Some years back, Faye Dunaway starred in a vaguely kinky thriller called The Eyes of Laura Mars. Dunaway plays a glamorous fashion photographer who specializes in taking pictures of stylised violence, only to develop a second sight that enables her to see actual murders through the eyes of a real-life killer. At first sight (if you’ll forgive the expression) this doesn’t have much to do with former American vice-president Richard Bruce Cheney, but bear with me.
Cheney is no fashion icon, that’s for sure, but he is a man who has spent a great deal of the latter part of his long career peering into the future imagining what various evil people might want to do to America. In fact, Americans have been singularly blessed to have such a man keeping watch over them while they sleep. Because this is a man whose commitment to America’s safety and security has never wavered, a man who has never allowed mere facts to cloud his understanding of our troubled world, and who has the same ability that Faye Dunaway’s character has, to see acts of violence that haven’t yet taken place through through the eyes of those who perpetrate them.
OK, you might say I’m being flippant, in comparing the Vice President for Torture to a fictional character who sees real acts of violence, and you’re right, in the sense that Cheney is a real character who sees fictional acts of violence. In September 2002, for example, he told reporters at Meet the Press that Saddam Hussein was refitting his nuclear arsenal, boldly declaring ‘We do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.’
Neither then, nor at any other time, did the US intelligence services or anyone else have any such certainty. Nevertheless that same year, Cheney gave a classified one-to-one briefing to the then House majority speaker Richard K. Armey, in which he warned the Texan congressman that Saddam Hussein was ‘making rapid progress towards a suitcase nuclear weapon’ and that the threat from Iraq was ‘ more imminent than we want to portray to the public at large.’
These assertions overcame Armey’s previous opposition to the war, even though Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman later claimed in a 2008 book that Cheney’s assertions ‘crossed so far beyond the known universe of fact that they were simply without foundation’.
The ‘universe of fact’ has never been a comfortable place for a man who knows that beliefs and expectations are always more politically significant than facts, and knows how to present a vision of the future that can serve the interests of the present.
In 2001 he introduced what journalist Ron Suskind called the ‘one percent doctrine’, into the world, when he declared that ‘ If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis … It’s about our response.’
This preference for ‘response’ over the tedious and essentially irrelevant process of ‘analysis’ is the essence of Cheney’s modus operandi. For Cheney, the fact that something bad could happen is as good as saying that it will happen, and what could happen is always worse than what has happened.
In April 2009 he was warning that there was a ‘ high probability’ that terrorists would carry out a catastrophic attack with nuclear or biological weapons in the near future, and arguing that the possibility of ‘mass casualty attacks’ could only be prevented by the continuation of the Bush administration’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques and surveillance programs.
In June this year, he was peering into his crystal ball once again to tell Fox News – a news outlet with a very similar relationship to facts and ‘analysis’ – that Obama’s failure to follow the Bush administration’s militarist policies were paving the way for the possibility that terrorists would arm themselves with nuclear weapons. Asked by his willing hostess whether ‘we could be on track for something worse than 9/11’, the gimlet-eyed magus of the war on terror was worried, just as worried as he was back in 2003:
‘I think that’s a possibility. You know, I can’t say at this point specifically when something like that might happen. But it would be foolish of us to ignore the extent to which there are people who — terrorist-sponsoring states who have in fact tried to provide nuclear technology.’
It’s disappointing that Cheney, with all his psychic gifts, can’t tell us ‘when’ something like that might happen, but then the fact that ‘the North Koreans…built a nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert’ is enough to demonstrate that nuclear weapons are ‘spreading’, which means it might happen, and with Cheney that possibility can only mean more torturing and more bombing.
Thus there is not surprise to find him back on Fox News this month, warning ‘ I am absolutely certain that someday there will be another mass casualty attack against the United States. Except next time they will have far deadlier weapons.’
You hear that readers? The man is absolutely certain. Describing the murder of James Foley by ISIS as a ‘terrible development’, Cheney then asked Fox viewers to ‘magnify that a million times over because that is what’s in store for the rest of the world if we don’t deal with this crisis.’
These dire pronouncements were accompanied by an attack on Obama’s failure to understand that the world was a ‘mean, nasty place’ and that a ‘strong America’ was required to deal with it. Nowhere was there any recognition that the catastrophic policies pursued by the Bush administration might have made made the world even meaner and nastier, and contributed directly to the disastrous implosion of Iraq.
But then, no one would expect that from the man with the crystal ball. What is alarming is that a politician who has lied so often should still be haunting the airwaves and tv studios, still peering out with his gimlet eyes and disturbing snarl, still telling Americans what is likely to happen, when none of the predictions that he made were ever realised.
They say that a prophet is never recognized in his own land. If only that were true in the case of Richard B. Cheney.
If only more Americans like Richard Armey had not seen the world through his eyes, and looked at it through their own, then a lot of really bad things would not have happened, a lot of ‘folks’, as Barack Obama quaintly called them, would not have been tortured, and many, many people who are now dead would still be alive.