2024-06-18 6:36 PM

Helen Thomas: Cheney The Irrelevant

WASHINGTON — Sometimes you wonder what planet Vice President Dick Cheney is living on.

Last month, speaking of the war in Iraq, Cheney told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in a prickly interview:

"Bottom line is that we’ve had enormous successes and we will continue to have enormous successes. It is hard. It is difficult."

Anyone keeping up with the daily news from Baghdad knows that few people in the last few months — especially those in the military — are bragging about big successes to quell the violence in Iraq.

Even within the White House, Cheney seems like a man lost in his own little world.

While Cheney is making upbeat assessments of the war, President Bush is giving more downbeat assessments, acknowledging that the military occupation is not going as well as he had hoped.

That is why he is asking for more troops to make a last stab at stabilizing Iraq, torn by its civil war.

The vice president has been putting his head in the sand for a long time. When he first came to power as the No. 2 leader of the U.S., he was depicted as Bush’s prime minister.

After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, it appeared that Cheney was running the show, until White House image managers intervened to lessen the perception that Bush was somehow not calling the shots. Cheney then lowered his profile.

His experience has obviously not improved his vision. After the first Persian Gulf War ended in March 1991, Cheney — then serving as defense secretary in the first Bush administration — was asked on ABC-TV why Operation Desert Storm had not gone all the way to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

He replied prophetically: "I think for us to get American military personnel involved in a civil war inside Iraq would literally be a quagmire. Once we got to Baghdad, what would we do? Who would we put in power? What kind of government? Would it be a Sunni government, a Shia government, a Kurdish government?

"Would it be secular, along the lines of the Baath party? Would it be fundamentalist Islamic?" he asked. "I do not think the United States wants to have U.S. military forces accept casualties and accept responsibility of trying to govern Iraq. It makes no sense at all."

So what happened to all those wise observations on the way to the U.S. invasion in 2003?

Well, a lot of things apparently occurred in Cheney’s life that must have made him lose the perspective formed in his earlier days when he started his government career as an obscure mild chief of staff for President Gerald Ford.

Before that, he managed to avoid the Vietnam War, which he supported. Given five draft deferments, he explained to the Washington Post in a 1989 interview: "I had other priorities in the ’60’s than military service."

During his six terms as a Wyoming congressman, starting in 1979, he touted his conservative credentials so much that he voted several times against Head Start, the federal program for poverty-stricken pre-school children.

He went to the Pentagon as secretary of defense in 1989. Some officials who worked closely with him in his previous incarnations say he has changed. Former national security affairs adviser Brent Scowcroft has said he doesn’t know him now.

It’s probably because Cheney was one of the original neo-con signers of the Project for A New American Century — a blueprint published in 1997 for the United State to dominate the Middle East politically and militarily in the aftermath of the Cold War.

Cheney has been a lightning rod for many of the ills in this administration. Early on, he built the stonewall of secrecy by refusing to identify members of his energy task force. He also is Bush’s strongest backer in sidestepping the law and empowering his role as "commander-in-chief."

Cheney’s name has cropped up often in the perjury trial of his former chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby in connection with the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Despite his access to top government secrets, how many times can you be wrong?

Remember last year when Cheney said the Iraq insurgents were in their last throes of resistance? And remember earlier when Cheney knew where Saddam Hussein had stored all those non-existent nuclear weapons?

No wonder no one is listening to him any more. Time has passed him by.


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