Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Does Dick Cheney believe his lies?

By Paul Begala
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Begala says he is appalled by Dick Cheney and his relentless effort to revise history
  • Begala: Cheney won't admit any error, misgiving or remorse or apologize for any mistake
  • Begala: Cheney misled, lied and did anything to drag America into a war with Iraq
  • He says whether Cheney is a liar or fool; thousands of troops are dead; Iraq is a disaster

Editor's note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House. He is a consultant to the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- As an American, I am appalled by Dick Cheney and his relentless, pathetic and ultimately doomed effort to revise the history of his failures.

But as a Democrat, I am thrilled that an incompetent, dishonest and reviled figure is hell-bent on making himself the face of the Republican Party, hogging the spotlight from rising stars like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio -- and eclipsing more honorable Republicans from the Bush era, like Colin Powell.

Paul Begala
Paul Begala

Cheney's endless media appearances, including this remarkable interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, reveal a nearly sociopathic refusal to admit any error, express any remorse, apologize for any mistake.

And so let us review the Cheney record: No vice president has done more damage to our country, not even Vice President Aaron Burr, who shot and killed Alexander Hamilton 210 years ago.

In the first months of the Bush-Cheney administration, Cheney was ordered to convene a task force on terrorism. Instead, he ignored the problem, the Cheney terror task force never met, and the warnings about an impending terrorist attack were ignored.

Later, instead of apologizing, Cheney cravenly blamed the White House counterterrorism czar (PDF), Dick Clarke, who had tried to warn anyone who would listen that an attack was coming.

"Richard Clarke was the head of the counterterrorism program in the run up to 9/11," Cheney said. "He obviously missed it." Blaming the guy who did his job when you're the one who didn't do yours.

From there, it was off to the races, as Cheney did and said anything to drag America into a war with Iraq. The good folks at Vox have compiled a damning indictment of Cheney's deep dishonesty about Iraq. In the interest of brevity, let me focus on a few lowlights:

He said the lead 9/11 hijacker "did go to Prague, and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service ... several months before the attack." Wrong, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report.

He said Saddam had "an established relationship with al Qaeda." Wrong (PDF).

Cheney claimed there was "irrefutable evidence" Saddam had reconstituted his nuclear program. Wrong.

He said Saddam "had an established relationship with al Qaeda, providing training to al Qaeda members in areas of poisons, gases and conventional bombs." Wrong (PDF).

He said there was "overwhelming" evidence of ties between al Qaeda and Iraq. Wrong.

He said that we'd be "greeted as liberators" and that the insurgency was in its "last throes" nine years ago. Wrong and wrong.

Cheney: Breath of fresh air, or hot air?
Cheney: We left Iraq in stable situation

And that's just on Iraq. Need I mention that, as CEO of Halliburton, Cheney opposed President Clinton's sanctions on the terrorist regime in Iran, calling the Clinton administration "sanctions-happy"? And he breezily defended doing business with the terrorists in Tehran -- through an overseas-based subsidiary -- explaining that "the good Lord didn't see fit to always put oil and gas resources where there are democratic governments."

Need I mention he told Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill that "deficits don't matter"?

One can debate whether Cheney's misstatements were the result of willful mendacity or incompetence. I believe the former. But at a deeper level, it does not matter. Regardless of whether Cheney is a liar or a fool, thousands of heroic American troops are dead. Tens of thousands are injured. Iraq is a disaster -- and will be for years to come. And America is weaker and poorer because of Cheney.

I know that powerful people don't like admitting error. But Hillary Clinton did so in her new book, candidly admitting that in voting for the Bush-Cheney war in Iraq, "I got it wrong. Plain and simple."

Cheney, however, has no room for such candid introspection. When he turned 70, he was asked his greatest regret. He did not mention the death and devastation he brought to Iraq or that he and others ignored the terror threat before 9/11. He didn't mention his votes in Congress against banning plastic guns or opposing the release of Nelson Mandela.

He said, "My misspent youth." Seriously. A three-word oblique reference to a couple of drunken driving incidents a half century ago are the biggest regrets of this man's life. Other than that, Cheney sees his life as a flawless, virtuous existence.

Were it not for the tragedies of 9/11 and Iraq, perhaps the thing Cheney would be remembered for was that he was the second vice president to shoot a man, albeit Cheney's was in a hunting accident and Harry Whittington, thank God, survived.

Still, as a longtime quail hunter, I have no doubt Cheney was in the wrong. Every hunter is responsible for knowing where his buddies are. And Cheney violated a cardinal rule: He was drinking before he picked up the gun. (He claims to have had only one beer, but even one is too many when you're hunting.)

But here's the thing: Even after Cheney shot him in the face, there's no indication he ever apologized to Harry Whittington. I suppose being a sociopath means never having to say you're sorry.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly indicated an affiliation between the Washington Post and the independent news website Vox.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT