by saying what you think — and your ratings have nowhere to go but up. And that’s just what is happening. A new CNN/Opinion Research survey released the same day as Mr. Cheney’s speech showed his approval ratings at 37% — up eight points since he left office.

In his remarks at the American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Cheney noted that serving as a vice president with no desire for the Oval Office left him free from many of the usual distractions of political ambition. “Today,” he told the crowd, “I’m an even freer man . . . a career in politics behind me, no elections to win or lose, and no favor to seek.”

That might be something for Mr. Obama to think about the next time he gets a hankering to take on Dick Cheney.

William McGurn, Wall Street Journal


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Obama, Cheney Deliver Dueling Speeches on National Security

cheney may 22

Guests and members of the media awaited Dick Cheney’s speech on Thursday in Washington while President Obama’s remarks played on a screen.

President Obama and former vice president Richard B. Cheney clashed today over the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, harsh interrogation policies and other approaches to fighting terrorism, as they delivered dueling speeches in which they forcefully defended their respective policies, with each charging that the other’s administration had made the nation less secure.

In a speech at the National Archives, Obama said the Bush administration’s endorsement of harsh interrogation techniques and its use of Guantanamo to detain terrorist suspects indefinitely had helped swell the ranks of America’s enemies. Despite fierce congressional opposition, including from fellow Democrats, he said some detainees would be brought to the United States and incarcerated in high-security prisons. But he insisted that no one who poses a threat to U.S. national security would be released, much less on American soil.

In a separate address at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Cheney sharply denounced the Obama administration on several fronts while vigorously defending Bush administration policies, notably the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that included waterboarding, a practice that simulates drowning and that has been widely characterized as torture. Cheney asserted that the techniques and other Bush administration policies potentially saved “hundreds of thousands” of innocent lives.

Together, the two speeches represented a historic confrontation between the past and present, a former administration and a current one, a view of the world embraced by President George W. Bush and an opposing approach advanced by his successor.

In each venue, the speaker appeared pointedly aware of his adversary. Moments after Obama finished speaking, Cheney was introduced by an AEI official who claimed to know that Obama had purposely scheduled his speech to coincide with Cheney’s.

Rarely has a top official of a past administration taken such direct and forceful aim at a new president. And it was even rarer that a president chose to make such a direct and defensive response to criticism from a former official.

But both Cheney and Obama made clear today that they see nothing ordinary in the issues that have driven their disagreement. Both described the stakes as the highest facing the nation, and both expressed extraordinary confidence in their conclusions.

In the face of criticism from both the left and right, Obama argued that America must adhere to its fundamental values as his administration works to safeguard the nation while cleaning up what he described as a legal “mess” left by the Bush administration at Guantanamo.

While the government has taken military and diplomatic steps to prevent a new attack by the al-Qaeda terrorist network, Obama said, “I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values.”

Standing in the rotunda of the National Archives, which houses the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and other core documents of American democracy, Obama also defended his decisions to release Bush administration memos justifying the use of harsh interrogation techniques and to withhold photos showing detainee abuse, decisions he insisted were not contradictory but were aimed at striking “the right balance between transparency and national security.”

He sharply criticized “political posturing” over his efforts to close the Guantanamo prison camp and rebutted claims in Congress from lawmakers of both parties that bringing terrorist suspects to the United States to stand trial would endanger national security.

Charging that congressional debate over the issue produced “fear-mongering” and speeches “calculated to scare people rather than educate them,” he pledged: “We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security; nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people.”

Obama’s speech today was billed by the White House as a major address on national security. It was aimed less at providing details of his plans to close the Guantanamo prison and prosecute detained terrorist suspects than at explaining his policies and regaining the initiative on the detainee issue.

The speech came a day after Senate Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly rejected Obama’s request for funds to close the Guantanamo detention facility. In a 90-6 vote, the Senate yesterday declined to provide $80 million in requested funding until Obama issues a plan for dealing with the 240 detainees who remain at Guantanamo, a U.S. naval base on the southeastern tip of Cuba. Lawmakers from both parties voiced strong opposition to bringing any of the detainees to the United States or ultimately releasing them into U.S. society.

Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Cheney, who has emerged as the leading Republican critic of Obama’s approach to fighting terrorism, today vigorously defended the interrogation techniques that the Bush administration authorized the CIA to use on suspected terrorists and denounced the “contrived indignation and phony moralizing” that he said the methods have inspired.

He warned that it would be “unwise” and reckless to completely renounce the methods in the future.

Cheney in recent weeks has repeatedly accused Obama of endangering national security by ordering the closure of the Guantanamo prison and ending the harsh interrogation techniques. After one such attack by Cheney in March, Obama expressed his fundamental disagreement with the former vice president, who he said was “drawing the wrong lesson from history.” Obama said on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program that Cheney “has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can’t reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don’t torture, with our national security interests.”

Standing in front of a display containing the original Constitution, Obama returned to that theme today, saying that while the United States needs to update its institutions to deal with the continuing threat from al-Qaeda and its affiliates, Americans must also trust in those institutions and in U.S. values.

Obama said fidelity to American values was the reason that the United States grew to become the world’s strongest nation.

“It’s the reason why enemy soldiers have surrendered to us in battle, knowing they’d receive better treatment from America’s armed forces than from their own government; the reason why America’s benefited from strong alliances that amplified our power and drawn a sharp and moral contrast with our adversaries; the reason why we’ve been able to overpower the iron fist of fascism, outlast the iron curtain of communism and enlist free nations and free peoples everywhere in the common cause and common effort of liberty,” he said.

“Where terrorists offer only the injustice of disorder and destruction, America must demonstrate that our values and institutions are more resilient than a hateful ideology,” Obama said. Those values were put to the test by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which showed that the government would need new tools to prevent future assaults, he said.

“Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions,” he said. While those decisions “were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people,” he said, “too often our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight,” and it often “trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.”

He added, “Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, too often we set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And during this season of fear, too many of us — Democrats and Republicans; politicians, journalists and citizens — fell silent. In other words, we went off course.”

Stressing that “we are indeed at war with al-Qaeda and its affiliates,” Obama said that “we do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat.” But he said this must be done “with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability.”

He charged that the Bush administration “established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable,” one that “failed to use our values as a compass.”

That, Obama said, was why he banned “so-called enhanced interrogation techniques,” ordered the closure of the Guantanamo prison camp and directed authorities to review the cases of all of its detainees.

He said the interrogation techniques and the use of Guantanamo alienated friends and allies, undermined the rule of law, helped terrorists gain recruits and increased “the will of our enemies to fight us.”

“There is also no question that Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America’s strongest currency in the world,” Obama said. Like the interrogation techniques, it contributed to terrorist recruitment, he said, adding, “Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.”

“We are cleaning up something that is, quite simply, a mess; a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my administration is forced to deal with on a constant basis,” Obama said.

The president did not mention Cheney by name in his speech. But he said his own policies represent “a new direction from the last eight years,” and he vigorously disputed the former vice president’s contention that the harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, were necessary.

“Now, I know some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to keep us safe,” Obama said. “I could not disagree more. As commander in chief, I see the intelligence. I bear the responsibility for keeping this country safe. And I categorically reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation.”

Moreover, he said, the methods risked the lives of U.S. troops by making enemies less likely to surrender and more likely to mistreat captured Americans.

“In short, they did not advance our war and counterterrorism efforts,” he said. “They undermined them.”

In his speech, Cheney repeatedly invoked the horrors of Sept. 11 and made the case that “tough interrogations” and other policies of the Bush administration helped save American lives.

“They were legal, essential, justified, successful and the right thing to do,” Cheney said of the interrogation techniques. “They prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.”

In an apparent reference to the Obama administration, Cheney also charged that “people who consistently distort the truth” about the interrogations “are in no position to lecture anyone about ‘values.’ ”

He warned: “To completely rule out enhanced interrogation methods in the future is unwise in the extreme. It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness, and would make the American people less safe.”

Cheney specifically defended waterboarding, which he said was used on three terrorists, one of them Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a top al-Qaeda operative who has admitted masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks and has boasted of beheading journalist Daniel Pearl. Upon his capture in Pakistan in 2003, Mohammed “said he would talk as soon as he got to New York City and saw his lawyer,” Cheney said.

“With many thousands of innocent lives potentially in the balance, we didn’t think it made sense to let the terrorists answer questions in their own good time, if they answered them at all,” he said.

Addressing what he described as critics’ “lecturing on the theme of being consistent with American values,” Cheney said that “no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants ever to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things.”

He also charged that the U.S. debate over interrogation techniques plays into the hands of terrorists, who he said “see just what they were hoping for — our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity.”

Asserting that the interrogation policy led to the disruption of specific planned attacks and thus made America safer, Cheney said this “might explain why President Obama has reserved unto himself the right to order the use of enhanced interrogation should he deem it appropriate.”

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs later disputed this, saying Obama has done no such thing.

“Absolutely not,” Gibbs said on CNN. “The president of the United States signed an executive order doing away with enhanced interrogation techniques. The policy of this government . . . is to no longer use those techniques, and they won’t be used.”

On the issue of bringing Guantanamo detainees to stand trial on U.S. soil, he said, “You don’t want to call them enemy combatants? Fine. Call them what you want — just don’t bring them into the United States.”

He asserted, “For all the partisan anger that still lingers, our administration will stand up well in history — not despite our actions after 9/11, but because of them.”

Cheney mocked Obama as a president searching for middle ground, or a compromise, in the war against terrorists.

“In the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed,” he said. “There is never a good time to compromise when the lives and safety of the American people are in the balance.”

Cheney reserved some of his harshest language for the New York Times, blasting the newspaper for publication of the government’s secret wiretapping program and insisting that the stories helped al-Qaeda.

“It impressed the Pulitzer committee, but it damn sure didn’t serve the interests of our country or the safety of our people,” he said.

After finishing his speech, Cheney abruptly left the auditorium at the think tank without taking questions. A question-and-answer session with Cheney was originally planned, but it was canceled because Cheney delayed his address until Obama had finished speaking, which caused the program to run long, an AEI spokeswoman said.

As is his custom following a formal speech, Obama did not take questions, either.


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Cheney Grabs a Third Term

Dick and Rummy are at Cafe Milano in Georgetown, holding court. The maître d’ fawns. Waiters hover. Tourists snap pics on their digital cameras. Cable chatterers stop by to ingratiate themselves.

It isn’t so much that Dick and Rummy are back. It’s that they never left.

They had no intention of turning America’s national security over to the Boy Wonder. The two best infighters in Washington history weren’t yielding turf to a bunch of peach-fuzz pinkos who side with terrorists.

Let W. work out at the S.M.U. gym in Dallas, waiting for history to redeem him; Dick and Rummy are leaning forward into history, as they always do. Cheney is tawny with TV makeup; there’s no point taking it off. The gigs are nonstop, and he has a big Obama-bashing speech Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute.

“That was funny when you were on Fox and Neil Cavuto called you Obama’s ‘ball and Cheney,’ ” Rummy grins, taking a gulp of his brunello.

Dick grunts, raising a fork of his Risotto Gucci with roasted free-range quail.

“The punks thought they could roll over us,” Vice mutters. “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

Eyeing the quail, Rummy shakes his head. “Can you believe the nerve of that dadburn whippersnapper at the press dinner, saying your memoir would be called ‘How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People?’ Whatever happened to the great White House tradition of giving respect to your predecessors?”

Dick is looking over at himself on the TV behind the bar, where Fox is doing a segment about how Republicans on the Sunday talk shows praised him for his shock-and-awe campaign against Obama.

“I can’t believe how easy it was to bring Obama into line,” Rummy says, gnawing on Gorgonzola. “We wouldn’t have needed waterboarding if everybody cracked like a peanut. It was even easier than getting the bit into Junior’s mouth. Way simpler than if we’d had to contend with McCain. In the end, the right guy won.”

Dick is surprised, too, but who can tell?

“You’re running national security now and everyone knows it,” Rummy says. “You got Obama to do an about-face on the torture photos. He’s using our old line about how it would endanger the troops. He’s keeping our military tribunals. His Justice Department invoked our state secrets privilege to try to get that lawsuit on torture and rendition dismissed. He’s trying to stop any sort of truth commission, thank goodness. He’s got his own surge going in Afghanistan. He’s withdrawing from Iraq more slowly. He’s extended our secret incursions over the Afghan border into Pakistan.”

Dick smiles on one side of his face.

“Transparency bites,” he snarls.

“By golly, yes,” Rummy says. “We controlled Junior by playing on his fear of looking like a wimp just as his dad did. And now we’re controlling Boy Wonder by playing on his eagerness to show that the Democrats are tough on national security. He’s a sucker for four-star generals, can’t resist anyone in uniform. Petraeus and Odierno speak and he jumps. If we want to roll him, we just send in the military brass flashing their medals.”

Rummy knocks back some more brunello, and shoos away some Japanese tourists after confiscating their cameras.

“I hear Poppy Bush is furious at you,” he says. “He’s telling folks he put Junior in your care and you stole his presidency and destroyed the Bush name and derailed Jeb’s chances to ever be president, and P.S., you wrecked the country and the Atlantic alliance to boot. He has it in for Lynne, too. Thinks she spun you up, like she did in high school with her flaming batons. He thinks you got loopy from all the heart procedures. And Colin’s mad at you.”

“He can go to yoga with Pelosi for all I care,” Dick growls.

The two old connivers clink glasses. “So,” Rummy muses, “what do we make our new White House boy toy do next?”

“Well,” Dick says. “He’s got to keep Gitmo open. It’s rich that his own party won’t give him the money to close it. The NIMBY factor works every time — no terrorists in my backyard. He’s got to stop this pansy diplomacy with Muslim nations. He’s got to let Bibi take out those Iranian centrifuges. He’s got to stop his Kodak moments and Commie book club with Hugo Chávez. He’s got to release those C.I.A. memos proving that we were right to rip up the Constitution. And, of course, he’s got to pardon Scooter.”

“Can we get him to do all that, Dick?”

Dick twinkles. “Yes, we can.”

Maureen Dowd, New York Times


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Cheney, Master of Pain

Dick Cheney has done many dastardly things. But presiding over policies so saturnine that they ended up putting the liberal speaker from San Francisco on the hot seat about torture may be one of his proudest achievements.

Nancy Pelosi’s bad week of blithering responses about why she did nothing after being briefed on torture has given Republicans one of their happiest — and harpy-est — weeks in a long time. They relished casting Pelosi as contemptible for not fighting harder to stop their contemptible depredations against the Constitution. That’s Cheneyesque chutzpah.

The stylish grandmother acted like a stammering child caught red-handed, refusing to admit any fault and pointing the finger at a convenient scapegoat. She charged the C.I.A. with misleading Congress, which is sort of like saying the butler did it, or accusing a generic thuggish-looking guy in a knit cap with gang tattoos to distract from your sin.

Although the briefing was classified, she could have slugged it out privately with Bush officials. But she was busy trying to be the first woman to lead a major party. And very few watchdogs — in the Democratic Party or the press — were pushing back against the Bush horde in 2002 and 2003, when magazines were gushing about W. and Cheney as conquering heroes.

Leon Panetta, the new C.I.A. chief, who is Pelosi’s friend and former Democratic House colleague from California, slapped her on Friday, saying that the agency briefers were truthful. And Jon Stewart ribbed that the glossily groomed speaker was just another “Miss California U.S.A. who’s also been revealing a little too much of herself.”

It’s discomfiting to think that the woman who’s making Joe Biden seem suave is second in line to the presidency.

Of course, a lot of the hoo-ha around Pelosi makes it sound as if she knew stuff that no one else had any inkling of, when in fact the entire world had a pretty good idea of what was happening. The Bushies plied their dark arts in broad daylight.

Besides, the question of what Pelosi knew or didn’t, or when she did or didn’t know, is irrelevant to how W. and Cheney broke the law and authorized torture.

Philip Zelikow, who was State Department counselor for Condi Rice and executive director of the 9/11 Commission, testified last week before Congress that torture was “a collective failure and it was a mistake,” perhaps “a disaster.”

After 9/11, he recalled, “the tough, gritty world of ‘the field’ worked its way into the consciousness of the nation’s leaders. … The cultural divide between the world of secretive, bearded operators in the field coming from their 3 a.m. meetings at safe houses, and the world of Washington policy makers in their wood-paneled suites” led the policy makers to become too deferential to C.I.A. operatives, and miss the fact that even they disagreed about torture.

Ali Soufan, the ex-F.B.I. agent who flatly calls torture “ineffective,” helped get valuable information from Abu Zubaydah, an important Al Qaeda prisoner, simply by outwitting him. Torture, he told Congress, is designed to force the subject to submit “through humiliation and cruelty” and “see the interrogator as the master who controls his pain.”

It’s a good description of the bullying approach Cheney and Rummy applied to the globe, and the Arab world. But as Soufan noted, when you try to force compliance rather than elicit cooperation, it’s prone to backfire.

The more telling news last week was the suggestion about Cheney’s reverse-engineering the Iraq war. Robert Windrem, a former NBC News investigative producer, reported on The Daily Beast that in April 2003, after the invasion of Baghdad, the U.S. arrested a top officer in Saddam’s security force. Even though this man was an old-fashioned P.O.W., someone in Vice’s orbit reportedly suggested that the interrogations were too gentle and that waterboarding might elicit information about the fantasized connection between Osama and Saddam.

In The Washington Note, a foreign policy blog, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff at State, wrote that the “harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 … was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and Al Qaeda.”

Josh Marshall said in his blog: “More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.”

I used to agree with President Obama, that it was better to keep moving and focus on our myriad problems than wallow in the darkness of the past. But now I want a full accounting. I want to know every awful act committed in the name of self-defense and patriotism. Even if it only makes one ambitious congresswoman pay more attention in some future briefing about some future secret technique that is “uniquely” designed to protect us, it will be worth it.

Maureen Dowd, New York Times


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Chastise Cheney

This week saw some notable apologies and makings of amends.

“Padre Oprah,” as the Rev. Alberto Cutié is known to his fans in Miami, got caught canoodling with a female companion. Consenting adults in love? Great. Not so cute thought the church. To them it was a violation of its medieval dictate. So, he apologized.

It was reported that last year Oprah herself called James Frey, fabulist of “A Million Little Pieces,” whom she had dragged on her show and ripped into a million little shreds. What did she say?: “I felt I owe you an apology.” (Wording according to Frey anyway.)

Michael Steele, who I am convinced suffers from some sort of diarrhea of the larynx, apologized for saying that religious bigots in the Republican base rejected Mitt Romney in part because he’s Mormon. (That’s probably true, but really Michael, just be quiet, or chillax, or whatever dated slang you prefer.)

One major exception to this trend of mea culpas: Dick Cheney.

When CBS’s Bob Schieffer asked Cheney if he had any regrets about the detestable torture tactics used during the Bush administration (which may not have even worked), Cheney, channeling Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons,” responded: “No regrets. I think it was absolutely the right thing to do.”

Furthermore, when Schieffer asked whether he would side with Rush Limbaugh or Colin Powell on the future of the Republican Party, Cheney chose the demagogue over the diplomat. What sense does that make?

My theory: Cheney isn’t simply going out in a blaze of vainglory. He felt the stiff winds of change and accountability blow across his coffin. It roused and enraged him. Now, he’s on a political suicide mission. And if his own party is collateral damage, so be it. He would rather break it than see it bend anyway.

Mission almost accomplished. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last month, Cheney’s positive rating has reached another low: a measly 18 percent.

Cheney may 16 4

His incessant ramblings are further weakening an already hobbled party as well. That’s bad for them and the country. We need a strong opposition party to ensure a healthy democracy. And while politics are cyclical, the Republicans are now in danger of flat-lining.

One-party rule doesn’t appeal to me. Lord Acton had it right: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Amen.

So, the Republicans need to dump this crotchety recalcitrant and develop a new vision that embraces moderation and inclusiveness, for all our sakes.

Look at it this way: Cheney’s positive rating is even lower than George W. Bush’s. And he shouldn’t speak for the Republicans either.

Unless he wants to apologize.

Charles M. Blow, New York Times


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See also:

Celebrity Priest Says He Is Torn Between Church and Girlfriend

James Frey Gets a Bright, Shiny Apology from Oprah

Foot in Mouth Disease