Cheney, 9/11, and His Nutty Visions of Presidential Power

Does the vice president have any credibility? No.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

In case you missed it, Vice President Cheney has been let loose upon the countryside and, as usual, he's full of something beyond just hot air (though he's got plenty of that, too). From today's New York Times:

Mr. Cheney said the Bush White House had been justified in expanding executive authority across a broad range of policy, including the war in Iraq, treatment of terrorism suspects and the domestic wiretapping program. And he said the president "doesn't have to check with anybody"—not Congress, not the courts—before launching a nuclear attack to defend the nation "because of the nature of the world we live in" since the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, 2001.

Because of the nature of the post-September 11 world? Does that mean that Cheney would not have advocated his imperial vision of the presidency on Sept. 10, 2001? That before 9/11 Cheney would have been a strong proponent of checks and balances, and only the shattering experience of watching the planes strike the twin towers altered his world view? (Trivia: Cheney was in a meeting with his speechwriter on the morning of 9/11.)

The answers are, of course, no. Cheney has long had a dismissive view of the legislative branch and is simply using the facts at hand to support his beliefs while pretending to be reacting to circumstances with fresh thinking.

That previous sentence could pretty well describe almost any Bush administration policy.

The other instructive bit from the Times piece:

There is ample precedent, Mr. Cheney said, for the Bush administration's policies.

"If you think about what Abraham Lincoln did during the Civil War, what F.D.R. did during World War II. They went far beyond anything we've done in a global war on terror," he said. "But we have exercised, I think, the legitimate authority of the president under Article II of the Constitution as commander in chief in order to put in place policies and programs that have successfully defended the nation."

This one is, of course, a classic. But there remains one critical difference between the Civil War and the World War II on the one hand and the poorly-named "global war on terror" on the other: The Civil War and the World War II were existential events. The consequences of failure were the end of the United States of America.

Al Qaeda and other global terrorist groups are a serious threat and need to be dealt with, but just as there will be no set-piece victory (signing of a peace treaty on the deck of a ship), there is no "losing" scenario that holds the consequences of a loss in the Civil War or World War II.

We face a series of challenges in the world, as Patrick Cronin of the National Defense University wrote in our op-ed section recently, and in order to address them properly we need to see them as they are. And either Cheney fails to see how things are or is bending facts to fit his preconceived policies. Again. (He's full of that, too.)