Dick Cheney has given another interview to Fox News, this time in response to the Justice Department’s decision to examine the possibility that CIA interrogators broke the law during the Bush administration’s tenure.
I observed a brief sample of the interview; in the sample, Mr. Cheney calls the Justice Department’s decision an “outrageously political” one and suggests that the Obama administration should ask CIA interrogators and Bush’s legal advisers “how they did it”–meaning, presumably, how they successfully gathered information and thereby protected the U.S. from terrorists.
Of course, Cheney’s point of view raises all sorts of legal, political, moral, and historical issues (as in historical accuracy).
But his rhetorical situation is of interest, too. His frequent and almost-immediate attacks on the Obama administration seem almost unprecedented. Some observers, including Ed Schultz, have asserted that Cheney almost seems to want the U.S. to be attacked so that Obama will look bad and Cheney will somehow be vindicated. Also, Cheney seems to be violating some unspoken rules about a departing administration’s needing to give the new administration some chronological and political space before launching criticism. Bush I was reticent to criticize Clinton, and Clinton seemed reticent to criticize Bush II, for instance.
Also remarkable, at least to me, is that Cheney seems to be going it almost alone. One rarely if ever hears from Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Wolfowitz, or others. One does hear from GOP-friendly pundits, of course, who often echo Cheney’s sentiments on torture, etc. But that’s to be expected. To be unexpected is Cheney’s lone-wolf stance, which he will allegedly pursue in his soon to be published book, which will (we have heard) even criticize Bush. The permanent site from which Cheney fires his rhetorical salvos is Fox News; even avuncular Bob Schiefer seems uninterested in hosting Cheney on CBS now. So Cheney is preaching to a relatively small but ferocious choir of about 2 million viewers, although the interview will make news to a wider secondary audience.
Cheney’s arguments are of interest as well. He implicitly argues, without a great deal of supporting evidence, that the information gathered could have been and was gathered only by means of “enhanced interrogation,” his euphemism for torture. Also, he implicitly and euphemistically argues that torture is both legal and moral. And he argues that the Obama administration makes the U.S. far less secure. I agree with Schultz that it does seem as if Cheney would be, perversely, delighted if the U.S. were attacked, but I’m also willing to entertain a counter-argument that asserts such a view of Cheney’s psyche is extreme, perhaps unfair. That issue aside, Cheney’s view of the Obama administration seems fanciful, for every security-structure that was in place during the Bush administration remains in place now: all military branches, the CIA, NSA, TSA, and FBI, Guantanmo’s prison, Homeland Security, wire-tapping, and so on. To the amateur observer, at least, Cheney seems, not subtly, simply to be rewriting (or writing) history, demonizing Obama, and protesting too much. (He gilds the lily, for example, by adding “outrageously” to “political”). Political scientists may see the situation differently.
At any rate, the lone wolf of the Fox News steppes seems to talk almost compulsively–not unusual for any politician, but somewhat unusual in this particular instance with regard to the issues concerning law, morality, torture, the transdwe of presidential power, and security. What a fascinating rhetorical stance Cheney takes.