Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cheney at West Point: There He Goes Again

Vice President Cheney gave the Commencement speech at West Point on Saturday, and on this Memorial Day Weekend, I'm happy to join him in his conclusion: "Godspeed to the United States Military Academy Class of 2007," 70 percent of whom, according to the VP's speech, now go into combat. I'll even praise Cheney for not suggesting that those who question the conduct of the Iraq war are unpatriotic. He was almost gracious in stating: "Down in Washington, D.C., we air differences and argue back and forth on matters of policy. It's always that way, and there's nothing wrong with it."

Nonetheless, the speech was, at bottom, an artifice. As a stylistic matter, it was larded up with numerous insider references to persons and places at West Point. If one did not know the identity of the speaker, one would have guessed that it was a decorated veteran officer, returning to the place where his glorious military career began, rather than the beneficiary of five deferments during the Vietnam-era draft who had "other priorities" than military service when his generation was called. (To be clear, I don't fault the young Cheney for seeking those deferments or setting those priorities; I do fault the old Cheney for wrapping himself in the flag and demanding sacrifices of others that he himself was unwilling to make.)

But more important than the speech's stylistic bravado was its substantive shamelessness. Some news stories have already called attention to Cheney's derision of captured "killers" who "demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution," while they themselves fight by no recognized rules of civilization. On this point I'll only say that even if one thought that norms of humane treatment of captives were solely about reciprocity, we might want to obey procedural niceties like those of the Geneva Conventions and the Constitution for no other reason than so we can sort out the killers from the innocent civilians who can get and have been swept up in the fog of war.

The real whopper in the speech was that the Vice President continues to link Iraq to 9/11. He said:
The terrorists know what they want and they will stop at nothing to get it. By force and intimidation, they seek to impose a dictatorship of fear, under which every man, woman, and child lives in total obedience to their ideology. Their ultimate goal is to establish a totalitarian empire, a caliphate, with Baghdad as its capital. They view the world as a battlefield and they yearn to hit us again. And now they have chosen to make Iraq the central front in their war against civilization.

In Iraq today, the al Qaeda network that struck America is one of the elements trying to destroy a democratic government. They are surging their capabilities, attacking Iraqi and American forces, and killing innocent civilians. America is fighting this enemy in Iraq because that is where they have gathered. We are there because, after 9/11, we decided to deny terrorists any safe haven. We are there because, having removed Saddam Hussein, we promised not to allow another dictator to rise in his place.

And we are there because the security of this nation depends on a successful outcome. The war on terror does not have to be an endless war. But to prevail in the long run, we must remove the conditions that inspire such blind, prideful hatred that drove 19 men to get onto airplanes and come to kill us on 9/11.
Think about that: "America is fighting this enemy in Iraq because that is where they have gathered." If the Vice President had even the slightest smidgen of humility, he would have left that line out, don't you think? Because, after all, "they" only gathered in Iraq after "we," at the VP's vehement behest, created the conditions that made it possible. That doesn't necessarily mean Cheney is wrong going forward. The war was a terrible idea in the first place and the civilian leadership badly bungled occupation planning, but still, it is what it is now, and the people who say that our precipitous withdrawal could make things still worse might be right. Those directly responsible for the initial misjudgments would have more, which is to say any, credibility in making that point, however, if they acknowledged their prior failures. But that's not the stuff of fine speeches, I suppose.


LaPopessa said...

There are few places left that will take Bush/Cheney & cronies as commencement speakers these days. But this is not Churchill or FDR cheering our troops on to a fight to save the world for democracy. This is a miserable old man sending troops out to continue a useless fight in a war that he promoted for no real, viable reason.

Kenji said...

"Think about that: "America is fighting this enemy in Iraq because that is where they have gathered." If the Vice President had even the slightest smidgen of humility, he would have left that line out, don't you think?"

Even though Cheney has made a lot of preposterous statements regarding the war on terror, including blatantly false ones, I have to say that this statement does not bother me---in fact, it may even be appropriate. How one views this statement depends on where one breaks the chain of causation---which is quite arbitrary.

Garth said...

Over the weekend I re-read Mark Twain's War Prayer. So relevant, I excerpted it here;

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(*After a pause.*) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

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