Afghanistan? Iraq? Nope, Dick Cheney doesn’t believe in regrets

You'll be hard pressed to find contrition in this apparent autobiography

Share

Dick Cheney is back – back from the dead I almost wrote, but of Dubya’s neo-cons he is the one political survivor. He could easily have died of cardiac arrest while Vice President in the hours after the 9/11 attacks, when Bush was stuck in Florida and he was in the White House bunker and in charge. Instead he has outlasted five heart attacks, the discrediting of all his major policies and the disappearance of the neo-cons as a significant political force.

Now, with a fine new heart, he is still thumping that old tub, calling for war on Iran, defending the torture of terror suspects – a practice he introduced. Il ne regrette rien. Alone of Bush’s men, he has even been taken up by the Tea Party.

He is in the news because he has just published a book about his medical woes, co-written with his cardiac surgeon. He had his first heart attack aged 37 when he was a freshman in Washington, chief of staff in President Ford’s cabinet. A more prudent fellow would have gone back to Wyoming and found a less stressful occupation. After all, he had avoided previous life-threatening challenges, having obtained five deferments from fighting in Vietnam. But while that promised only death, Washington offered glory. Cheney went for it.

Since then, he has survived four catheterisations, quadruple bypass surgery and finally a transplant to replace his original heart, which had swollen to the size of a football. Interviewed by Dr Sanjay Gupta, a medical doctor and TV journalist, he refused to be drawn by a reference to “numerous studies showing a link between heart condition and memory loss, depression, decline in decision-making ability and impaired cognition due to limited blood flow to the brain.” “I didn’t know about it and I wasn’t worried about it.”

This refusal to be bowed by his life-threatening disease is the key to his long-running popularity. He may have been passing through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but his ashy pallor, gritted teeth and gravelly growl all said plainly that he was the meanest motherfucker in the valley. He was a political John Wayne for the anaemic post-Vietnam age, when US supremacy began to seem perilously poised.

That defiant belligerence may also explain the disastrous policies for which history will hold him to account, culminating in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. All showed a determination to stun the world with the brute reality of the US military, exploding the existing order but with no joined-up idea of what to replace it with.

Perhaps in a period of medical calm  he had a moment of clarity. The first Gulf war, which he oversaw as the first President Bush’s Secretary for Defence, resulted in just 146 American dead, and the allies withdrew without seizing Baghdad or challenging Saddam’s grip on power. Cheney explained why. “Once you got to Iraq and took down Saddam Hussain’s government, then what are you going to put in its place?” It’s a question people are still asking. It doesn’t appear to have an answer, at least not one we can stomach. “If you take down the central government,” he reasoned, “you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off.”

Dick Cheney seems to me the exemplary figure in America’s decline, at the crucial moment when fear of humiliation and of losing the reputation of absolute supremacy blinds the faculties of reason. With that blind imperial rage goes a sort of twisted melancholy, something that reminds me of analogous figures in Britain’s imperial recession from Curzon to Kipling, all animated by bitter nostalgia and with sadistic tendencies masquerading as patriotic obligation. Asked about waterboarding, Cheney once replied, “Tell me what terrorist attacks you would have let go forward because you didn’t want to be a mean and nasty fellow? Are you going to trade the lives of a number of people because you want to preserve your… honour?” Too late for that, Mr Cheney.

The secret of the Taliban’s success

Twelve years ago, after the start of the Afghan bombing campaign, I travelled down the North-West Frontier, south of Islamabad, to find out what the local people thought of it. I stopped in the town of Tank, where Sir Mortimer Durand, the man who drew the artificial border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, was knocked from his elephant while going through a low arch, and killed. I was surrounded by a lively crowd. “We all support the Taliban here,” I was told. I have no doubt they would say the same today.

 In essence the futility of this Afghan war, like the previous ones, is easily explained. The only way we can obtain local support is by purchasing it. A culture of corruption quickly sets in, to which the only antidote appears to be the claimed simplicity, honesty and piety of the Taliban. This is what has put paid to us. “The English cannot win this war,” a young man told me with a sinister smile, drawing his thumb across his throat. “To repay these attacks we will do much harm to the English.”

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?