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Cheney book renews post-9/11 U.S. policy fights

Former Vice President Dick Cheney's new memoir revives the fierce battles over U.S. national security policies after the September 11 attacks as it rips open old wounds among aides to President George W. Bush.
/ Source: Reuters

Former Vice President Dick Cheney's new memoir revives the fierce battles over U.S. national security policies after the September 11 attacks as it rips open old wounds among aides to President George W. Bush.

Cheney describes his upbringing on the Wyoming prairie where he hunted jackrabbits and learned to fish before turning his attention to his eight years in the Bush White House, where he pushed a "go-it-alone" world view that enraged his critics.

The book, "In My Time," has grabbed headlines for Cheney's attempts to settle scores with foes such as former secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

Powell accused Cheney of taking "cheap shots" at his former colleagues.

Rice, in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, said she did not appreciate Cheney's "attacks on my integrity."

Beyond such skirmishes, the book also highlights how far the national security debate has shifted as the United States prepares to mark the 10-year anniversary of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York.

Cheney's unapologetic defense of policies he advocated, such as harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects and interventionist foreign policy, surprised few in Washington.

Perhaps more surprising was the marked shift away from the vision championed by Cheney, who won many of the policy arguments in the early Bush years only to see his influence wane in the Republican president's second term.

"The majority of what is associated with Cheney and what Cheney embraces in the book -- a unilateralist, American exceptionalist, 'our way or the highway' approach to the world -- has been completely abandoned," said David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official and author of a book about the White House National Security Council.


U.S. war-weariness after Iraq and Afghanistan has become so pronounced that advocacy of a muscular U.S. foreign policy pushed by former Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008 has gotten little emphasis among Republicans vying to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012.

And Republican lawmakers were among the most vocal in questioning Obama's decision to intervene in Libya in March.

Rothkopf noted that the manner of intervention, in which the Obama administration insisted on multilateralism and wanted other countries to take the lead, is the reverse of the approach favored by Cheney.

While Cheney pushed a hawkish approach toward Iran and Syria and even suggested bombing a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, the idea of U.S. military intervention in either of those two countries is not currently part of the national dialogue.

On counterterrorism policies, one of Obama's first acts when he took office in 2009 was to disavow harsh interrogations and promise to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- though the detention center remains open to this day because the administration has struggled with a lack of feasible alternatives.

In his book, Cheney puzzled over Obama's view that the facility harms America's image in the world even though Bush himself expressed sympathy for that perspective in a 2006 news conference in which he said he'd prefer to close Guantanamo if an alternative could be found.

"It's not Guantanamo that does the harm, it is the critics of the facility who peddle falsehoods about it," Cheney writes.


Still, Peter Feaver, a former Bush adviser, said there is more continuity in the national security policies than Obama and his aides acknowledge.

Feaver cited as examples the indefinite detentions of some terrorism suspects, the reversal of the promise to close Guantanamo and the expansion of drone attacks to go after militants in Pakistan.

"When it comes to the legal edifice of the war on terror and the tools that are used, the Obama administration is a lot closer to the Bush administration than the Obama campaign was."

"Part of that is because the Bush administration moved somewhat from where it was in 2002 to where it was, say in 2006," Feaver said, noting that even harsh interrogations were scaled back under Bush before being rejected by Obama.

Cheney's chief adversaries during Bush's first term were Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage.

Cheney portrays Rice as naive and in one passage says she "tearfully" came to his office to discuss her regrets about a policy argument. Rice challenged the notion that she ever came to Cheney's office tearfully about anything.

Powell has described Bush's national security team during the first term as so dysfunctional, there were not only differences of opinion but views that could not be reconciled.

The back-and-forth over the book seems to support that characterization.

Cheney, who wielded unprecedented power as vice president, began to see his clout decline after Rice, a longtime friend and close aide of Bush, moved from her role as national security adviser to secretary of state in early 2005.

His influence decreased further when his ally and former mentor Donald Rumsfeld was replaced as defense secretary by the more moderate Robert Gates, who went on to serve in the Obama administration.