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Lying as Art Form

The Rhetoric of Dick Cheney

by ROBERT FANTINA

"My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." So said Vice-president Dick Cheney on March 16, 2003 as U.S. soldiers marched toward Baghdad at the start of America’s Iraqi disaster. Nearly six months later, on Meet the Press, Mr. Cheney, not generally compared to Pollyanna, seemed to adopt her type of viewpoint:

"Well, I think we have (been greeted as liberators) by most Iraqis. I think the majority of Iraqis are thankful for the fact that the United States is there, that we came and we took down the Saddam Hussein government. And I think if you go in vast areas of the country, the Shia in the south, which are about 60 percent of the population, 20-plus percent in the north, in the Kurdish areas, and in some of the Sunni areas, you’ll find that, for the most part, a majority of Iraqis support what we did."

Mr. Cheney takes the term ‘spin’ and causes his topic to rotate at a most dizzying speed.

Since prior to President Bush’s immoral misadventure in Iraq, Mr. Cheney has demonstrated not only a willingness, but an apparent eagerness to state whatever seemed convenient about Iraq, with little regard to the truth. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Cheney often spoke of that country’s alleged ties to al-Queda. This falsehood was tied darkly to Iraq’s purported possession of weapons of mass destruction and efforts to obtain or develop nuclear weapons. Despite the fact that U.N. weapons inspectors found no evidence of either, Mr. Cheney and the rest of the Bush administration decided that the threat to America from non-existent weapons justified a pre-emptive strike, in violation of international law and against the wishes of most of America’s oldest and most trusted allies.

After the 9/11 Commission issued its report stating that it found ‘no credible evidence’ that Iraq was involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, and that there was no collaborative relationship between Iraq and Osama bin Laden, Mr. Cheney continued to sing his familiar, if discordant, tune. On June 18, 2004, he stated that "[t]here clearly was a relationship. It’s been testified to. The evidence is overwhelming." He even added a new verse, stating that the 9/11 Commission found such evidence!

It has been said that the telling of one lie leads to ten more. Mr. Cheney seems determined to prove the accuracy of this theory. Following his completely untrue statements that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and that Iraq and al-Queda had some relationship, and that the 9/11 Commission found such a relationship, the vice-president turned his attention to more immediate matters. In June of 2006 Mr. Cheney declared that the ‘insurgency’ (Bush administration lingo for Iraqi citizens trying to free their country from foreign oppressors/occupiers) was in its last throes. The death toll among Americans and Iraqis increased for months following this cheerful declaration. And as the war dragged into year five, Mr. Bush decided to send more troops to quell the insurgency his war spawned. One wonders how Mr. Cheney defines ‘last throes.’

It appears that to all the members of the Bush Administration, ‘supporting the troops’ means having a war for them. One can hardly blame Mr. Cheney for this misunderstanding; during the Vietnam era, when 58,000 young Americans died in Vietnam, he claims he did not serve because he had ‘other priorities’ and thus did not trouble himself with the work of war. Years later he seems to have now engaged in it as play. So a misunderstanding of what it means to ‘support the troops’ is natural.

On March 24, 2007, after the House of Representatives voted to fund the war until September 2008, and require redeployment by then, Mr. Cheney said "[t]hey’re not supporting the troops. They’re undermining them." It is difficult to see how providing all requested funding for an eighteen month period, and assuring that a plan is in place to end the war by that time, is undermining the troops.

As the debate about withdrawal dates intensified, the vice-president’s deceitful declarations have not ceased. After Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid forcefully pressed for a withdrawal timetable, Mr. Cheney, on April 25 2007, said the following: "Some Democratic leaders seem to believe that blind opposition to the new strategy in Iraq is good politics." The vice-president seems to have forgotten the endless Congressional debates about Iraq that have been held since the Democrats came to power, the negotiations to achieve consensus on the bill that will be sent to Mr. Bush, and the years of frustration as Mr. Reid and the rest of the country watched the Iraqi disaster unfold. For Mr. Reid and many other members of Congress to hear Mr. Bush dismiss the recommendations of the non-partisan Iraq Study Group and repeat the escalation mistakes that proved so disastrous during the Vietnam War, and then oppose those policies, cannot under any circumstances expect in Mr. Cheney’s oil and blood drenched world be seen as ‘blind opposition.’

Mr. Cheney’s ability to lie becomes more skillful as he hones it with practice. In the same speech that he referred to ‘blind opposition,’ he said the following: "It is cynical to declare that the war is lost because you believe it gives you political advantage." This in response to Mr. Reid’s statement of a few days earlier that the war is lost.

One can easily agree that it is cynical to declare the war lost in order to gain political advantage. However, that is not what Mr. Reid has done. Unlike Mr. Cheney, Mr. Reid does not dismiss the opinion of experts that Iraq, without a central government to provide it with any semblance of cohesion, has descended into a state of civil war. Unlike Mr. Cheney, Mr. Reid apparently listens to the opinions of experts who say that a military victory cannot be achieved in Iraq; a political settlement must be sought. Based on his own observations, the opinions of experts and the clearly stated will of the American citizenry, Mr. Reid has led Congress to do what Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush refuse to do: cut American losses and exit Iraq.

If it were reasonably possible to believe that Mr. Cheney was simply deluded in his beliefs, one could almost excuse him. Almost, but not quite. The vice-president of the world’s last remaining super-power, one that has run amok on the world stage to the detriment of millions of people around the world, should have a tighter grip on reality. And perhaps a less tight grip on the oil industry.

While the vice-president fails to recognize or chooses to ignore the facts that are clear to much of the world, the suffering of innocent Iraqis and dedicated American soldiers continues. In a war built upon lies he told, nearly 4,000 Americans are dead and the death toll of Iraqis climbs towards one million. As he criticizes those who are striving, however ineffectually, to end the war, the entire Middle East is threatened with destabilization, and Iraq’s civil war intensifies. At a time when leadership is desperately needed, Mr. Cheney appears to pursue ‘other priorities.’

ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.