I have been reading Barton Gellman’s excellent book ‘Angler’ about the Vice Presidency of Dick Cheney. What staggers me is that such a very smart guy, a consummate political tactician, ruthless and no doubt in his own mind devoted to his country, should be so strategically stupid. It brings to mind the distinction in an earlier post of the profound difference between being smart and being wise. Dick is very smart, but deeply unwise. Specifically he either worked on the wrong problems or he framed the problems so badly that the result was strategic disaster. And I say that not in partisan terms of what I think he should have done but in terms of what I believe he himself values: his country’s well being.
Anyway, this suggests we learn from his errors and make a top ten list of them:
- The Executive Branch of government needs to be strong and ruthless without much thought to what it is being strong or ruthless about
- The 9/11 attack was an existential threat to the existence of the US and responding to it the number strategic priority of the US regardless of cost. (Was he asleep during the Cold War: that nuclear stand off is what an existential threat to the US looks like, not some bolt cutter plot costing $600,000 the CIA estimated)
- There was no global standing of the US downside from going to the ‘dark side’ aka torturing terror suspects
- Invading Iraq without a competent plan for post invasion and at the cost of $3 trillion and putting the US in hock to China was a good idea
- The US did not need an energy security policy as he ensured with his very biased chairing of the Energy Committee
- Global Warming has negative implications for the oil and coal industries and so cannot be happening
- He famously said: ‘Reagan proved deficits don’t matter‘ in November 2002
- And thought tax cuts were the way to restart the economy regardless of the effect on the deficit
- He never admitted any mistakes nor saw any in the people he served including Nixon over Watergate, and was thus utterly unable to learn from his errors
- But perhaps he most enormous mistake of all that will haunt America for decades to come, he paid no strategic attention to the rise of China
Cheney: political tactical genius, strategic loser: and ultimately I suppose guilty of massive self deception.