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What's Cheney Up to?

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By Elliot D. Cohen

Dick Cheney’s recent warning of a future “9-11 type” terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland was quickly dismissed by some mainstream media pundits as just another benign and misguided attempt by the former Vice President to frighten us. But perhaps he should be taken more seriously. 

Cheney warned of a high probability of a nuclear weapon or biological agent being deployed in a major city, which could kill hundreds of thousands of people. “I think there’s a high probability of such an attempt,” warned Cheney.  “Whether or not they can pull it off depends on whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts, since 9/11, to launch mass-casualty attacks against the United States.” 

On MSNBC’s Hardball (February 5), host Chris Mathews dismissed the former Vice President’s admonition, stating that, Cheney "was wrong in a way that was lethal. 100,000 people dead including 4,000 Americans are dead, something like 15,000 wounded because he was wrong." Salon’s Joan Walsh stated, "We have a situation where it's vintage Dick Cheney. It's dark, it's dire, it's creepy, it's kooky, it's very scary, but there's absolutely no evidence.” Mother Jones’ David Corn asked, "How detached from reality is he?"And Mathews mocked, "He does seem like a character out of 'Dr. Strangelove.'" On MSNBC’s Countdown (February 6), in a “Special Comment,” host Keith Olbermann accused Cheney of fear mongering and trying to save face.

But, it may be time to ask more probing questions and to entertain more creative hypotheses to explain Cheney’s vigilance, even if some of these hypotheses have been seen as unthinkable during the Bush administration. If there is anything we should have learned from history, it is that explanations that were once dismissed as absurd sometimes turn out to be true when the blinders have been removed and a careful investigation is conducted.

What facts, if any, about an impending attack did Bush and Cheney know prior to 9-11?  Were these attacks merely a convenient excuse to invade Iraq or was there some even more ominous connection?  What stake does Cheney now have for trying to frighten the Obama administration into carrying out the mandates of the Bush administration? Merely assuming that Cheney is now just trying to save face is not sufficient and even appears to be inconsistent with his persistent, blatant disregard for the public’s perception of him. The media, no less than the Obama administration itself, should be investigating these matters instead of making assumptions. 

By simply dismissing Cheney as misguided rather than dangerous, the media fails to do its job.  Cheney was more than just wrong when he waged a bloody war against Iraq based on phony intelligence.  He was not just wrong when he sponsored rendition, torture, and deprivation of due process.  He was most probably responsible for outing covert CIA agent Valerie Plame in an effort to punish her husband for exposing his fraudulent claim about Saddam Hussein’s attempt to purchase uranium yellowcake. These and other aggressive acts suggest that Cheney may be willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. 

A wake up call from the annals of history is also in order.  Cheney was the principle in the formulation of the military strategy that came to be called “The Bush Doctrine.”  Stripping away all pretence, this doctrine advocates attacking sovereign nations for purposes of amassing geopolitical power. It is Machiavellian to the core and Cheney’s “Project for the New American Century” even countenanced a “new Pearl Harbor” as a catalyst for taking America into the “New American Century.” 

Taking a cue from the Machiavellian line “It is better to be feared than loved,” Cheney quipped, “The United States needs to be not so much loved as it needs to be respected. Sometimes, that requires us to take actions that generate controversy.”  Here “respected” appears to be a euphemism for “feared.” Cheney added, “I’m not at all sure that that’s what the Obama administration believes.” But Cheney clearly wants Obama to believe it.


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Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D. is a political analyst and media critic. His most recent book is Technology of Oppression: Preserving Freedom and Dignity in an Age of Mass, Warrantless Surveillance(Palegrave Macmillan, 2014.) He is a Fellow at the (more...)

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