Cheney's Unforgivable Egotism

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, March 25, 2008; 1:22 PM

That President Bush and Vice President Cheney live in a bubble of flattery and delusion, largely sheltered from the people who are actually suffering from the consequences of their actions, is not exactly news.

But perhaps nothing has crystallized their detachment and self-involvement so vividly as Cheney's assertion yesterday that when it comes to the war in Iraq, it is Bush -- not the soldiers and Marines who fight and die, or their families -- who is bearing the biggest burden.

And in an era where failing to support the troops is the ultimate political sin, Cheney's breezy dismissal of their sacrifice -- heck, they're volunteers, and dying goes with the territory -- was jaw-dropping even by the vice president's own tone-deaf standards.

Does Cheney really believe that Bush's burden is so great? The president tells people he's sleeping just fine, thank you, and in public appearances appears upbeat beyond all reason.

Or does Cheney simply have no idea what it means to go to war? He and Bush, after all, famously avoided putting themselves in the line of fire when it was their time.

Or are they just so wrapped up in themselves they can't see how ridiculous it is to even suggest such a thing?

Here's the transcript of Cheney's interview yesterday with Martha Raddatz of ABC News -- his second in less than a week. Here's a video clip.

Raddatz: "Mr. Vice President, I want to start with the milestone today of 4,000 dead in Iraq, Americans, and just what effect you think that has on the country. Your thoughts on that?"

Cheney: "Well, it obviously brings home, I think for a lot of people, the cost that's involved in the global war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. It places a special burden, obviously, on the families. We recognize, I think -- it's a reminder of the extent to which we're blessed with families who have sacrificed as they have. The President carries the biggest burden, obviously; he's the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans. But we are fortunate to have the group of men and women, the all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm's way for the rest of us. You wish nobody ever lost their life, but unfortunately it's one of those things that go with living in the world we live in. Sometimes you have to commit military force, and when you do, there are casualties."

PBS's Tavis Smiley asked retired Gen. Wesley Clark about Cheney's comment last night. Clark's response: "Well, I guess you could say he does bear an enormous burden of guilt and responsibility, for misdirecting the resources of the United States and for the travesty of going to war in Iraq . . . But that's not a burden that's anything like the burden these families bear when their loved ones are overseas, and they suffer losses, or they come back home and they've got post-traumatic stress disease and other problems, when the little kids don't recognize the parents when they come in the door because of the frequent deployments and so forth. This is an entirely different kind of burden. So I think that Vice President Cheney is not being fair to the men and women who serve. He should recognize the enormous sacrifices they're making."

Bush's Peace of Mind

This isn't the first time Bush White House officials have said things that suggest they just don't get what they've done or how lucky they are, relatively.

Last week, in a videoconference with U.S. military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan, Bush said that he envied them. Tabassum Zakaria of Reuters quoted Bush as saying: "I must say, I'm a little envious. If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed. It must be exciting for you . . . in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger."

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