He’s been called Darth Vader, feared or derided as a trigger-happy, torture-loving puppet master who called the shots over the eight years of the George W. Bush White House. And now, with the publication of his memoir, “In My Time,” Dick Cheney has once again grabbed the media spotlight. But what about the former vice president is real, exaggerated, or outright myth?
1. Dick Cheney ran the
Even before George W. Bush’s presidency started, conventional wisdom held that the real locus of power in the White House was with the vice president. A few days after the Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore, a “Saturday Night Live” skit featured Will Ferrell as Bush, lamenting that “Dick Cheney’s going to be one tough boss.”
There’s no question that Cheney was influential — probably the most powerful vice president in history. But when Bush called himself the decider, he was correct. Cheney gave advice; Bush made decisions. Bush certainly gave Cheney major leadership roles, such as chairing the administration’s energy task force. But over the course of his presidency, Bush ran virtually every meeting the two men participated in, with Cheney usually listening in silence. Cheney offered to resign three times before the 2004 election, and Bush chose to keep him. And, barring the Iraq troop surge, Bush’s second term featured a string of defeats for Cheney on foreign policy and national security, including wiretapping, Iran, Syria, North Korea and the Mideast peace process.
2. Cheney is a neocon.
Neoconservatives believe in a foreign policy that projects American power and promotes American values. Unlike foreign policy “realists,” who think Washington should act only when vital national interests are at stake, neoconservatives are willing to use U.S. power for humanitarian reasons. In domestic policy, they are eager defenders of the Judeo-Christian values important to social conservatives and, while proponents of relatively free markets, they are more comfortable with government intervention in the economy than their more libertarian compatriots.
A look at Cheney’s career places him comfortably among neoconservatives in only one respect: the need to maintain military superiority. While he holds conservative views on some social issues, he has opposed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and he pushed to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Cheney has never been a culture warrior. Although he served in an administration that dramatically increased domestic spending, he was a skeptic of “compassionate conservatism,” the philosophy behind such spending.
Cheney, who opposed deposing Saddam Hussein after the Persian Gulf War, came to embrace an expansive U.S. postwar role in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he viewed protecting the American people as the first priority; promoting democracy was a means to that end.
3. Cheney has never admitted a mistake regarding Iraq.
Much of the reaction to Cheney’s memoir, “In My Time,” has stressed his unwillingness to acknowledge Bush administration mistakes in the war in Iraq. Cheney continues to believe that the war was justified and made the United States safer, arguments that still infuriate war opponents.