The most powerful and least popular vice president of the last 100 years is unapologetic about his most controversial and now widely discredited recommendations. In an Aug. 29 NBC News TV interview, he shrugged off the suggestion that he is publicly embarrassing his former boss by recounting versions of events that conflict with those of the former president.
Would we expect anything less from Dick Cheney?
Mr. Cheney’s memoir, “In My Time,” covers the scope of his career in government. It’s an impressive career. Mr. Cheney was President Gerald Ford’s chief of staff, the youngest person ever to hold that post. He then served five terms as a member of Congress representing Wyoming. Mr. Cheney also served as defense secretary for President George H.W. Bush.
The chief of staff job may have been Mr. Cheney’s defining role. The president’s chief of staff is in some ways the most powerful person in the West Wing. He controls, to a degree, what the president knows by controlling who gets into the Oval Office to advise and recommend.
Mr. Cheney famously was chosen by newly elected President George W. Bush to head up the search for a VP. He concluded, after examining the confidential records of several candidates, that he was the best man for the job.
That control of information, that role of gatekeeper, was at the heart of the nation’s dislike of Mr. Cheney. When he left office, he had an approval rating of 13 percent. The public sensed the perverse relationship between the inexperienced president with a narrow world view and the insider vice president who wielded power all over the capital.
“I could sit in virtually any meeting I wanted to sit in,” Mr. Cheney told NBC News reporter Jamie Gangel. “I could get involved in whatever policy areas I wanted to get involved in.”
The former vice president told Ms. Gangel he knew what the book would do: “There are going to be heads exploding all over Washington,” he said with a smile.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s head didn’t explode, but he reacted unequivocally to the book’s suggestion that Mr. Powell was less than loyal to the president, characterizing the book as “cheap shots” and “nonsense.”
Mr. Powell’s successor, Condoleeza Rice, also doesn’t fare well in the book. Her tenure is described with phrases such as “diplomatic failures,” “misguided approach” and “train wreck.”
CIA Director George Tenet “quit when the going got tough,” according to Mr. Cheney’s book.
The former VP’s stock dropped in the second term. After recommending a military strike on a nuclear facility in Syria, the president gathered his team and asked, “Does anyone here agree with the vice president?” Not a single hand went up, Mr. Cheney writes.
Mr. Bush, who published his memoir last year, and Mr. Cheney have different views of the Iraq invasion. In his book, the former president described the decision to invade: “I turned to the team gather in the Oval Office and I said, ‘Let’s go.’” Mr. Cheney writes that “the president kicked everyone else out of the Oval Office, looked at me and said, ‘Dick, what do you think we ought to do?’”
Mr. Cheney remains steadfast in his assessment that the Iraq invasion was a success, despite broad consensus to contrary. Mr. Bush wrote of a sick feeling in his stomach when he learned there were no weapons of mass destruction; Mr. Cheney shrugs that off, saying deposing Saddam Hussein was reward enough.
Also troubling is Mr. Cheney’s continued defense of “enhanced interrogation” — that’s torture — of terrorism suspects.
Neither Mr. Bush’s nor Mr. Cheney’s book provides insight to explain whether these two complemented each other or, like a bad marriage, enabled each other’s worst instincts.