George W. Bush always liked to say that he would let history judge his presidency. He didn’t mention, however, that history would be re-written by his vice president, Dick Cheney. Cheney has promised that “heads will explode” in Washington as a result of his explosive new memoir, “In My Time,” and early returns suggest that he may be right. Early leaks from Cheney’s memoir — officially released today — include several anecdotes that range from surprising to almost-certainly inaccurate.
-According to the New York Times, Cheney was surprised and disappointed by President Gerald Ford’s 1974 decision to grant his disgraced predecessor Richard Nixon a “full, free, and absolute pardon” for his crimes. Cheney’s views on presidential pardons had clearly evolved by the end of Bush’s second term, when he publicly slammed the President’s refusal to pardon his friend and former Chief of Staff Scooter Libby.
-Cheney’s book criticizes the nation for failing to live within its means, while failing to point out that the Bush Administration ran up record deficits during its two terms. While in office Cheney tried to argue that “deficits don’t matter;” now that a Democrat is in office, however, Cheney has walked back those comments, writing that “of course deficits matter,” but they must be seen “in context.” How he explains the context that led him to support two wars, huge tax cuts, and a massive Medicare expansion remains to be seen.
-Cheney writes that the day that he shot Harry Whittington in a hunting accident was “one of the saddest of [his] life,” and that he was “deeply sorry” for shooting Whittington in the face. This doesn’t explain why Whittington publicly apologized to Cheney for the incident, instead of the other way around. Nor does it clarify why the incident wasn’t reported for 18 hours, why the White House initially claimed (falsely) that the two acquaintances were old hunting pals, or why the White House initially blamed Whittington for the accident.
-Cheney vehemently opposed the idea of President Bush apologizing for falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein had sought large quantities of uranium from Africa. Furthermore, he told Today‘s Matt Lauer that he thinks the Iraq war “was sound policy that dealt with a very serious problem and eliminated Saddam Hussein from the kind of problem he presented before…[a]t the time, to go after Saddam Hussein and take him down, we eliminated a major source of proliferation.” Considering that absolutely no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, one has to wonder what Cheney thinks we stopped Saddam Hussein from proliferating.
-Cheney is similarly unapologetic about “enhanced interrogation tactics” such as waterboarding. He acknowledged that he would object to the use of waterboarding on an American citizen, but when asked if America’s use of the technique was a double standard Cheney replied “these are not American citizens.” Cheney should look up the definition of the term “double standard.”
-“In My Time” relates one particular anecdote that clearly rewrites history. Cheney recounts President Bush’s renewal of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which then-Attorney General John Ashcroft had decided was illegal. Coincidentally, Ashcroft was seriously ill and in the hospital while the debate unfolded.
“Cheney’s version of this story adds a stunning twist: Ashcroft told Bush on the phone, before Gonzales and Card arrived, “that he would sign the documents” to certify the surveillance as lawful. But the two men found [Deputy Attorney General James] Comey there when they arrived, Cheney writes, and “it became immediately clear that Ashcroft had changed his mind.” Only then, Cheney suggests, did the White House aides learn that Ashcroft “had delegated all the responsibilities of his office to the deputy attorney general.”
This seems highly unlikely. As Barton Gellman points out:
“Even if Ashcroft picked up the phone, there are many reasons to doubt Cheney’s version of the call. It would mean that Bush discussed a codeword-classified intelligence program on an open phone line; that Ashcroft took exactly the opposite position that he took before and after the call; and that the attorney general was even coherent. Those around Ashcroft that evening say he was heavily doped on morphine, slipping in and out of awareness.”
The implausibility of this story casts doubt on the veracity of much else that Cheney asserts in his book. Based on the early leaks, “In My Time” appears to be less a personal memoir than a thinly veiled attempt to justify the Bush Administration’s troubled eight years in office and their aftermath. Based on the former vice president’s dismal approval ratings, however, it seems doubtful that Cheney’s version of history will gain much traction.
At least one person is likely to be happy about the book, however. President Barack Obama must be thrilled that, as the nation looks ahead to the 2012 election, Cheney has gone out of his way to remind us what Republicans did the last time they were in the White House.