Cheney says he's changed

Sure, dining on nothing but orphans, puppies, and panda flesh for eight years will change a man…

Amongst many on the left, Dick Cheney is regarded as a cross between Hannibal Lecter and Reinhardt Heidrich. The power behind the puppet Bush, architect of torture, launcher of wars for profit, Haliburton shill, outer of America’s version of 007 Valerie Plame, evil personified. Not that our friends on the left are given to hyperbole or anything.

On the right he is either regarded as a god-like figure or as the man tasked with keeping America safe following the September 11th attacks. To that end he has been eminently successful – not many people believed in 2001 that we would not be attacked again even once over the next seven years. Competence in the federal government is a rare thing. Of all the appointments Bush has made, Cheney has been the most successful by a large margin.

There’s something to be said for a Veep selection made to add gravitas to a ticket whose accomplishments in the public and private sector actually withstand scrutiny.

Dick Cheney sat down for an interview with ABC to reflect on the past eight years.

“Have I changed?” Cheney asked. “Well, not in the sense that I’ve gone through some fundamental psychological transition here, but I have been, since that day, focused very much on what we needed to do to defend the nation, and I think the policies we’ve recommended, the programs that we’ve undertaken, have been good programs. I think those have been sound decisions, and if that’s what they mean by saying I’ve changed, I’m guilty.”

We’ll never know about all the potential threats that have been averted by Bush administration policies, but the results are undeniable. No attacks on American soil since 9/11. If for no other reason than that Cheney has earned his paycheck.

Cheney said the new administration must carefully assess the tools put in place to fight terror. “How they deal with these issues are going to be very important, because it’s going to have a direct impact on whether or not they retain the tools that have been so essential and defending the nation for the last seven-and-a-half years, or whether they give them up,” he said.

Obama’s team needs to look at the specific threats, understand how the programs were put together, and how they operate, the vice president said.

“They shouldn’t just fall back on campaign rhetoric to make these very fundamental decisions about the safety of the nation,” he warned.
If preliminary signals are any indication, Obama seems to be following this exact course. Most voters end up disappointed with politicians because they fail to live up to promises they make during the campaign. Realities render rhetoric obsolete. Obama faithful will soon see this is as true for “The One” as any other politician.

Cheney said waterboarding was an appropriate means of getting information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“There was a period of time there, three or four years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al Qaeda came from that one source,” he added, referring to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. “So, it’s been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves.”

That puts the outcry over waterboarding in a different perspective, wouldn’t you agree? There is a wide chasm between coercive interrogation techniques and torture. Nobody wants agents of the US torturing anyone for any reason. But if making them uncomfortable or filling them with the fear of Allah yields actionable information we should not hesitate to use enhanced methods to extract intelligence.

Cheney added that, given Saddam Hussein’s capabilities, reputation and track record of brutality, “this was a bad actor, and the country’s better off, the world’s better off with Saddam gone, and I think we made the right decision, in spite of the fact that the original NIE was off in some of its major judgments.”

In retrospect he’s right. Whatever happened to Saddam’s WMD stockpiles he remained determined to possess those weapons and was actively engaged in circumventing the cease-fire conditions of the first Gulf War. The Duelfer Report on Iraq WMD make that quite clear. With the intelligence we had at the time invading Iraq was a no brainer; with the benefit of hindsight it was a gamble that has a chance to benefit the US and Middle East enormously. I think we’ll see that Obama recognizes the potential upside of a free Iraq as well.

How history judges Dick Cheney remains to be seen. But we owe some bit of gratitude to a man who shunned the spotlight to focus on America’s safety. He has done well countering a determined enemy on a complex and ambiguous battlefield.

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