In politics, one rarely has the luxury of choosing one's enemies, especially when one is president of the United States and must choose on a daily basis between a decision that’s unpopular and a decision that’s slightly less unpopular.
However, if Obama has one detractor least likely to be taken seriously, it’s certainly Dick Cheney. Vice president for the last eight years, Cheney holds the honor of having left Washington with popularity ratings even lower than George Bush, the most ill-reputed president in recent history.
Many Americans hold Dick Cheney responsible for the worst abuses committed by the Bush regime, including the war in Iraq, the torture of suspected terrorists, and affronts to the law and the Constitution of the United States.
With his sharp personality and uncompromising language, guided by fear of the "enemy", the former vice president is more consistent with the image of a tyrant than that of an individual elected by the people. Yet, in addition to his two terms in the vice-presidency, he was first elected and then re-elected five times. That tells us that there are some Americans who are in agreement with his apocalyptic vision of a world in perpetual conflict between good and evil. And clearly, he’s “good”.
For the majority of observers, however, his best days are behind him. They believe his heyday to be over, dead and buried. This suggests that, while Cheney ranted on against Barack Obama before audiences and on the call-in shows of the extreme right, the media listened to him out of politeness. After all, he was once the vice-president.
Then Cheney decided to come out of hiding to defend the use of what he calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA – in other words, torture. He attacked all Obama’s national security and international relations policies. The new president, he claimed, had made America less secure in the face of terrorism. That was the real message. That’s Cheney for you, inspiring Americans to be fearful rather than do good.
We believed, then, that the ex-vice president was preaching to an empty choir section, or at most to a handful of ideologists that nobody wants to hear anymore. That was a grave underestimation of the old political jackal and the natural reflex of the American population to embrace fear as an excuse to barricade themselves against all their demons.
Dick Cheney has continued, over past weeks, to spread warnings of the world’s imminent end, resulting in last week's face-off with Barack Obama, which looked curiously like an electoral debate.
A few seconds apart, the two men delivered two radically opposing speeches on their respective visions for the security of the country. The 24-hour television news networks covered them with enthusiasm. Cheney even delayed his for 20 minutes, so that it would immediately follow Obama’s speech.
Here are two excerpts from the speeches that illustrate the clash of two, polarized philosophies:
Obama: "The decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable — a framework that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions, that failed to use our values as a compass.
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.
What’s more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured. In short, they did not advance our war and counterterrorism efforts; they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all."
Cheny: "People who consistently distort the truth in this way are in no position to lecture anyone about 'values.' We know the difference in this country between justice and vengeance.
And to call this a program of torture is to libel the dedicated professionals who have saved American lives, and to cast terrorists and murderers as innocent victims. What's more, 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.”
Must we, from now on, take Cheney’s rants seriously? Not to the letter. But, on the larger question of national security, we’ll just say this: It’s Obama’s alleged Democratic allies who undid a presidential measure to close Guantanamo Bay Prison in Cuba. Why? Because they didn’t want prisoners belonging to Al Qaeda in their backyards. A decision inspired by one thing: fear. Not unheard of. Cheney congratulates them for it.
The Democrats in Congress, led by two fools like Nancy Pelozzi and Harry Reid, are demonstrating that they are also inefficient and incompetent, with the absolute power of being in the opposition.
With friends like that, Obama doesn’t need Dick Cheney.