Political memoirs are usually self-serving affairs, mixing rationalizations with score-settling. But Dick Cheney's In My Time may become the new standard for this sorry genre, made even worse because it is almost devoid of newsworthy tidbits of information.
One of the few candid admissions that slipped through was the former Vice President's brief acknowledgement that President George W. Bush had decided on the need for a "second resolution" in the United Nations Security Council to authorize the 2003 invasion of Iraq but failed to get it.
"When the president decided to try for a second resolution, I understood his reasons," Cheney wrote, indicating that it would provide necessary legal and political cover for British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "But our efforts to gather support for the resolution were unsuccessful, and on Monday, March 17, we pulled it down."
In other words, the Bush administration recognized that its desire to invade Iraq had not been sanctioned by the UN Security Council. Bush floated this second resolution to spell out that authority but needed to yank it down because it was doomed to defeat.
Approval from the Security Council is a prerequisite under international law for giving legitimacy to an invasion. Still, after being rebuffed by the Security Council -- though no formal vote was taken -- Bush pressed ahead with the invasion, claiming that an earlier resolution, 1441, demanding that Iraq get rid of its WMD or face severe consequences, was sufficient legal justification for war.
That, of course, left Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in a pickle because he had already destroyed his stockpiles of unconventional weapons and whatever his government did to prove the point -- including submitting a 12,000-page report to the UN and letting UN inspectors look wherever they wanted -- was not going to be enough to dissuade Bush, Cheney and Blair from invading.
Hussein might have expected that the UN, which was created after World War II in large part to prevent powerful nations from waging war on weaker ones, would intervene to prevent an unprovoked invasion, but the UN proved impotent in the face of U.S. determination to defy international law.
Cheney wrote that after Bush's bid for a second resolution collapsed on March 17, 2003, Bush took to the television that night to give Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq. The U.S. press corps obsessed about the president's deadline and largely ignored the behind-the-scenes U.S. defeat at the UN.
In the months and years that followed, as Iraq was consumed by horrendous violence and as hundreds of thousands of lives perished, Bush would insist that the Security Council indeed had approved the invasion under Resolution 1441 and -- although that was untrue -- the Washington press corps would never challenge the claim.
Lying with Impunity
Bush grew so confident that he could lie with impunity before docile journalists that on July 14, 2003, just a few months after the invasion when the facts should still have been fresh in everyone's minds, Bush declared, "We gave him [Hussein] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power."
Facing no contradiction from the obsequious White House press corps, Bush repeated this lie in varied forms until the last days of his presidency. It became one of Bush's favorite refrains that Hussein "chose war."
Cheney's memoir fits well within the self-serving "reality" that Bush and his neoconservative advisers fashioned for the U.S. press corps and the American people.
In Cheney's view, pretty much everyone on the Bush-43 team did just splendidly while anyone who wasn't on the team -- including some erstwhile teammates like Secretary of State Colin Powell -- deserved only disdain or worse. Bush's infamous formulation -- "you're either with us or with the terrorists" -- seemed to apply, in Cheney's mind, to skeptical Americans as well as foreign leaders.
And that perhaps is the most significant insight from Cheney's book, the danger to the American Republic and the planet from people like Cheney who don't seem capable of understanding the viewpoints of anyone who disagrees with them. It is less a political mind-set than one normally associated with cults.
Whatever Cheney and his allies do gets graded from wonderful to at least defensible, while adversaries operate with the worst possible motives and are always wrong. Facts are selected to support these preordained conclusions.