The way history looks back on certain events and certain people is a complicated combination of homage and criticism. Recently, the Republican view of Dick Cheney has been the same combination to it. Comments made by Rand Paul in 2009 have surfaced in which the Kentucky Republican senator said that the former vice-president was motivated to invade Iraq because of his ties to the oil giant Halliburton. With these comments and an on-going feud between Cheney and what he sees as Republican isolationists, Dick Cheney’s legacy as a party paragon may be coming into question by the people he was once a leader of.
Paul’s spinning of the story was that when Cheney was part of the government under George H. W. Bush, he argued against going to war in Iraq due to strategic concerns. With no exit strategy, a war in Iraq would be a disaster. Then, after working for years with Halliburton, going in to Iraq for oil started looking good and, when he was vice-president, Cheney had the power to effect that event. It is not an entirely new story and has been floated by conspiracy theorists and some on the left, but to have it be told by a prominent Republican politician is a different story. With Rand Paul telling the story, it calls into question the entire narrative of the Iraq War, which has been characterized as a primarily Republican mission.
The only problem with this story is that it is not entirely a Republican view. Rand Paul has been characterized as an outsider in the Republican party by some. Attacking one of the most respected leaders of that party is not a way to ingratiate oneself with the party majority. Still, some have considered it enough of an attack to require response, including Cheney himself.
In the keynote speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, Cheney criticized what he called “isolationism” in the Republican party, an obvious swipe at Rand Paul who has been notoriously critical of his party’s influence on invasion missions, such as the Iraq War. He said that people, including those in the Republican party, want the United States to turn its back on the Middle East, a view he does not believe is sustainable in the long run. He did say somewhat comfortingly to his audience that this view was not taking over, the implication being that the Jewish state of Israel will not be left alone without its powerful American ally.
Cheney’s interest in the Middle East and his support of Israel is by now legendary, but this is not the supremely dominant view of the Republican party anymore. People like Rand Paul have already proven that. Does this mean that the ideological hold represented by Dick Cheney is weakening over the Republican party? The ex-vice-president is no longer a direct actor on policy. He spends most of his time in the media nowadays supporting his role in the Iraq War and defending his stance on the CIA and the controversial torture known as waterboarding. The fact that his legacy is being called into question by some Republicans does not seem to be his primary focus.
It is interesting to note, however, that his defense is a blunt denial of any regret over any decision he made in the eight years he was vice-president. Most recently, he denied to the student newspaper at American University that waterboarding was torture in what is commonly known as no uncertain terms. The statement “it was not torture” was actually uttered by him on the record. The Independent senator from Maine, Angus King, unequivocally repudiated this statement on MSNBC, saying that Cheney would be welcome to go through the process to prove it was not torture.
This is to be expected from a senator on the left, but was is more interesting is the fact that King appealed to Republican Senator John McCain, claiming correctly that he called waterboarding torture. This points to another split within the Republican party on the pet issue of torture at a time when a report on the CIA’s torture practices is being released and examined. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi has stated that Dick Cheney “set the tone” for the CIA during his time in office and it is on his shoulders that some of the responsibility for the claims of torture rests. Now with Rand Paul jumping on the anti-Cheney bandwagon, a shift can be seen in how Cheney is viewed at large.
Cheney himself is being called into question with this new report on the CIA. Some have called him a “war criminal” because of his involvement while he was vice-president. The shocking finds of this report seem at first glance to provide a boost for such claims. Cheney, however, has tried to sway the negativity of the narrative by remaining openly and bluntly proud of his record. He has claimed repeatedly that he would do everything the same again and that he has no regrets. Nancy Pelosi rightly commented that he seemed proud of his involvement in events that are now being labeled as heinous. How history will view Cheney is a matter of time and who is writing the narrative, but despite backlash and protests, in the present, Dick Cheney remains one of the foremost Republicans of the day.
Still, there are cracks in the armor that is Cheney’s status as a Republican paragon. Rand Paul in 2009 was a beginning. John McCain’s distance from the former vice-president’s waterboarding issue is another sign of a fissure that is widening within the party. The mainstream Republican party could not support Cheney’s ideology then and with the way things are going now, it may not be able to support it any farther into the future. Despite Dick Cheney’s denial that views contrary to his are taking over, the impression remains for some that his legacy has been called into question by his fellow Republicans and that such criticisms are not going away any time soon.
Opinion By Lydia Webb