Saturday, March 16, 2013

The World According To Dick Cheney

Cheney is probably the most reviled political figure in recent history, at least by those on the left. There are legitimate issues about his role in the War on Terror and the wisdom of his advice. Most of the criticism though comes with the burden of conspiracy fantasies and name calling that simply makes the critics seem like petulant children. The meme of Dick Cheney as the Darth Vader behind the Emperor, might raise angry voices and dollars for the Democratic Party, but it does little to let us understand the reasoning, the means and the results of Cheney's world view. This documentary actually gives a pretty fair view of both points of view on Cheney. His critics will suggest that it is too lenient on him and that he should be dragged through the streets and hung like Mussolini. His supporters will probably complain that the editing and sequencing of music and interviews and pictures, are a bit selective in pushing the theme that he was a manipulator of information.

The best aspect of this work is that there is an extensive interview with the Vice President, where he explains in his own voice the decisions he made and the point of view that he supports. I suspect that many will be infuriated by his indifference to the criticism he has received. After all the sound and fury of their attacks, he seems completely unruffled by those voices. That is just the thing to stir a hornet's nest. What I found so disheartening is how different he comes across than the current Vice President. Anyone who disagrees with Cheney would still have a hard time arguing that he expresses himself so much more effectively than Joe Biden. Joe is a amiable buffoon in comparison to the reserved gravitas of Cheney. His confidence in what he believes comes across very effectively and when he is disappointed in the actions of Congress or President Bush, it comes through in a resigned smile and a more level tone. The deliberate way in which he expresses himself might be convincing to even hardened leftists if we were simply comparing styles.

Of course it is not about style but about policy that Cheney is most severely judged by. The second half of the documentary focuses on the controversies concerning the case for WMDs,   the prosecution of the war in Iraq, and the case against Scooter Libby. Cheney was a consequential player in the Bush administration, not simply a figure head to be rolled out for fund raising and funerals. The first hour of the film shows why Cheney had the influence that he did. From a very early age he was part of the highest echelons of government. he was an insider on National Security issues from his time in the White House as Chief of Staff to Gerald Ford, and Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He was not a neophyte but a politically savvy insider. I found his personal history interesting because in part I was not familiar with all of it. In twelve years he went from two time Yale reject to Chief of Staff to the President of the United States. He went from being a serial DUI offender, to experienced and intelligent adviser to  the head of state. The foamers out there will probably argue that his role in the Halliburton Company was not explored in any depth here, but it seems more likely that instead of him operating on behalf of that company, he largely functioned based on his long political career and that the economic exigencies of Iraq and Halliburton are coincidental.

It was very clear at the end of the film that Cheney was on the outside at the end of the Bush administration. His advice was largely ignored in the last two years in office and the ascendency of Condi Rice marked the decline of the Cheney  as  Bush's go to on security issues. The documentary does not try to answer whether this was a good or a bad thing but simply show that a shift in the administration had occurred. His impotence is shown as he recounts that there were no hands raised when Bush asked at a meeting of National Security advisers, who supported the Vice President' suggestion to attack the Syrian Nuclear Processing site. Cheney is respectful of the President as the film finishes but you can tell by his tone that he was disappointed in Bush, especially for his failure to pardon Scooter Libby.

Like all documentaries, "The World According to Dick Cheney" has an abundance of political agenda to push. Neither side will feel like it has been fair in the way the subject has been presented, and that may be the best proof that the film makers tried to be historians rather than advocates. Both critics and supporters of the Vice President are given voice in this piece, and both voices are modulated to a pretty reasonable tone. Regardless of whether you think Cheney is evil incarnate or an heroic figure of determined intelligence, I think you will find this film rewarding. It treats the subject seriously and tries to allow the viewer to sort out the information and arrive at an informed rather than impassioned conclusion.

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