Debating Cheney

by Zack Beauchamp

FP has a fascinating roundtable on Dick Cheney's tenure in office. James Traub attempts psychoanalysis:

Cheney, unlike Bush, was an unillusioned man. He did not believe that American missiles could seed the barren soil of Iraq with liberal democracy (though he did believe that Iraqis would strew petals on arriving U.S. tanks). He does not appear to have believed that God was guiding his hand — the kind of magical thinking that Bush taught us, by example, to fear. Cheney was not transfixed by such lights; and yet he was transfixed by something dark. Perhaps it was what journalist Ron Suskind called "the one percent doctrine": the belief that America could not afford to take even a 1 percent risk of attack. But that was Cheney's own formulation, rearranging the tangled sheets of his nighttime fevers into the semblance of a well-made bed.

Elliot Abrams counters, unconvincingly:

Cheney fervently believed that America was at war after 9/11, and this belief led him to the conclusion that America must fight and win. Such a conviction would have been commonplace after Pearl Harbor but was less so in the years after 2002 — and especially as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq became unpopular. Many politicians would have flinched, adjusted, tacked; in fact, many did. Cheney refused, and for this he suffered caricature as a warmonger, torturer, and fanatic. Or perhaps suffer is the wrong verb, for though the attacks came they usually made him grin, not grimace. He did not much care, for he thought far more was at stake than his approval ratings.

There's a distinction between conviction and mind-warping obsessions. Abrams uses generalities like "fight and win" for a reason. Cheney's "convictions" about torture and Saddam's tight connection weren't laudably strong moral beliefs – they were theological commitments immune to actual evidence.