Sept. 9, 2016 6:45 p.m. ET
Sept. 9, 2016 6:45 p.m. ET
Conor Friedersdorf Nov 5, 2015
When Dick Cheney left the vice presidency his approval rating stood at a dismal 13 percent. As it turns out, even George H.W. Bush thought that he did a bad job.
“After years of holding back, former President George Bush has finally broken his public silence about some of the key figures in his son’s administration, issuing scathing critiques of Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld,” the New York Times reported, cribbing from a Jon Meacham biography of the 41st president that will be in book stores beginning next week.
Said the newspaper:
In his interviews with Mr. Meacham, the former president returned several times to the topic of Mr. Cheney, who handled the role of vice president very differently from the way the first Mr. Bush did under Ronald Reagan. “He had his own empire there and marched to his own drummer… He just became very hard-line and very different from the Dick Cheney I knew and worked with,” Mr. Bush said. He attributed that to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “Just iron-ass. His seeming knuckling under to the real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything...”
He speculated that Mr. Cheney was influenced by his wife, Lynne, and his daughter Liz, both strong conservatives. “I’ve concluded that Lynne Cheney is a lot of the eminence grise here – iron-ass, tough as nails, driving,” he said. Still, he called Mr. Cheney “a good man” who pushed boundaries too far. “The big mistake that was made was letting Cheney bring in kind of his own State Department,” Mr. Bush said. “I think they overdid that. But it’s not Cheney’s fault. It’s the president’s fault.” By that, he meant his son. “The buck stops there,” the elder Mr. Bush said.
That critique of Dick Cheney is consistent with how the former vice president has been rendered by journalists like Jane Mayer and Barton Gellman, who’ve cast him as a master bureaucrat who used his insider knowledge of how the executive branch works to shape policy, sometimes without the president’s knowledge.
It is newsworthy that Bush 41 made that critique of his former secretary of defense and his son, and I’ve relayed his comments much as the New York Times journalists did, having not yet seen Jon Meacham’s biography myself. But I was most struck by something that the newspaper mentioned only in passing:
The book includes diary entries…
It reports that as defense secretary for the elder Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney commissioned a study of how many tactical nuclear weapons would be needed to take out an Iraqi Republican Guard division, if necessary.
(The answer: 17.)
Cheney’s interest in tactical nukes has been reported before, but garnered little attention, and escaped my notice.
Like Bush 41, my understanding had been that 9/11 radicalized Dick Cheney. But I’m tempted to change my view of the torture advocate if, prior to 1993, he was contemplating a first-strike use of nuclear weapons against the Iraqi army.
Journalists caught up in a disinformation war failed to question and even championed the case for the bloody conflict in Iraq.
George W. Bush wore a suitably sombre grey suit to deliver his “axis of evil” speech, which began laying out the case for the US invasion of Iraq. Few could have faulted his performance on that day in January 2002, just four months after the September 11 terrorist attacks. He told the applauding joint sitting of the US House of Representatives and Senate that Iraq was allied with terrorists, and posed “a grave and growing danger” to US interests through possession of “weapons of mass destruction”.
What we now know is that Bush’s performance was just that – an act. There was nothing to link Iraq to terrorism.
Yet more than 10 years later the leaders who took us to war are still in denial. Just this week former British prime minister Tony Blair issued what amounted to a non-apology as he tried to spin his way out of the trouble he expects from the findings of the Chilcot inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq War. But what has been forgotten is the role of many journalists who led the charge to war.
Eight months after Bush’s address with the drumbeat of war growing ever louder, The New York Times reporter Judith Miller – who often boasted the Pentagon had given her clearance to see secret information – crossed the line from journalist to pro-war activist. On September 8, 2002, Miller wrote about “Mr Hussein’s dogged insistence on pursuing his nuclear ambitions”. It was a bald statement of fact without any attribution.
The story, “US says Hussein intensified quest for A-bomb parts”, quoted not a single person by name, and relied entirely on US government sources.
Miller and The New York Times, with its uncorroborated, unquestioning reporting, had provided the perfect vehicle for the White House. Over the following 24 hours they saturated the airwaves stirring fear of a nuclear Armageddon. On NBC’s Meet the Press, vice-president Dick Cheney cited The New York Times article and accused Saddam of moving aggressively to develop nuclear weapons.
On CNN, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that “there will always be some uncertainty” in determining how close Iraq may be to obtaining a nuclear weapon but, in a phrase as polished as it was hollow, added: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” On CBS, Bush cited satellite photos that showed “unexplained construction” at Iraqi sites that weapons inspectors had previously searched for indications Saddam was trying to develop nuclear arms. “I don’t know what more evidence we need,” Bush said. The news flashed around the world that the White House had “confirmed a report in The New York Times” that Saddam Hussein had been attempting to get equipment to produce nuclear weapons.
Australian prime minister John Howard added to the misleading game, saying the intelligence that had come out of the United States “if accurate confirms the intelligence that we have been given”. The fact is it was the same intelligence that the United States had already given to Australia.
Howard made great play of the possibility that “Iraq has not abandoned her aspiration for nuclear capacity”. By suggesting The New York Times story added yet another layer of confirmation, Howard was taking part in the Australian version of the style of journalism that Miller and the White House specialised in: the story leaked to Miller and published in The New York Times had been confirmed by the very people who leaked it in the first place. Iraq’s nuclear ambitions were now accepted as fact. Even the BBC’s prestigious Panorama program, “The Case Against Saddam”, broadcast on September 23, 2002, embraced this “evidence”, suggesting Saddam was trying to get systems to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons production.
The program acted as a reinforcement of Blair’s claim that Saddam’s missiles could hit British territory in Cyprus with only 45 minutes warning.
The Panorama report formed the basis of a Four Corners broadcast two weeks later but the bald assertions of “fact” were balanced by other interviews in the ABC version, bringing a swift letter of rebuke to the program. Panorama was not happy that Four Corners had not accepted its editorial line.
While Miller had given the White House exactly what it wanted on the nuclear story, she now shared the spoils of a second report. It involved Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri who told CIA interrogators that he had personally visited 20 weapons of mass destruction sites in Iraq. The fact that a CIA lie detector test showed the whole story was fabricated had little impact on what the White House wanted. Miller’s story quoting al-Haideri ran in The New York Times, while the exclusive TV rights went to a little-known Australian journalist Paul Moran who was working for the Australian ABC.
Moran was well placed to get the story. He had been employed by a CIA-funded organisation, the Washington-based Rendon Group, whose main role was to manipulate the media to support the war. The Rendon Group had even created the Iraqi National Congress, the anti-Saddam organisation which had delivered up al-Haideri to Miller. Now Moran’s al-Haideri interview, packed with disinformation and fabrication, went around the world, picked up by dozens of TV stations.
When US troops reached Baghdad, The Australian published an editorial, “Coalition of the Whining Got it Wrong”, which ended with words that gave perfect meaning to irony: “Never underestimate the power of ideology and myth – in this case anti-Americanism – to trump reality. But at least we know for sure it is not love, but being a left-wing intellectual, that means never having to say you’re sorry.”
The disinformation war claimed the reputations of many journalists who either failed to question their governments, or worse still deliberately championed the case for the invasion which led to the deaths of an estimated half a million Iraqis. There was at least one other casualty of this war created by fabricated news: Moran died in a car-bomb attack in northern Iraq.
This article contains excerpts from Andrew Fowler’s book The War on Journalism: Media Moguls, Whistleblowers and the Price of Freedom (Penguin Random House, 2015).
“It is madness,” the former vice president announced Tuesday.
The results may be catastrophic,” he inveighed.
“This deal gives Tehran the means to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland.”
“The Obama-Iran deal aids the efforts of America’s enemies.”
The deal “strengthens our adversaries, threatens our allies and puts our own security at risk.”
Cheney hyperbolized, hyperventilated and gave rein to hyperactive imagination — “desperation . . . cave . . . neutered” — and the audience at the normally sedate American Enterprise Institute was riled. When Michaela Anang, a student from Boston with the liberal group Code Pink attempted to heckle the “war criminal” Cheney, Marc Thiessen, the moderator (and online columnist for The Post), leaped up to block her, audience members shouted “get out of here!” at her, and one man, in jacket and tie, engaged her in a violent tug of war to confiscate her banner.
“Thank you very much,” Cheney said with a wry grin.
Supporters of the Iran deal are probably saying the same to Cheney. They are probably more grateful still that applauding Cheney from the front row were Paul D. Wolfowitz, a principal architect of the Iraq war, and Sen. Tom Cotton, (Ark.), author of the Senate Republicans’ letter to the ayatollahs attempting to kill the deal during negotiations. In the second row were former congresswoman Michele Bachmann and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the Cheney aide whose tenure led to a prison sentence.
Surely, those who would like to see Congress undo the nuclear agreement can’t expect that rolling out Cheney is going to save the cause. When it comes to dire predictions based on scary intelligence, the former vice president wouldn’t seem to have the best track record.
Moments after Cheney’s speech came reports that the number of Senate Democrats supporting the Iran deal had climbed to 41 — more than enough to sustain a presidential veto of any congressional disapproval of the deal, and possibly enough to block such a disapproval resolution from clearing Congress. This came despite an all-out campaign by the once-feared American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its affiliates, which spent tens of millions of dollars to rally opposition; The Post called it the largest defeat for AIPAC in more than two decades. The deal’s survival also suggests Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s extraordinary meddling in American politics backfired.
And now, as if to hammer nail into coffin, comes Cheney — angrily questioning “the veracity of the president’s claims” about the deal and labeling several Obama assertions “simply false.”
A lecture on veracity and falsehood from the man who asserted before the Iraq invasion that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted nuclear weapons ? The man who said hitting Iraq would strike “a major blow right” at the base of the 9/11 terrorists? The man who claimed that Iraq had “long-established ties with al Qaeda” and that it was “pretty well confirmed” that 9/11 mastermind Mohamed Atta met with senior Iraqi intelligence officials?
Most everybody — including former president George W. Bush’s brother, presidential candidate Jeb Bush — has come to acknowledge that, given the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the United States should not have gone to war in 2003. But not Cheney. When Thiessen relayed a question to him about whether containment of Saddam would have been better than military action, Cheney said “I disagree.”
He unabashedly made allegations against Iran Tuesday that he once made against Iraq, citing evidence of “an agreement between the Iranian government and al Qaeda.” Echoing the old warnings about Iraq’s “mushroom cloud,” he noted that a nuclear Iran could kill 6 million Jews in a day. He acknowledged that intelligence failed to predict the North Korea nuclear test when he was in office — but only to argue that there should be “serious concern” about Obama’s claim that it would take Iran a year to produce nuclear weapons.
There should be concern about Obama’s claims — but there should be even more about Cheney’s. He said, for example, that the deal “threatens the security of Europe” without acknowledging that European powers negotiated it. Dropping his longstanding quest to expand executive power, he said Congress should have seized the authority to ratify the deal.
Cheney said it’s a “false choice” to claim the alternative to the deal is war. But he went on to say that unless Iran makes much deeper concessions, “they must understand that the United States stands ready to take military action . . . Iran will not be convinced to abandon its program peacefully unless it knows it will face military action if it refuses to do so.”
And this isn’t war? In the immortal words of George W. Bush: “You can’t get fooled again.”
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The former vice president waved off numbers that showed Iran’s nuclear capacity grew rapidly under the Bush administration.
7 hours ago | Updated 7 hours ago
Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday shrugged off the rapid growth of Iran’s nuclear capacity during the Bush years, insisting that the American invasion of Iraq had curbed Iranian nuclear ambitions.
“There was military action that had an impact on the Iranians when we took down Saddam Hussein,” Cheney said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There was a period of time when they stopped their program because they were afraid what we did to Saddam we were going to do to them next.”
The invasion of Iraq in fact deeply strengthened Iran’s hand in the region, ousting a traditional enemy of Iran and installing a new government far more sympathetic to the Iranian regime. Much of Iraq has effectively functioned as a client state of Iran for years.
Fox News host Chris Wallace pointed out to Cheney that Iran had no uranium enrichment centrifuges prior to the Iraq War, but had 5,000 of them by the time Bush and Cheney left office.
Cheney waved off the statistic. “I think we did a lot to deal with the arms control problem in the Middle East,” he said.
In 2006, Time magazine reported that Hussein’s ouster nearly derailed lengthy nuclear negotiations with Gaddafi. American and British leaders had been pressing since the Clinton years to cut a deal with Gaddafi that would require him to dispose of weapons of mass destruction. When Hussein was toppled, Time reported, Gaddafi nearly walked away from the talks, concerned that diplomacy with the United States would make him look weak in the face of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke about the shortcomings of the invasion of Iraq on “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
“The fact of the matter is, we did it right in the first Gulf War. We had to listen to arguments for years afterwards about, ‘Why didn’t you go to Baghdad?’ And the 2003 war came along and you saw why you didn’t want to go to Baghdad,” Powell said. “We had a clear mission, clearly defined and put resources against that mission and took out the Iraqi army in Kuwait, restored the government, what we set out to do.”
“Once you pull out the top of a government, unless there’s a structure under it to give security and structure to the society, you can expect a mess,” he added.
Cheney’s comments on Iraq came amid his criticism of President Barack Obama’s recent diplomatic deal that aims to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Cheney said the U.S. is a “loser” in the pact, while the Iranian regime is “the only winner.”
Supporters of the pact have noted that economic sanctions against Iran have not curbed its nuclear capacities, and that other nations will not be willing to enforce economic levies against Iran if the U.S. abandons the deal. They argue that rejecting Obama’s agreement would leave war as the only remaining tool to deal with a potential nuclear threat.
09/01/15 02:43 PM
By Zachary Roth
Dick Cheney just won’t let it go.
In a new book, the former vice president mounts a furious assault against President Obama’s foreign policy, which Cheney argues has damaged American security by retreating from a position of global leadership. And Cheney takes the obligatory shot at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. But Cheney often seems more concerned with defending the disastrous foreign policy decisions of the Bush administration—from invading Iraq to the use of torture—made more than a decade ago.
In “Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America,” Cheney, writing with his daughter Liz Cheney, a former State Department official during the Bush administration, takes aim at the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, writing it will “guarantee an Iranian nuclear arsenal.” The Cheneys insist that invading Iraq was the right call, writing “things were in good shape” in the country when Obama took office. Oh, and they suggest that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden was probably a Russian spy.
Almost the first half of the book is devoted to defending Dick Cheney’s tarnished legacy as perhaps the most important figure in the Bush administration’s push for war in Iraq and its handling of the war on terror.
At one stage, the Cheneys write that “history will be the ultimate judge of our decision to liberate Iraq.” But just two pages later, as if unable to resist re-engaging the issue, they describe the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein as a “grave threat to the United States” before concluding: “We were right to invade and remove him from power.”
They even insist that U.S. troops “were in fact greeted as liberators,” just as Dick Cheney predicted before the invasion—a quote that Bush administration critics have frequently hung around his neck.
The Cheneys also offer a strained rationale for why, even though Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, the terror attacks still were a reason to invade Iraq. “[A]fter 9/11 … we had an obligation to do everything possible to prevent terrorists from gaining access to much worse weapons. Saddam’s Iraq was the most likely place for terrorists to gain access to and knowledge of such weapons.”
As for the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation program, “it worked,” the Cheneys write. “As we pieced together intelligence about al Qaeda in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the enhanced interrogation program was one of the most effective tools we had. It saved lives and prevented attacks.”
And, they claim, it’s a “falsehood” to say that the torture that occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison “represented official policy,” or “had something to do with or was related to America’s enhanced interrogation program.”
The prison at Guantanamo Bay “was and remains safe, secure, humane and necessary,” according to the Cheneys. And people who oppose the Bush administration’s controversial warrantless wiretapping program “will be accountable for explaining to the American people why they fought to make it more difficult for the United States government to effectively track the communications—and therefore the plans—of terrorists inside the United States,” they write.
Still, the thrust of the book is an attack on Obama’s foreign policy, which, the Cheneys argue, has made the U.S. less safe by failing to wield American power around the globe.
“President Obama has departed from the bipartisan tradition going back 75 years of maintaining America’s global supremacy and leadership,” the Cheneys write, calling the idea that that “America is to blame and her power must be restrained” the “touchstone of [Obama’s] ideology.”
With the Iran nuclear deal, Obama “is gambling America’s security on the veracity of the Mullahs in Tehran,” they write, calling it a “falsehood” that the pact will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. “The truth is the opposite,” they write. “This agreement will guarantee an Iranian nuclear arsenal.”
Indeed, the Cheneys compare the deal to the Munich agreement of 1938, a frequently used example among conservatives of the dangers of appeasement.
“Hitler got Czechoslovakia,” the Cheneys write (in fact, at Munich, Hitler got the Sudetenland, an area of western Czechoslovakia mostly inhabited by German speakers). “The Mullahs in Tehran get billions of dollars and a pathway to a nuclear arsenal.”
The Cheneys also take the chance to go after Clinton on Benghazi, in an effort to reinforce questions about her character as she runs for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. They accuse her of “adopting a false narrative because it serves political purposes,” adding, “It is the difference between lying to the American people and dealing with them truthfully.”
Dick Cheney also recounts that a Pentagon official told him in a phone call that the administration’s “pivot to Asia” was “all about budgets.” From this Cheney writes: “President Obama was pretending the war on terror was over so that he wouldn’t have to continue to allocate significant military resources to the Middle East.”
“We’ll decline comment on second-hand anonymous quotes, but the President has been clear about the re-balance and its place in our national security. The re-balance to the Asia-Pacific region is based on a comprehensive assessment of long-term U.S. interests,” Defense Department spokesman William Urban told msnbc. “The security and prosperity of the United States depends on continued stability in the Asia-Pacific region, and therefore, the United States will stay fully engaged in the region to ensure that we continue to promote those interests.”
Perhaps the strangest charge in the book is the one about Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked a trove of classified documents before fleeing to Hong Kong, and, ultimately, Russia.
“Whether Snowden was a Russian operative at the time he stole the U.S. secrets is a subject of debate, although it is hard to conceive of his landing in Moscow as a coincidence,” the Cheneys write. Snowden has denied being a Russian spy.