Dick Cheney left office as co-President of the United States on January 20, 2009. Since then, he has had time to write his memoirs and reflect on the legacies of the George W. Bush Presidency.
His book, In My Time, was published in 2012. And, in March, 2013, Cheney appeared in the Showtime-produced documentary, “The World According to Dick Cheney.”
Throughout the program, Cheney showed no interest in introspection.
“I don’t go around thinking, ‘Gee, I wish we’d done this, or I wish I’d done that,’” said Cheney. “The world is as you find it, and you’ve got to deal with that….You don’t get do-overs.
“I did what I did, and it’s all part of the public record and I feel very good about it. If I had it to do over again, I’d do it in a minute.”
When the interviewer, R.J. Cutler, raised how the Bush administration had altered privacy rights, tortured detainees and pushed for an unnecessary war in Iraq, Cheney replied:
“Tell me what terrorist acts you would let go forward because you didn’t want to be a mean and nasty fella?”
Perhaps the most telling moment came when Cheney outlined his overall views on Realpolitick:
“Are you going to trade the lives of a number of people because you want to preserve your honor?” asked Cheney. “This was a wartime situation and it was more important to be successful than it was to be loved.”
Perhaps Cheney was thinking of the famous quote about love versus fear in The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli’s primer on how to attain political power:
From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved. The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved.
But as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved.
For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain.
As long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours: they offer you their blood, their goods, their life and their children, when the necessity is remote, but when it approaches, they revolt….
And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared.
For love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.
Cheney appears to belileve that it’s better to be feared than loved.
In that, he has plenty of company among his fellow politicians–in the United States and elsewhere. But there is more to Machiavelli’s teaching, and this is usually overlooked–as it most certainly was by Cheney:
Still, a prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred.
For fear and the absence of hatred may well go together, and will always be attained by one who abstains from interfering with the property of his citizens and subjects or with their women.
If Cheney considers himself a student of Machiavelli, then he utterly ignored this last offering of cautionary advice.
By authorizing the use of torture, the Bush administration made itself–in the eyes of its Western European allies as well as its Islamic enemies–an epicenter of evil. “Guantanamo”–the Marine base in Cuba that had been largely forgotten over the decades–became a synonym for torture.
And after photographs emerged of the tortures and humiliataions of detainees at Abu Garib Prison in Iraq, the United States sank even lower in the world’s estimation.
Among the human rights violations committed upon prisoners held by U.S. Army military police and assorted CIA agents:
- physical abuse
- psychological abuse
In his 2010 book, American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush, historian Nigel Hamilton wrote:
“[George Bush and Dick Cheney were] arguably the worst of all the American Caesars, who willfully and recklessly destroyed so much of the moral basis of American leadership in the modern world.”
Joseph Stalin once famously asked: “How many divisions does the Pope have?” Stalin died in 1953. Had he lived on into the 1980s, he would have found out.
It was then that Pope John Paul II showed the power of an aroused spirituality.
John Paul II
In 1981, the Soviet Union seemed about to invade his native Poland–as it had Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslavakia in 1968. That was when the Pope reportedly sent the Kremlin a message:
If the Soviets invaded, he would fly to Warsaw and place himself directly in the line of fire.
The Soviets never dared launch their planned invasion.
It is a lesson utterly lost on the likes of men like Dick Cheney.