Exceptional, the new book from former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter, Liz, is not. It is nothing more than an unhinged rant that smacks of sedition.
“The children need to know the truth about who we are, what we’ve done, and why it is uniquely America’s duty to be freedom’s defender,” the prologue proclaims. The book, however, is not about who we are but who Cheney wants us to become. It is a call for Americans to reject constitutional government and those values that have guided our nation for 227 years and replace it with imperial rule in the name of “freedom”––even when that rule includes wars of choice, intrusive violations of our privacy and civil liberties, and of course, an aggressive regime of torture.
This review assumes that Exceptional represents Dick Cheney’s ideas, and so we will refer to the author only in the singular. (To the extent the book reflects Liz’s original thinking, consider it a mind meld.)
Part One begins with Uncle Dick recounting how “the American Century” has been marked by a fight that he and a few other white-hatted cowboys have waged to keep the world safe for “freedom.” In Cheney’s telling, pro-war and wartime leaders were strong and “right,” and the others weak and feckless. World War II is reduced to: “We liberated millions and achieved the greatest victory in the history of mankind, for the good of all mankind. America––the exceptional nation––had become freedom’s defender.”
Manichean World View
In Cheney’s Manichean worldview, Truman was right to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, and Eisenhower’s farewell speech was not a warning of the growing power of the military-industrial complex as is commonly understood, but, rather, a strong endorsement of it. Reagan’s unwillingness to give up America’s right to missile defense (SDI) was “an exercise of diplomacy that should be studied by all future policy makers.” Obama’s foreign policy strategy is simply, “don’t do stupid stuff.”
Left out of Cheney’s idyllic tale of American exceptionalism in that era are such inconvenient freedom-defending events as the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953 and the imposition of the oppressive Shah who ruled with an iron fist until his downfall in 1978; the overthrow of the democratically elected Allende government in Chile, replaced by the military dictator, Pinochet; the Reagan administration’s support of the Contras in Central America in the 1980s; and the slavish support of African dictators like Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko.
Cheney conflates the Gulf War, conducted when he was George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, with the Iraq War (“We were right in 1991 and we were right in 2003.”) but without noting important differences. The Gulf War was a true coalition off the willing, with 32 nations contributing forces operating under the authority of the United Nations and very specific Security Council resolutions, and the rest of the world paying 90 percent of the war’s costs. At its conclusion, the United States was at the pinnacle of its power, which it used to advance the cause of conflict resolution in the region. By contrast, the Iraq War was essentially a United States operation to remove Saddam with limited support, no U.N. resolution, and the entire cost borne by the United States. The consequences are abundantly clear: the region is in chaos, overrun by the same brutal terrorists and radical forces that the Cheney doctrine was supposed to eliminate.
Cheney’s selective memory is again on display as he recounts the events surrounding 9/11. Absent are the infamous CIA memo of August 2001,“Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US,” the reports of missed signals such as suspicious pilot training, and the fact that the CIA was on the highest possible alert while Bush was cutting brush in Texas and Cheney fishing in Wyoming.
The recounting of the war on Afghanistan is rich in bravado (“we have to work the dark side”) and ultimatums (“the Taliban will turn over the terrorists or share their fate”), but poor on facts. Cheney omits the meeting at Camp David where Paul Wolfowitz kept turning the conversation from Afghanistan to Iraq; the directive Bush gave to Richard Clarke to go back and find some link between 9/11 and Saddam; and Donald Rumsfeld’s observation that there were no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan and that we should consider bombing Iraq. There is no discussion of the pivot to Iraq just when we were on the verge of finding Bin Laden.
Cheney then turns to a vigorous defense of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the torture policies he championed. Rather than share with the reader the influence he and his key staffers exerted on the decision-making process, Cheney instead recounts the statements of Democrats who voted to support the war, spreading the blame. He neglects to mention the massive propaganda operation directed by the White House or the fact that the whole case was built on lies. Other omissions: Yellowcake, aluminum tubes, mobile bioweapon labs, 9/11 attacker Atta’s supposed meeting with Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague, and intelligence conclusions cooked up in the Pentagon Office of Special Plans and foisted on Colin Powell by Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby for presentation to the United Nations. Instead, “History will be the ultimate judge of our decision to liberate Iraq,” Cheney tells us, “and it is important for future decision makers that those debates be based on facts.” But only those facts he cares to share.
By the end of Part One Cheney has fully transitioned from defender of the indefensible to bare-knuckled attacker of President Obama. The Cheney snarl is on full display as he engages in an extended personal smear, complete with dog-whistle comments questioning the president’s patriotism and allegiance. The tirade is a new low, even for those of us who have personally experienced the depths to which Cheney will go to destroy an adversary. The opening paragraph of Part Two says it all: “The . . . level of self-regard was apparent, as was his underlying belief that America had played a malign role in the the world . . . . He [Obama] assessed the last fifty years of American foreign policy through the lens of Indonesia, a nation he called ‘the land of my childhood.’”
“Where some see an exceptional nation, unmatched in the history of the world in our goodness and our greatness, in our contributions to global freedom, justice and peace,” Cheney writes, “Barack Obama sees a nation with at best a ‘mixed’ record.”
Cheney combs the record for every quote and factoid that might be used to undermine the authority and legitimacy of the administration. Former senior intelligence officials are selectively quoted to criticize President Obama’s decision to end the torture program. Cheney would have us believe that
Ending programs that kept us safe, revealing the details about those programs to the terrorists, and spreading untruths about our policies was misguided, unjust, and highly irresponsible. . . . President Obama, having so consistently distorted the truth about the enhanced interrogation program and the brave Americans who carried it out, is in no position to lecture anyone about American values.
The personal attacks are unremitting and obnoxious, but they have a purpose: to whip up resentment, hatred, and every other base emotional reaction that makes civil discourse impossible. It is sedition, plain and clear.
One example is the Benghazi tragedy, where Cheney cannot resist offering his own interpretation: “At the most fundamental level it is the difference between being honest about what happened in Benghazi . . . and adopting a false narrative because it serves political purposes. It is the difference between lying to the American people and dealing with them truthfully—which is what we deserve.” The irony drips from the words.
Cheney saves his harshest attack for the Iran nuclear deal, flatly accusing the president of lying to the American people. The most comprehensive arms control deal with the most intrusive inspection regime ever negotiated, it is a deal not just between the United States and Iran but between the world and Iran, unanimously approved by the U.N. Security Council and lauded by nuclear arms specialists worldwide. To Cheney it is presidential “falsehoods.”
After concluding “In the seventy years since World War II, no American president has done more damage to our nation’s defenses than Barack Obama,” Cheney’s solution to Obama’s perfidy is simple but profoundly disturbing: return to the past failed policies. He advocates massive additional infusions of money to the Pentagon, abandonment of key agreements, further attacks on civil liberties, and imposition of an American Diktat on the rest of the world, by force of arms if necessary. It is difficult to imagine a more ill-advised approach to American national security or international relations.
Exceptional deserves to be dismissed and ignored, except that to ignore it is to risk that the subversive ideas therein actually gain some currency, if left unchallenged. They are an affront to our history, to our values, to our culture, and must be fought.
By: Ambassador Joe Wilson (ret) and Valerie Plame, The National Memo, October 26, 2015: This book review originally appeared in The Washington Spectator
The United States “is a hellhole” that “is going down fast.” America “is in big trouble” and “never has victories anymore.” In fact, the United States is a “laughingstock all over the world.”
Who do you think made these comments over the last few months? A. Vladimir Putin; B. An ISIS recruiter; or C. Donald Trump?
It’s actually a tough question to answer accurately. I know for sure that Trump made those remarks but it’s also possible that words to those effect were uttered by Putin or ISIS’s head honcho Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or even Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (The last two of these people we recently learned Trump wasn’t familiar with. We have all heard of low-information voters, we now have a low-information candidate.)
But we do know Trump has made the above statements and more. He even suggested at a recent event that we are now a nation of losers because we haven’t had victories in years, and he’s no longer proud of America.
Why would Trump badmouth America? Simple, because he’s trying to make the case that America is a disaster and he’s the only one who can “make America great again.” (In Trump’s defense, he does know a thing or two about debacles, given the failures of his Trump vodka, Trump airline, and Trump University, to name just a few of his failed ventures.)
When I hear Trump crapping on America, two thoughts come to mind. First, he’s unequivocally wrong. America is still great today. And second, if a Democratic presidential candidate said the same stuff, the GOP would be labeling that candidate as person who hates America, doesn’t view America as exceptional, or worse.
Look, America can always be better. In fact, President Obama offered this exact sentiment a few months ago with his remarks that our nation is “chronically dissatisfied with itself, because embedded in our DNA is this striving, aspirational quality to be even better.” But the United States is still an exceptional nation, something I have yet to hear Trump acknowledge.
The real question is, how do you measure greatness? In Trump’s case it appears it’s based on if he or others are making more money or if our airports are nicer than the beautiful ones in Dubai and Qatar that he has been bragging are far superior to our own.
But that’s not how I measure it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to see middle-class wages grow, but that’s not why people risk their lives to immigrate to our nation. It’s not why my Palestinian father moved to the United States even though he had no family here, or why my Sicilian grandparents sailed halfway across the world.
It was for the promise that continues today of living in nation where there’s not just economic opportunity, but also a place where you can raise a family without fear of warlords, or a risk of a sudden, massive refugee crisis, or the lack of safe drinking water, or being dragged off by a dictator’s henchmen to be tortured or killed for their political views. It’s the promise of a nation where we can passionately disagree on issues with the understanding that it will be ballots, not bullets that will decide the outcome. It’s the promise that all men and women are created equal and are guaranteed the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
I don’t think for a second Trump appreciates that aspect of America’s greatness. And that’s what makes him vastly different from his alleged political idol, Ronald Reagan.
In 1980, Reagan’s campaign slogan, which Trump has co-opted less one word, was “Let’s Make America Great Again.” At the time, Reagan ran against President Jimmy Carter when the U.S. economy was a mess with high unemployment (over 7 percent) and even higher inflation (13.5 percent). Plus, the Iran hostage crisis was weighing on the American psyche.
But Reagan didn’t broadly piss on America like Trump. Instead he provided detailed criticism of Carter’s policies and then offered words to inspire, such as, “the American spirit is still there, ready to blaze into life…the time is now, my fellow Americans, to recapture our destiny.” That’s a far cry from Trump’s “America is a hellhole, laughingstock that’s going down fast.”
I’m sure some on the right likely cheer Trump’s ridiculing of America because they view his words as an attack on Obama’s policies. However, even Marco Rubio recently called out Trump for his dumping on our nation: “I would remind everyone America is great. There’s no nation on Earth I would trade places with.” And Rubio is not alone in this sentiment. A recent poll found that 84 percent of Americans agreed they would rather live here than any other country.
Trump obviously can choose any words he wants to wage his campaign. But there’s zero doubt that if a Democratic candidate were employing the same rhetoric, many on the right would crucify that person.
Look at what we saw earlier this year when Rudy Giuliani said of Obama, “I do not believe that the president loves America.” Why did he make that outrageous charge? Well, Giuliani explained, because Obama “criticizes America” so much that he sounds more “like he’s more of a critic than he is a supporter.” Then what does he make of Trump’s daily America bashing?
Even Michelle Obama was attacked during the 2008 presidential race when she said, “for the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country, because it feels like hope is making a comeback.” Mrs. Obama came under immediate assault from the right for inferring she had not previously been proud of America. Of course, not a peep about Trump no longer being proud of our nation from conservatives.
Trump’s strategy of “America sucks” may end up helping him capture the White House. But even if it does, I still won’t believe that Trump truly grasps what makes America great.
By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, September 9, 2015
“Rolling Out The Welcome Wagon For The Bad Guys”: It May Be Speaker John Boehner And The GOP Who Do Not Love America
Rudy, oh dear Mr. Former Mayor, it seems that that you got it all wrong when you accused the president of not loving America. It’s so hard to watch you spout such stuff because you were such a respected man. In fact, you were one of the icons that had helped lead America through the tragedy of 9/11. Hope that the PR was worth it. Obama not only loves this country and its people dearly, but is doing his best to keep us safe.
If someone is guilty of not loving America, sadly it’s probably Speaker John Boehner together with the right wing of the House GOP. You know that actions speak volumes, and they appear to want to do this country great harm and jeopardize national security. This was the wrong message to send to our allies, and moreover, to our enemies. They have literally rolled out the welcome wagon for the bad guys worldwide. It’s like saying come on down, folks, because we don’t have our act together.
What an embarrassment he and his merry band of new legislators have wrought — before signing an eleventh hour reprieve of one week to cut off funding for the Department of Homeland Security. This makes you want to weep because it is politically motivated. It is no wonder that nationwide polling for Congress is in the toilet, and voter turnout was at an all-time low this past November. Former leader, Eric Cantor, must be breathing a deep sigh of relief or dancing a happy dance. It is despicable that the funding for the Department of Homeland Security is being held hostage, particularly during these times.
And sadly, it will only get worse next week with the Speaker’s scheduled visit to Congress of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It has broken protocol with the White House and created a great big rift in the American Jewish community and between the members of the Congress — which was so unnecessary. The United States continues to be Israel’s strongest ally, and its support has never wavered. There is an old Yiddish saying which amounts to “don’t go looking for trouble because unfortunately it will find you.” So Speaker Boehner, maybe it’s okay that you and your cohorts don’t love America, but we beg – do no further harm.
By: Michelle Kraus, The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 1, 2015
“Giuliani Falls In Ditch, Keeps Digging”: For Republicans, There Seems To Be Something Different About President Obama
Rudy Giuliani is apparently under an odd impression: the problems he creates by saying dumb things will go away if he just keeps talking. Someone probably ought to tell him he has this backwards.
The New York Republican declared Tuesday night that President Obama doesn’t love America or Americans. By Wednesday morning, Giuliani insisted this was not necessarily an attack on the president’s patriotism. By mid-day, the clownish former mayor seemed eager to embarrass himself further, insisting, “President Obama didn’t live through September 11, I did”
And by last night, Giuliani’s descent into farce was complete.
Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York on Thursday defended his assertion that President Obama did not love America, and said that his criticism of Mr. Obama’s upbringing should not be considered racist because the president was raised by “a white mother.”
He added, “This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”
I see. So, by this reasoning, it seems as if Rudy Giuliani has positioned himself as pro-colonialism.
In the same interview with the New York Times, the failed GOP presidential candidate “challenged a reporter to find examples of Mr. Obama expressing love for his country.” In other words, by Wednesday night, Giuliani, who tried and failed to hedge on his own ridiculous condemnations, was right back to where he was on Tuesday night.
I suppose it’s possible that some of the president’s more unhinged detractors might still find Giuliani’s garbage persuasive. Fox News’ Sean Hannity is on board, as is Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). Giuliani himself, with his challenge to a reporter, genuinely seems to believe there are no examples of the president “expressing love for his country.”
How about last month’s State of the Union address?
“I know how tempting such cynicism may be. But I still think the cynics are wrong. I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long.
“I believe this because over and over in my six years in office, I have seen America at its best. I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates from New York to California, and our newest officers at West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs, New London. I’ve mourned with grieving families in Tucson and Newtown, in Boston, in West Texas, and West Virginia. I’ve watched Americans beat back adversity from the Gulf Coast to the Great Plains, from Midwest assembly lines to the Mid-Atlantic seaboard. I’ve seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in 10 Americans call home.
“So I know the good, and optimistic, and big-hearted generosity of the American people who every day live the idea that we are our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper.”
When Republicans panicked over the Ebola threat, Obama reminded Americans about the importance of our nation’s leadership role in the world and celebrated the work that only the United States could do. When Republicans couldn’t figure what to say about ISIS, the president celebrated American greatness once more.
“Our technology companies and universities are unmatched. Our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving. Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades. For all the work that remains, our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history. Despite all the divisions and discord within our democracy, I see the grit and determination and common goodness of the American people every single day – and that makes me more confident than ever about our country’s future.
“Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny. It is America – our scientists, our doctors, our know-how – that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so that they can’t pose a threat to the Syrian people or the world again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, and tolerance, and a more hopeful future.”
Maybe Giuliani just doesn’t listen to the president much. Or maybe he flunked listening comprehension.
There is a larger question, though, about why the unhinged wing of the Republican Party finds such nonsense appealing. To be sure, the GOP hated Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter every day of their presidencies, but I don’t recall ever hearing prominent Republican figures invest time and energy into arguing that the previous Democratic presidents just didn’t love their country. Clinton and Carter were attacked constantly, but their patriotism was never really part of the equation.
There seems to be something different about President Obama that brings out something uglier and more visceral from some GOP critics. It’s probably not his policy agenda – the president endorsed Mitt Romney’s health care plan, John McCain’s climate plan, and George W. Bush’s immigration plan – so there must be something else.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 20, 2015