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