Cheney Speaks

by Kieran Healy on May 27, 2007

A couple of people have commented on these remarks, delivered by Dick Cheney to the graduating class at West Point. The piece is full of the usual doubletalk: “We’re fighting a war on terror because the enemy attacked us first, and hit us hard”, etc. Notice he didn’t quite say, “We’re fighting a war in Iraq because the enemy attacked us first,” but this is clearly what he means, because later on he says,

The terrorists … [seek] 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.

Nice choice, guys. The bit that’s gotten notice is this:

As Army officers on duty in the war on terror, you will now face enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for. Capture one of these killers, and he’ll be quick to demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States. Yet when they wage attacks or take captives, their delicate sensibilities seem to fall away.

Yeah, you see, that sort of double standard is what makes them the bad guys. Josh Marshall Steve Benen asks whether it “is it too much to ask the Vice President to refer to the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States as good things? Perhaps protections that he’s proud of?”

The thing about Cheney’s rhetoric, though, is that the flow from the first to the second sentence strongly implies that he does think of them as good things. From what he says, it’s clear that the U.S. constitution and Geneva Conventions are amongst those things the graduates “know to be right,” that and that they embody ideals of “upright conduct” and express those beliefs they “consider worth fighting for and living for.” It’s just that he doesn’t seem to have any notion that these ideals themselves express rules for how to defend one’s principles without betraying them.

Update: Following up on some of the comments below, I don’t think Cheney is confused or otherwise unclear on his own beliefs. And there’s not much point in trying to catch him out in some argumentative inconsistency. Maybe the problem here is that’s what I’m reduced to. You just get sick of saying, “This guy is a pox on U.S. politics.” I guess the problem here is not this or that interpretation of the applicability of the rights and protections of the Constitution or Geneva Conventions to this or that case, but the fact that the entire approach to foreign policy and civil liberties that Cheney stands for has been a disaster for the United States.

{ 68 comments }

1

Dan Simon 05.28.07 at 12:05 am

I assume that Cheney understands both the Geneva Conventions and the US Constitution as representing social contracts, rather than expressions of absolute moral standards of conduct. As such, he would consider them Very Good Things, but not necessarily applicable to those who don’t agree to abide by them. To choose an obvious example, many of the protections that normally apply to citizens under the US Constitution are denied to convicted felons, who have, under this reading, effectively forfeited those protections by flouting the Constitutionally enacted laws of the land.

I would say that Cheney’s take on these matters was virtually universal until perhaps two or three decades ago, when the idea of both the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions as absolute, universal moral codes of government conduct, applying irrespective of anyone’s acceptance of them, came into fashion in some circles. That doesn’t mean that the new view is wrong, of course, or that its adherents aren’t entitled to argue against, or even ridicule, Cheney’s position. But treating it as some kind of logical inconsistency or confusion on his part, when it’s actually both logically straightforward and historically familiar, fails to address the issue Cheney raises.

2

Guest 05.28.07 at 1:19 am

I agree with dan simon to an extent. It’s a mistake to treat Cheney’s position as indicative of inconsistency or confusion. But the reason it’s a mistake is because he doesn’t actually have a “position” in the usual sense of the word. This speech, like all his speeches, is nothing but pathological cynicism all the way down. You can rack your brains as much as you want in intellectually parrying and confronting Cheney’s “logic,” but, as with all truly unreasonable people, you’ll just be wasting your time.

3

Robin Green 05.28.07 at 1:31 am

The difference here is that felons rights are supposed to be curtailed, as necessary for the administration of justice, *after* a fair trial conducted according to internationally-recognised norms – as opposed to, say, a dodgy military tribunal.

By contrast, the Bush administration’s position appears to be that the Executive branch can just decide to torture, wiretap, or imprison without trial anyone it feels like, whenever it feels like, even if the law and the constitution expressly says it cannot. Of course they don’t put it quite that starkly, but that is the sum total of what they have been arguing for. They have argued that they can classify anyone as an enemy combatant, and that enemy combatants are the scum of the earth and therefore can have their rights restricted without trial (because “they would do worse to us if they could”). There are many problems with that idea, foremost among them being: what if they are mistaken, or lying when they say that someone is an enemy combatant?

4

Robin Green 05.28.07 at 1:38 am

This world is so messed up.

Priests who abuse children get shunted to another parish where they can continue to be a risk to children. Instead of those responsible for the coverups (which looks like it includes the previous Pope) getting arrested, the Catholic Church just has to pay fines.

Fines for covering up child molestation… indefinite solitary confinement amounting to psychological torture for those who the US government merely announces are “enemy combatants”, without presenting any evidence, let alone trying them.

What is wrong with this picture?

5

rege 05.28.07 at 3:31 am

A small point. The post at TPM is by weekend contributor Steve Benen who blogs at The Carpetbagger Report.

6

Gene O'Grady 05.28.07 at 3:59 am

Not sure I agree with the post. It seems to me that with the use of “delicate sensibilities” (a typical Cheneyism, reminding me of his idiotic assertion at the start of the Bush presidency that energy conservation had no function except to make you feel good) Cheney is slighting the value of the Constitution and the Geneva Convention. Those, he implies, are delicacies that real men can’t afford in perilous times. Rather than the Constitution and the Geneva Convention, upright conduct and character refers to standards of masculinity and self-assertion that real men like Cheney recognize when they see it.

I’m hoping at least some of the West Pointers were insulted.

7

Dan Simon 05.28.07 at 4:25 am

This speech, like all his speeches, is nothing but pathological cynicism all the way down.

Personally, I find complaints that a politician’s speech is “nothing but pathological cynicism” a bit like complaints that a Broadway musical is “nothing but implausible melodrama”. But perhaps that’s just me…

8

abb1 05.28.07 at 5:27 am

What they need to know about is the Nuremberg trials.

9

Guest 05.28.07 at 5:54 am

dan simon:

No, not all politicians are completely full-of-sh*t, cynical, immoral, scheming, secretive, Constitution-subverting, shadow-government-running, protofascist liars.

So your comparison is inapt.

10

Teddy 05.28.07 at 6:01 am

I am sorry but I have to say I detect Cheney derangement syndrome in this thread. For example, one of the commenters mentions Cheney’s “idiotic assertion at the start of the Bush presidency that energy conservation had no function except to make you feel good”. Contrast this truly idiotic assertion with what Cheney actually said: “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis all by itself for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.”

11

Walt 05.28.07 at 6:05 am

Dick Cheney has yet again dishonored his country.

12

Martin Bento 05.28.07 at 6:13 am

First of all, I find it both comical and naseating that all this “insider” chit chat about the experience of West Point comes from someone who had “other priorities” than to serve in the military. I didn’t serve either, but I’m not going to address a bunch of West Pointers like I’m one of them.

On the substance, note how carefully hedged this statement is:

“you will now face enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for.”

Nothing in that statement says exactly what “you” know to be right, consider upright conduct, etc., it just asserts that you have some values and the terrorists are opposed to those values. Since the conventions and the Constitution are mentioned next, it is easy to assume those are what he meant, especially if you think those are appropriate values for the VP and still like to think the best. on the other hand, one could just as easily fill in a Christian set of values as opposed to a Muslim one, and it fits Cheney’s statement just as well. Note that I think Cheney is an armageddonist, but he’s carefully speaking out both sides of his mouth: let he who has ears hear, and everyone fills in the values they consider appropriate. I agree with Gene; he is associating the Constitution and the Conventions with “delicate sensibilities”, which is sarcastic and emasculating, but the statement is carefully hedged.

13

mpowell 05.28.07 at 6:35 am

Cheney makes me sick. But what also makes me sick is people still throwing the ‘pox on both your houses argument’- that all politicians are the same, so what’s the big deal about Cheney? Dan Simon will have some smart alec response about how his claim was more limited. But I’m tired of hearing apologists for these people… its been clear for a long time what this administration is about and its clear that their ideological kin are intellectually and morally bankrupt as well.

14

abb1 05.28.07 at 6:59 am

Ironically, I think one could argue that these putzes are far less cynical and more megalomaniacal than a typical politician. But maybe that’s exactly what pathological cynicism is, as opposed to the ordinary kind.

15

Richard 05.28.07 at 7:29 am

following Martin Bento’s point, Cheney merely places enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right alongside talk of terrorists. If we decouple them, then perhaps he’s giving a timely and generous warning to the people who will shortly be up to their necks in his armageddon strategy.

16

John Quiggin 05.28.07 at 7:40 am

Terms like “Cheney (or Bush) derangement syndrome” are an interesting illustration of projection from the right. As in teddy’s use at #10, trivial debatable snarks about quotes and similar are used to diagnose an irrational hatred for Cheney leading to lunatic inferences about policy.

In fact, of course, it’s the world view underlying Bush-Cheney policies that has proved time and time again to be delusional. Even the “shrillest” critics circa 2002 turned out in the end to underestimate how bad these guys really were. As DD said back then, it’s impossible to point to any policy with which they have been associated that hasn’t been f*cked up in some essential fashion.

17

bad Jim 05.28.07 at 8:08 am

It’s not that complicated, and we fool ourselves when we think Cheney has thought deeply about such matters. All he’s saying is that we’re good and they’re evil, and the rest of us should keep our virtue in our pants where it belongs.

18

SG 05.28.07 at 8:12 am

Dan Simon, are you suggesting that liberals and those who generally disapprove of Cheney`s actions and ideas hold the view that the Constitution is an absolute moral code? And that Cheney has the opposite view? Because as far as I can recall, the Republicans returned to power in the whitehouse promising to reverse the effects of liberal “activist judges” who interpret the constitution, rather than reading it as the absolute standard that it is.

I would say that all the rhetoric of the right leading up to their reconquest of the Whitehouse (and the arguments of their slimy brethren overseas) give the lie to your suggestion at #1. It`s the supposed “liberals” who are accused of treating the constitution as a mere piece of paper, and the conservatives who will defend it for the almost biblical document that they claim it is.

But on this note, I would like to suggest to you that you face up to David Hicks, recently freed after 5 and a half years in Guantanamo Bay, and tell him that he reneged the rights to protection the constitution affords when he did what he did. Of course, you don`t know what he did, only what Cheney and his ilk said he did – he confessed under torture. But don`t let it stop you – after all, Cheney is no less cynical than any other politician, and he says that David Hicks was a Very Bad Man.

19

joejoejoe 05.28.07 at 8:32 am

“This guy is a pox on U.S. politics” pretty much sums it up.

You could write a pretty good pulp biography of Cheney with a picture of his snarling maw and a big red arrow pointing to it with a comic balloon saying ‘This guy is a pox on U.S. politics’ and it would be better read than the drool of official Cheney biographer Stephen Hayes. If you want to ‘academic’ it up a little you could publish it in hardcover, add endnotes, and call it Pox Americana.

20

Teddy 05.28.07 at 9:00 am

John Quiggin unintentionally provides another nice illustration of “Cheney (or Bush) Derangement Syndrome”. Judging the overall performance of the current president and vice-president of the United States in their 6-7 years in office he says very categorically that every policy with which they have been associated has been “f*cked up in some essential fashion”. Imagine just how many policies they were associated with during this whole period, and yet Quiggin asserts that they somehow managed to “f*ck up” in every single case. Obviously, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn sometimes, but Bush and Cheney, no way!

21

Kevin Donoghue 05.28.07 at 9:23 am

So where’s the acorn, Teddy?

22

Richard 05.28.07 at 9:25 am

Quiggin’s claim does seem extreme; I’d be inclined to pedal it back to “every major policy direction announced by the current administration” (to encompass things like “no child left behind” and the “war on terror,” but to exclude those normal operations of government on which they’ve had little impact) – but then, I can’t actually think of a single success story myself. Perhaps conscious evil really is more self-defeating than simple chance.

23

abb1 05.28.07 at 10:08 am

It’s not exactly a policy, but the Hainan island spy-plane incident – they handled it relatively well. Without starting a nuclear war, anyway. I guess they didn’t think of themselves as the rules of the universe at the time yet.

24

Kevin Donoghue 05.28.07 at 10:29 am

Thanks to Brad DeLong many people know this, but for those who don’t, the challenge which d-squared issued on 26th February 2003 to “the rather more Bush-friendly recent arrivals” to his blog was to provide just a single example “of something with the following three characteristics:

1. It is a policy initiative of the current Bush administration

2. It was significant enough in scale that I’d have heard of it (at a pinch, that I should have heard of it

3. It wasn’t in some important way completely fucked up during the execution.”

I’ve never seen a convincing response. (But then, I’ve never seen a blind squirrel with an acorn either.) If we must argue over who is deranged, I’m inclined to think it is those who believe that the Bush administration must have done something right at least once, even if only by chance. It isn’t so common to get things right by chance.

25

engels 05.28.07 at 12:18 pm

Teddy is just reminding us of the mathematical fact that if you sit a monkey at a typewriter for a million years, at some point he will type poetry. I’m not really sure whether Cheney or Bush could manage that without fucking it up, but it sounds like a good way of keeping them occupied for a while.

26

jeff 05.28.07 at 12:21 pm

Damn. Now I’m going to be distracted all day trying to find something that the Bush administration has done right.

27

Ben Alpers 05.28.07 at 12:27 pm

I yield to nobody in my dislike of this administration, but I can think of one Bush administration policy initiative that has, on the margin, been a good thing: the National Endowment of the Humanities’ We the People Initiative to encourage the study of American history. Among other things, it has provided an infusion of funds (with no ideological strings attached) to state humanities councils. As a member of the Oklahoma Humanities Council’s board, I know that this money has done a lot of good.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s only fair to view We the People in the context of the administration’s larger set of policies related to the study of American history, which have been disastrous: e.g its incredible secrecy about the present; its reclassification of the past; its denial of visas to major overseas scholars whose politics it objects to; its bullying rhetoric about historical “revisionism”; etc. Obviously, We the People in no way compensates for this bigger picture. To the extent that it functions as a kind of political cover for the substantive ways in which the administration has harmed the study of the American past, We the People is obviously not a good thing (though I’ve never actually heard anyone attempt to defend the administration in this way).

But, taken on its own admittedly modest terms, the We the People Initiative is the one example I can come up with of a Bush/Cheney policy initiative that has worked reasonably well.

28

Walt 05.28.07 at 1:17 pm

What about T-ball on the White House lawn? I think from that no one died, and America was not made worse off. How about that, Mr. Smarty-Pants Quiggin?

29

Teddy 05.28.07 at 1:44 pm

Kevin, my intervention did not actually amount to the claim “that the Bush administration must have done something right at least once”. You should have noticed that I was just saying that it would be astonishing if Bush and Cheney fucked up every single policy during their relatively long time in office. There is a whole range of things between fucking up and doing something right. For instance, if their performance is graded on a five-point scale, say, 1-very good, 2-good, 3-mixed, 4-bad, 5-very bad (fucked up), my point was simply that Quiggin’s assertion that they deserve grade 5 on absolutely everything they did is ludicrous. So I don’t see why I should be under any obligation to prove that they sometimes did something right (i.e., deserved grade 1 or 2), when my only goal was to dispute Quiggin’s preposterous statement that every single of their policies was an abject failure. Remember, my aim was not to evaluate the politics of the Bush administration but merely to warn some CT-ers of the worst form of their Bush-Cheney Derangement Syndrome. (Unfortunately the virus seems to be spreading: the new instance is Engels’s suggestion that the President and Vice-President of the United States are stupider than monkeys.)

30

Martin Bento 05.28.07 at 1:55 pm

Have to disagree with abb1 about the spy plane. That was the first major disagreement I had with Bush, and I found myself in the position, not usual for me, of a hawk. He should have been prepared to sanction China to prevent military technology from falling into their hands. In fact, I think this should come up again and again for those who think Bush possesses balls; when China grunts, they slighter up to his throat. Arguably, he should also not have had a spy plane there, but given the situation he actually should have been tougher. All his posturing is the classic behavior of a coward.

31

Martin Bento 05.28.07 at 2:01 pm

“they slighter up to his throat.”

should be slither up to his throat

32

SG 05.28.07 at 2:04 pm

John, what about the Australia-America free trade agreement? Didn’t benefit Oz, must have benefited someone…?

33

Walt 05.28.07 at 2:19 pm

Teddy, do you suffer from some sort of brain damage that prevents you from understanding the context of words? Obviously, almost no one thinks that Bush/Cheney fucked up every single thing they did — I’m sure every bathroom break was executed perfectly. Hyperbole is an ordinary speaking technique — something tells me that you use it yourself when you’re not busy annoying total strangers on the internet. Though I suppose the brain damage prevents you from caring about your effect on others.

34

Thom Brooks 05.28.07 at 2:24 pm

Of course, it’s also worth discussing the first set of remarks. “Terrorists” want a “caliphate” in “Baghdad”? I doubt if any of this is true. For one thing, I doubt strongly all branches of Islam would ever accept a single caliphate—just as I doubt Christians will ever agree to a single person to lead a global Christian church. Yet, more importantly, when did Baghdad become a spiritual home at this level?

Dick Cheney knows this isn’t true. It’s intellectually criminal.

35

blog 05.28.07 at 2:55 pm

Why then is Cheney such a great friend to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE? Aren’t these the hotbeds of Wahhabism, the most extreme Islamic sect and don’t those regimes provide generous funding to this sect? So is Cheney a friend of those “who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for”? Cheney’s only god is Mammon. He is willing to accomodate those who “despise our values” as long as he and his cronies can profit from them.

36

Teddy 05.28.07 at 2:58 pm

Walt, I thought it was absolutely clear to everyone that we were discussing Bush’s and Cheney’s policies, not what they did in the bathroom. Since you think that the inability to understand the context is a sign of brain damage, try to draw the conclusion about what you should do now.

37

engels 05.28.07 at 3:05 pm

I thought it was absolutely clear to everyone that we were discussing Bush’s and Cheney’s policies, not what they did in the bathroom

There’s a difference?

38

Barry 05.28.07 at 3:38 pm

“I am sorry but I have to say I detect Cheney derangement syndrome in this thread. For example, one of the commenters mentions Cheney’s “idiotic assertion at the start of the Bush presidency that energy conservation had no function except to make you feel good”. Contrast this truly idiotic assertion with what Cheney actually said: “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis all by itself for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.””
Posted by Teddy

Cheney’s comment was put BS – how many people actually think that conservation is a ‘sufficient basis all by itself’?

I’m sure the *some* in the US do, but that’s not what energy policy debates are about. Cheney was trying to exclude conservation, by claiming that it’s not sufficient by itself.

IIRC, this is the fallacy of the excluded middle.

39

Walt 05.28.07 at 3:48 pm

Teddy, you’re here not because you want to discuss Bush and Cheney’s policies, but because you are a masochist who likes to be insulted by strangers. My question is “why”? Is it rainy day where you are, so you decided you had nothing better to do than be insulted by strangers? Is it actually brain damage? If you really do suffer from brain damage, then I’d feel a little bad about insulting you for it.

40

KCinDC 05.28.07 at 4:00 pm

So is Cheney a friend of those “who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for”?

No, not just a friend. He is one of those people. Not an Islamofascist, but an opponent of American values.

41

ejh 05.28.07 at 4:10 pm

the mathematical fact that if you sit a monkey at a typewriter for a million years

Er, that’s not a “mathematical fact”. The monkeys-and-typewriters hypothesis deals with concepts of infinity. A million years is not an infinite period.

42

engels 05.28.07 at 4:32 pm

Er, that’s not a “mathematical fact”

Oh dear: it was a joke. But if it really matters to you: nope, a large finite number will indeed do the job to a high degree of certainty.

43

ejh 05.28.07 at 4:39 pm

“High degree of certainty” and “fact” are not the same either…

44

abb1 05.28.07 at 4:50 pm

A monkey typing for an hour should be able to produce some poetry. Pretty much anything can be declared ‘poetry’.

45

engels 05.28.07 at 5:05 pm

Ejh – You really are taking all this Very, Very Seriously.

46

rodeo 05.28.07 at 5:12 pm

What’s interesting is that there are people who actually believe Cheney, including those sitting in the audiences.

What bin Laden says is not very different from Cheney – the only difference is that the former has the history on his side

47

engels 05.28.07 at 5:27 pm

(PS. I know they’re not the same, thanks. The “fact” is that the monkey will almost certainly do it. And if I had been trying to advance a thesis in mathematical epistemology, rather than making a childish joke at Dick Cheney’s expense, I wouldn’t have said “fact” but “mathematically proven”, or “easy to prove”, or something similar.)

48

Dan Simon 05.28.07 at 5:27 pm

SG:
Dan Simon, are you suggesting that liberals and those who generally disapprove of Cheney`s actions and ideas hold the view that the Constitution is an absolute moral code? And that Cheney has the opposite view? Because as far as I can recall, the Republicans returned to power in the whitehouse promising to reverse the effects of liberal “activist judges” who interpret the constitution, rather than reading it as the absolute standard that it is.

There’s a difference between “absolute” in the sense of “immutable”, and “absolute” in the sense of “universal”. Many American conservatives are so-called “originalists”, who believe that the Constitution’s meaning was fixed at the time of it’s founding. But that “original” meaning was often less original than today’s, international law and norms being a relatively recent invention. (For the record, I consider myself neither a conservative nor an originalist.)

MPowell:
Cheney makes me sick….But I’m tired of hearing apologists for these people… its been clear for a long time what this administration is about and its clear that their ideological kin are intellectually and morally bankrupt as well.

John Quiggin:
Terms like “Cheney (or Bush) derangement syndrome” are an interesting illustration of projection from the right.

Look, if the point of this blog is to be, to use David Kane’s phrase, “the Little Green Footballs of the academic left”, where leftist equivalents of the Lizardoid Minions can congregate to invent new ways of phrasing the statement, “I can’t believe what evil morons those people who disagree with us are!”, then so be it. But this used to be a place where intelligent discussion could be held on interesting topics on which reasonable people could differ. In an effort to rekindle that spirit, here’s a list of major Bush administration initiatives, rated as “objective failures”, “objective successes” or “partisan controversies”:

Objective successes:

– Afghanistan

Partisan controversies:

– Medicare prescription drug coverage
– “No Child Left Behind”
– Iraq

Objective failures:

– “Faith-based” initiative
– Social Security reform

Discuss….

49

Ben Alpers 05.28.07 at 5:49 pm

Dan,

I think calling Afghanistan an “objective success” is a real stretch. The primary goal of the invasion of Afghanistan was to capture bin Laden and put Al Qaeda out of business. That aspect of the mission failed. The secondary goal was to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban and presumably replace it with a stable “democratic” government. The invasion deposed the Taliban, but hardly got rid of it. And my sense is that the Afghani government governs Kabul on a good day, and the rest of the country not so much. Thus, I would hardly call the invasion of Afghanistan an “objective success,” though I would agree that however messed up it was (and is), it’s not quite as bad as Iraq.

I would also disagree with your description of the Medicare prescription drug coverage as merely a “partisan controversy.” Many fiscally conservative Republicans (especially in the House were there are a few left) only signed on to it on the basis of the Bush administration’s intentionally underestimating the cost of the program. Medicare Part D has received much criticism from both sides of the aisle.

Recent polls have also shown that many rank-and-file Republicans are growing weary of the war on Iraq. For example, last month, a Strategic Vision poll of likely GOP Iowa-caucus goers asked “Do you favor a withdrawal of all United States military from Iraq within the next six months?” 52% said yes; 39% said no. Iraq is no longer a partisan issue. The American people, regardless of party, want out. Unfortunately for us, the Congresspeople and Senators from both major parties want to continue the war. Though there’s plenty of partisan gamesmanship in DC about Iraq, the war is no longer, in the main, a partisan issue.

50

Ben Alpers 05.28.07 at 5:51 pm

51

ejh 05.28.07 at 6:10 pm

I think calling Afghanistan an “objective success” is a real stretch.

You’re not kidding. It’s a truly remarkable claim. I very much doubt that the civilians who are being repeatedly bombed in air raids would concur – although it is possible that their opinions are considered of very little value. As, indeed, their lives appear to be.

52

abb1 05.28.07 at 6:21 pm

The only objective of the Afghanistan adventure was to capture bin Laden and his comrades:

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it’s — John, it’s a — first let me reiterate, my focus is bringing al Qaeda to justice and saying to the host government, you had your chance to deliver. Actually, I will say it again — if you cough him up, and his people, today, that we’ll reconsider what we’re doing to your country. You still have a second chance. Bring him in. And bring his leaders and lieutenants and other thugs and criminals with him.

53

Dan Kervick 05.28.07 at 7:34 pm

It appears to me Cheney is being frustratringly allusive and non-committal in his speech. He is pointing in the direction of a debate that is surely much on the mind of every cadet in attendance. All of them have been at West Point since 2003, and through almost the entire duration of the Iraq War, and they have no doubt debated the issues related to the treatment of prisoners and torture many times among themselves, and in their classes on military ethics and law. Yet Cheney declines to endorse a clear position in this debate, allowing different listeners to draw different conclusions.

The paragraph that mentions the Geneva Conventions and the Constitution is preceded by this one:

The standards of this Academy only highlight the deepest and most fundamental difference between the United States and our sworn enemies. A month ago, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Pace, spoke to this class about each officer’s duty to follow a moral compass in all of his or her actions. In these four years you have learned the rules of warfare and professional military ethics. You’ve studied the tenets of morality. You’ve reflected on the seven Army values: of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. You have lived by a code of honor, and internalized that code as West Point men and women always do.

As Kieren says, there is no doubt that Cheney presents the rules, duties, standards and values as good things: they are supposed to be what distinguishes the honorable and civilized soldiers sitting before him from the contemptible and cowardly enemies of civilization comprising the enemy.

On the other hand, these rules and codes of military conduct seem to be addressed from an aloof, dispassionate distance. One could certainly make the case that Cheney is implicitly endorsing the the contractarian point that Dan Simon suggests, something like this: “The rules of warfare as we know them are conventions explicitly adopted by civilized nations, to govern the conduct of their wars with one another. But as enemies of civilization itself, our current foes stand outside of this contract and thus outside its protections.”

Another possibility is that Cheney’s attitude is closer to this: “It is your hard duty to uphold the standards of moral and professional conduct by which you are bound, and about which General Pace reminded you a month ago. However, you have my sympathies, because we all know you cannot expect that your enemy will uphold similar standards of honorable conduct.”

One thing that is clear though is that Cheney expresses no appreciation at all of the possibility that upholding these standards might be more than a sometimes irksome duty, but may actually help the country advance its interests and win its wars, by making it an object of moral admiration and emulation.

54

Anderson 05.28.07 at 7:51 pm

“Delicate sensibilities” is the kicker — I doubt the sincerity, or sanity, of anyone who argues that Cheney did *not* mean to deprecate the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution.

55

SG 05.28.07 at 10:56 pm

Ah yes, Dan Simon, Iraq the partisan controversy. 655,000 dead would probably want to argue it’s an objective failure, but they can’t. They’re dead.

56

james 05.28.07 at 11:04 pm

There is a position that the Geneva Conventions (as applied to the US who has not ratified the entirety of the Conventions) do not protect actors who fail to meet the minimum requirements for protection. More simply, fight honorably and be treated honorably, fight dishonorably and be treated dishonorably. Cheney seems to be refuting to this position.

57

james 05.28.07 at 11:07 pm

56 should read refuring not refuting.

58

blog 05.28.07 at 11:43 pm

Cheney is so completely compromised in this regard that it is sickening to hear him mouth platitudes about values, when his bestest friends in the whole world, the ones who grease his and his cronies palms, are the primary funders of those whose values he so condemns.

59

blog 05.28.07 at 11:48 pm

Not to mention that he is a liar(Atta), a war-profiteer(Halliburton fraud in the billions upon billions of dollars) and a coward(five deferments).

60

aaron 05.29.07 at 1:26 am

Bush has made his fair share of bad decisions, but off the top of my head I can name at least three situations that one could argue Bush handled correctly (or at least didn’t mess up completely):

North Korea: You can argue that Bush hasn’t done enough, but Bush managed to get all the regional powers together to put pressure on North Korea.

Darfur: Calling Darfur a “genocide” was a big step. Bush probably expected more support from the world on Darfur, and you can claim that he should have confronted other world powers more, but he did more than any other leader on the matter.

Spy Plane Crisis: Bush handled this relatively well. Some might disagree with the path he took, but few would argue that this was a disaster.

61

DW 05.29.07 at 2:31 am

What no one has mentioned is the enormous psychological victory that Cheney and Bush have handed to Bin Laden. Bin Laden & co took advantage of some weaknesses in American security, got lucky and managed to kill a few thousand people. Stalin would snicker in contempt at such a paltry total. Yet by insisting we need to disregard the Geneva conventions and other legal protections, and that we need to consider “enhanced interrogation methods” (torture) Cheney and Bush have inflated Bin Laden into the equivalent of Spectre or Lex Luthor. Think of what that must do for Bin laden’s reputation and recruiting – all these mighty Americans quaking in fear, pronouncing him the mightiest enemy ever – must be better than sex for him.

We should keep our traditional laws and rights not merely out of moral principle, but to demonstrate our confidence and our contempt for the enemy. One religious fanatic punk isn’t worth scrapping our society for.

62

Teddy 05.29.07 at 3:01 am

Teddy, you’re here not because you want to discuss Bush and Cheney’s policies, but because you are a masochist who likes to be insulted by strangers.

Walt, you are wrong again. I actually prefer to insult strangers, you moron!

63

Barry 05.29.07 at 1:36 pm

“There is a position that the Geneva Conventions (as applied to the US who has not ratified the entirety of the Conventions) do not protect actors who fail to meet the minimum requirements for protection. More simply, fight honorably and be treated honorably, fight dishonorably and be treated dishonorably. Cheney seems to be refuting to this position.”

Posted by james

That position is wrong; the Geneva Conventions apply to anybody in a conflict. Note that this is not ‘prisoner of war’ status. Most particularly, and most criminally, the GC basically says that one can’t just grab civilians at random, and torture/kill them at a whim. This is the power specifically claimed by the Bush/Cheney administration, and implemented across the world.

Note that the Geneva Conventions don’t mandate kid gloves; executing most guerrillas (after a trial) would be acceptable. Picking up and torturing people ‘because’, however does indeed violate the Geneva Conventions.

64

Grand Moff Texan 05.29.07 at 1:40 pm

you will now face enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for

Fortunately, this enemy has lost control of Congress and has been systematically alienating everyone outside its most radical base, so this enemy’s days are numbered.
.

65

Ragout 05.29.07 at 1:56 pm

Just because no one’s come right out and said it, let me point out the obvious interpretation of Cheney’s speech. By mocking the idea of applying the Constitution and Geneva Conventions to captured prisoners, he’s encouraging Army officers to commit war crimes by torturing them.

Perhaps this is too obvious to be worth mentioning?

66

croatoan 05.29.07 at 2:30 pm

Bush managed to get all the regional powers together to put pressure on North Korea.

After he let North Korea develop nuclear weapons. He may be doing a bang-up job of closing the barn doors, but the horses are already gone.

67

abb1 05.29.07 at 2:51 pm

I find it hard to believe that a captured killer will be “quick to demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States”.

I read the transcript of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad’s hearings and he sounded more like “you have your rules, I have mine”.

But of course it doesn’t hurt when your country’s military associate your domestic political opponents with “enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right”.

68

ejh 05.29.07 at 3:51 pm

Fortunately, this enemy has lost control of Congress

Not that you’d notice, mind.

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