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Cheney's vision: unending war

Michael Froomkin points to a disturbing speech delivered by Dick Cheney, in which the Vice President describes his vision of the future. Mostly, Cheney envisages "war" and "mobilization" and "dramatic overhauls" of our "national security apparatus."

All of this depresses Prof. Froomkin, who admits that "even the politics of this elude me." I won't pretend that I can guess any better than Froomkin why the Vice President sees fit to make these apocalyptic predictions. Nevertheless, I will hazard a guess, and it's a guess I feel fairly confident of.

Dick Cheney does not like democracy.

Dick Cheney's behavior repeatedly shows that he cares little for the idea that "the people" govern America; instead he favors a system wherein the people must take what their leaders choose to give them. Dick Cheney is for increasing the secrecy of government operations. He has made it more difficult for the people to watch over their government by delaying the declassification of presidential papers, by supporting the Justice Department's decision to fight Freedom of Information Act requests, and by arguing that the executive branch can detain U.S. citizens incommunicado solely on a declaration that they are "enemy combatants."

Dick Cheney has chosen to forget that most voters in the last Presidential election preferred someone other than Bush and himself. Although he could have tried to govern from the center, he used the Supreme Court's coronation of his ticket to run the country as if he had a madate from every citizen to radically restructure America's domestic and foreign policies in a way that most citizens find unsavory, and many find deeply repellent.

Dick Cheney, when he wanted to wage war against Iraq, decided to justify his actions not with earnest entreaties and reasonable arguments, but with lies and deceptions about a fictitious "imminent threat" from Iraq. Dick Cheney did not care about the process of taking the nation to war so long as he was able to do so by whatever means necessary.

Dick Cheney wants to call the shots, and does not want to be second-guessed or evaluated by the American people.

Which brings us to Dick Cheney's vision of the future: another long, open-ended "war" against a concept. The constant threat of terrorist attacks will justify the kind of radically anti-democratic policies which Cheney advocates: strengthening the Patriot Act, diverting tax dollars away from domestic programs and toward an imperial military, and shielding the government from public scrutiny by keeping more of its deliberations secret.

The genius of Cheney's vision is that no actual terrorist attacks have to occur to justify these changes. All that is necessary is that the public continue to be frightened by the possibility of such attacks. Dick Cheney chooses language that encourages people to be frightened:

"Scattered in more than 50 nations, the al Qaeda network and other terrorist groups constitute an enemy unlike any other that we have ever faced. . . And as our intelligence shows, the terrorists continue plotting to kill on an ever-larger scale, including here in the United States.

Instead of losing thousands of lives, we might lose tens or even hundreds of thousands of lives as the result of a single attack, or a set of coordinated attacks."

Dick Cheney is making use of the convenient fact that he does not have to tell anyone what "our intelligence shows;" the intelligence is top-secret. Nevertheless, he does not hesitate to refer to this intelligence in a way that's calculated to increase people's fear. Once people are scared, they're more likely to accept the assertion that "next time" we might not lose merely thousands of lives, but "tens or even hundreds of thousands of lives."

There's a word for Dick Cheney's style of communication: demagoguery.

And there's a word that describes Dick Cheney's style of leadership: authoritarian.

Authoritarian leaders are always more valued in times of crisis and war. This is why Dick Cheney wastes no opportunity to tell us how scary and warlike the future is likely to be. The politics behind his vision is, I would guess, one of the oldest and most reliable sources of political motivation known to humanity: a lusting after power.


But if Mr. Cheney believes that the scary Al Qaeda network is out to get us, why is it that we were attacking people who had nothing to do with the scary AQ network? Is he really anti-democratic, authoritarian, demagoguing and unprincipled?

Heidi: You find that conclusion difficult to accept why, exactly?