A Tale of Two Fathers
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
Sunday 12 October 2003
It's a classic story line in myth, literature and movies: a man coming into his own is torn between two older authority figures with competing world views; a good daddy and a bad daddy; one light and benevolent, one dark and vengeful.
When Bush the Elder put Bush the Younger in the care of Dick Cheney, he assumed that Mr. Cheney, who had been his defense secretary in Desert Storm, would play the wise, selfless counselor. Poppy thought his old friend Dick would make a great vice president, tutoring a young president green on foreign policy and safeguarding the first Bush administration's legacy of internationalism, coalition-building and realpolitik.
Instead, Good Daddy has had to watch in alarm as Bad Daddy usurped his son's presidency, heightened its conservatism and rushed America into war on the mistaken assumption that if we just acted like king of the world, everyone would bow down or run away.
Bush I officials are nonplused by the apocalyptic and rash Cheney of Bush II, a man who pushed pre-emption and peered over the shoulders of C.I.A. analysts, as compared with the skeptical and cautious Cheney of Bush I (who did not even press to march to Baghdad in the first gulf war, when Saddam Hussein actually possessed chemical weapons).
Some veterans of Bush I are so puzzled that they even look for a biological explanation, wondering if his two-year-old defibrillator might have made him more Hobbesian. Mr. Cheney spent so much time in his bunker reading gloomy books about smallpox, plague, fear and war as the natural state of mankind.
Last week, for the first time, W. who tried to pattern his presidency as the mirror opposite of his real father's curbed his surrogate father's hard-line crony Rummy (Mr. Cheney's mentor in the Ford years).
The incurious George, who has said he prefers to get his information from his inner circle rather than newspapers or TV, may finally be waking up to the downside of such self-censorship. You can end up hearing a lot of bogus, self-serving garbage from Ahmad Chalabi, via Mr. Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, instead of unpleasant reality.
I hope Mr. Bush at least read the news coverage of his vice president's Iraq speech on Friday, which was a masterpiece of demagogy.
On a day when many Republicans were finding a lesson of moderation in Arnold Schwarzenegger's victory in California, Mr. Cheney once more chose a right-wing setting, the Heritage Foundation, to regurgitate his rigid ideology. While Arnold was saying to voters, "You know best," Mr. Cheney was still propounding "Father Knows Best."
Even after the president was forced to admit after Mr. Cheney's last appearance on "Meet the Press" last month that the link the vice president drew between Saddam and 9/11 did not actually exist, that did not deter Mr. Cheney. He repeatedly tied Saddam and 9/11 and said, all evidence to the contrary, that the secular Iraqi leader "had an established relationship with Al Qaeda."
He characterized critics as na ve and dangerous when his own arguments were reductive and disingenuous. In justifying the war, he created a false choice between attacking Iraq and doing nothing.
The war in Iraq and its aftermath have proved that Mr. Cheney was wrong to think that a show of brute strength would deter our enemies from attacking us. There are improvements in Iraq, but it is still a morass, with 326 soldiers dead as of Friday. It's hard to create security when we are the cause of the insecurity.
Mr. Cheney lumped terrorists and tyrants into one interchangeable mass, saying that Mr. Bush could not tolerate a dictator who had access to weapons of mass destruction, was allied with terrorists and was a threat to his neighbors. Sounds a lot like the military dictator of Pakistan, not to mention the governments of China and North Korea.
To back up his claim that Saddam was an immediate threat, the vice president had to distort the findings of David Kay, the administration's own weapons hunter, and continue to overdramatize the danger of Saddam. "Saddam built, possessed and used weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Cheney said. Yes, but during the first Bush administration.
Perhaps the president now realizes the Cheney filter is dysfunctional. If Mr. Bush still needs a daddy to tell him what to do, he should call his own.
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