George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell: Most of the protagonists of the 9/11 era have already published books. Now, ex-Vice President Dick Cheney adds something self-congratulatory and detached from reality. His memoirs are a sweeping blow against all adversaries, even those in his own ranks.
Dick Cheney’s memoirs consist of 527 pages plus four pages of acknowledgements, seven pages of footnotes and 26 pages of photos. The former vice president writes at length about his early years, the first Gulf War, the attacks on 9/11, the war in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, torture, Hurricane Katrina, his failing heart and his labrador Dave.
Dick Cheney dedicates, however, only two pages — 433 and 434 — to the worst failure of his government: the mishandled establishment of peace in Iraq after the invasion in 2003.
Cheney, in office from 2001 to the end of the George W. Bush era in 2009, was never a man of details, particularly the unfavorable ones, and he does not linger on them now. He prefers to strike out with sweeping blows without regard for burdensome realities.
His opponents called him “Darth Vader,” “Fourth Branch,” “Dr. Evil,” “Lord of the Lies,” “Puppet Master” or “Torture King.” Cheney wears these nicknames proudly, like medals, and assures that he did not allow himself to be coddled. “We stood our ground,” he boasts at the end of his book.
“In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,” which will be released in the U.S. on Tuesday, is to be read in this spirit — not as an introspective retrospection, not as an unsparing exposé, not even as a settling of accounts with adversaries, even if there are plenty of them, but rather as a self-congratulatory, quickly tiresome justification of long-known and mostly long since outdated neoconservative positions.
Cheney’s best buddy, ex-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, also did that in his autobiography — however, Rumsfeld’s was vastly more entertaining, in spite of the length of 812 pages.
No wonder “In my Time” has hardly raised any dust in the U.S. up until now. Ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell, whom Cheney strongly attacks, repudiates his condescending tone. Others come to the defense of Powell’s successor Condoleezza Rice, who likewise comes off badly.
The Time of the Thundering Echo Is Past
Most, however, will only shrug their shoulders. Cheney himself is pleased that his writing will have “heads exploding all over Washington; however, therein he is overestimating himself and the durability of his political prose.” The times when Dick Cheney’s words were a thundering echo is past — the echo of his memoirs remains tired, except for the skirmish with Powell.
Perhaps it is because the public relations hullaballoo before the publication died out in the hype about Hurricane Irene. Another possible reason might be that Americans are weary of being expected to put up with another apology of the Bush years. Rumsfeld, Powell, ex-CIA Director George Tenet and George W. Bush themselves have already taken care of this abundantly. Cheney hardly has anything eye-opening to add there.
The Few New Insights of This Bone-Dry Treatise
Cheney claims to have pressured Bush to bombard an alleged nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007, “but I was a lone voice.”
Because of his fragile health he had already prepared a completed, signed letter of resignation in March 2001, which he stored in a chest of drawers at home.
In the case of the “undisclosed locations” where he often secretively spent time, it was simply about the presidential country retreat Camp David, his residence in Washington and his villa in Wyoming.
After a heart operation in 2010, he was in a coma “for weeks” and had “a prolonged, vivid dream that he was living in an Italian villa.”
Otherwise, Cheney delights in regurgitating arguments that, in the present-day times of financial crisis, only have historical-academic value. His world view seems to be firmly rooted in the experiences of the hours and days after 9/11. The first and foremost words of the book: “September 11, 2001.”
Inside View of the Day of Disaster
This first chapter is the solitary gripping one, solely because of the inside view of that day that is offered. Cheney confirms that he gave the order to shoot down all further passenger jets that stood under suspicion of being hijacked.
9/11 is therefore portrayed so meticulously because it explains all of Cheney’s subsequent actions. In order to prevent further attacks, he writes, he was unfailingly willing to also court the “dark side”: “That was true then and is until today.”
The Secret, Controversial Wiretapping Program
In this sense, he stands by the secretive, controversial wiretapping program of the intelligence agency NSA that was exposed — and then revised — as “one of the most important success stories of the U.S. Secret Service.”
Cheney also defends the Guantanamo Bay detention camp: “It is a model facility — safe, secure and humane.” The prisoners have access to TV shows, books, newspapers and movies; they can participate in sports at will and eat healthily. Guantanamo is not doing any harm, its critics are — like Bush’s successor Obama, who initially wanted to close the camp.
Cheney says nothing new regarding the controversial CIA methods of torture for terrorist detainees: “The techniques work.” Only because of that were there no more attempts on the U.S., he asserts. He takes shots at, above all, the critical Republican John McCain — without mentioning that McCain himself was tortured in the Vietnam War. In other ways as well, Cheney picks McCain to pieces.
Unfortunately the points are bogged down in the dry-as-dust style. Cheney chronologically checks off events as in a diary: “On July 6, 2003 ... On September 30, 2003 ... On October 28, 2008 ... .” Cheney’s daughter Liz, who, like him, is a hardcore activist for ultra-conservative interests, was a ghostwriter.
Tales from 1001 Nights
Here it is hardly a surprise that Cheney adds two new fairy tales from the Iraq war — that of weapons of mass destruction and that of a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. In both cases, he spends many pages repeating what has long since been disproven.
Cheney shrugs off the chaos after the Iraq invasion that ended in a long, calamitous civil war as “difficult days” — and would rather portray how the Iraqis would have greeted the Americans as “liberators.” The campaign gone wrong, he writes in all seriousness, was “courageous, impressive and effective.”
Cheney reserves particular malice for ex-Secretary Colin Powell: He preferred to come to the press with differences instead of discreetly taking care of them internally. Powell also knew, but suppressed, that it was his deputy Richard Armitage who had intentionally exposed CIA agent Valerie Plame. The scandal that later earned Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, 30 months of jail.
Cheney doesn’t want to take leave without also giving it to Obama strongly: He claims Obama’s anti-terror policy has taken the U.S. back to a “pre-9/11 mentality.” The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will also have “probably devastating consequences.”
Such sentences please Cheney fans — and give the opponents new material. “A predictable mix of spin, stonewalling, score settling and highly selective reminiscences,” says the New York Times, shredding the book. The Atlantic rails, “No heads have exploded yet.”
And Cheney himself? Does such criticism hurt him? To the contrary: He loves the image of the hardline man of action. “We were steadfast in the face of evil,” he writes, “and defied history in a selfless manner.”
*Editor’s Note: A number of quotations from Cheney’s memoir, accurately translated, could not be verified.