Apr 27th 2009

The Cost of Dick Cheney

by Chris Patten

Chris Patten is a former EU Commissioner for External Relations, Chairman of the British Conservative Party, and was the last British Governor of Hong Kong. He is currently Chancellor of Oxford University and a member of the British House of Lords.

LONDON - George W. Bush has started work on his memoirs. Count to ten before you respond.

The autobiographies of political leaders are not a very elevated literary form. First, few leaders write well, though there are exceptions, like Nehru, Churchill, and de Gaulle. No wonder that most of them employ a "ghost," like the one in Robert Harris's excellent thriller of the same name, which is really a devastating critique of Britain's former premier, Tony Blair.

Second, these memoirs are usually little more than slabs of self-justification interspersed with lists of famous people met in the course of life at the top. To take one example, while Bill Clinton speaks with warmth, wit, and great eloquence in the flesh, his autobiography is not worth reading.

Third, these books are usually written largely for a big paycheck. But it beats me how publishers ever recover the huge multi-million dollar advances they hand out. When the great General George C. Marshall - whose memoirs of World War II and of his tenure as America's Secretary of State would have been worth every penny - was offered $1 million by a publisher in the1950's for his autobiography, the old man replied, "Why would I want $1 million?" What a different world we now inhabit.

The good news about the Bush project, so far title-free, is that it is apparently going to be different from the usual reputation polishing. Instead of starting at the beginning of his presidency, with all those dodgy Florida voting machines, and plodding on to the bitterly unpopular end, he intends to concentrate on the 20 most consequential decisions he made in the White House. He will also focus on key moments in his life, such as his decision to give up alcohol and to choose Dick Cheney as his Vice President.

Shaking off his addiction to booze speaks extremely well of Bush, his strength of character and the support of his wife and family. To turn your back on an addiction is never easy. Those who do it, helped in Bush's case by a growing religious faith, deserve sympathy and approval.

It was never Bush's determination that was in doubt, nor his geniality - despite that slightly annoying rich-boy joshing. Nor did I ever believe that the former president was stupid: a criticism leveled at him by many of his European peers who were themselves hardly philosopher kings.

The problem with Bush was not lack of intelligence but a complete absence of intellectual curiosity. He was content to camp on his own shallow prejudices, and the rest of the world had to be fitted into this narrow terrain.

This is where Cheney came in. It was certainly a key moment when Bush chose him. Imagine, for example, how different the world and the opinions of Bush's presidency might have been if he had chosen Colin Powell or John McCain as his running mate?

What Cheney did was to feed and nourish the Bush prejudices, and to move ruthlessly and energetically to occupy the policymaking ground left vacant by the President's indolence and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's lack of political clout.

What did Cheney believe? He thought that Ronald Reagan had shown that fiscal deficits don't matter. He believed in capitalism - or at least in supporting big companies and the rich - though whether he understood how free markets should work under the rule of law is more doubtful. The law was never Cheney's strong point.

He was an apologist for American power, even though during the Vietnam years he had wriggled and dodged to avoid being at the sharp, conscripted end of it. He thought that the American president should operate beyond the checks and balances applied by the US Constitution, just as his country should not be constrained by any international rules. Rules were for others, and at the very end of his term in office his one public disagreement with Bush concerned the President's refusal to pardon Cheney's former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, who had been convicted of perjury.

Cheney's influence resulted in the bloody disaster of Iraq, the moral humiliation of Guantanamo, water-boarding and "extraordinary rendition," the despair of friends and the contempt of critics, a full-dress parade of double standards around the globe. Mean-spirited and partisan, Dick Cheney was one of America's most powerful vice presidents. I cannot think of one who did so much damage to America at home and to its reputation abroad.

No wonder Bush regards the choice of Cheney as such a key decision. Ideas matter in politics and having only a few simplistic ones of his own, Bush found his agenda shaped and dominated by his clever surrogate and deputy. That is what eventually did him in.

Bush's presidency was discredited and sunk by the man whom he fatally selected to work for him. The bigger tragedy was that so many others paid a much higher price for this than Bush did. "The Cost of Dick Cheney" - perhaps that should be the title of Bush's memoirs.


Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009

If you wish to comment on this article, you can do so on-line.

Should you wish to publish your own article on the Facts & Arts website, please contact us at info@factsandarts.com.

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "