The chattering class has spent the past week dissecting the new memoir from much-reviled former VP Dick Cheney. The reaction has been mostly negative and will do little to revive his tarnished reputation. The Washington Post criticizes Cheney for failing to learn from the Iraq experience:
Yet in his new memoir, “In My Time,” Cheney shows he has not fully absorbed that lesson when he writes about the administration’s response to the 2007 discovery of a nuclear reactor in Syria that the North Koreans had helped build.In Cheney’s telling, the evidence showed “a clandestine nuclear reactor, built by two terrorist-sponsoring states.” Given the potential threat, he argued privately to Bush, and later to top national security officials, that the United States should destroy the reactor.In a National Security Council session that June, he writes, “I again made the case for U.S. military action against the reactor. Not only would it make the region and the world safer, but it would also demonstrate our seriousness with respect to non-proliferation. It would enhance our credibility in that part of the world . . . . But I was the lone voice. After I finished, the president asked, ‘Does anyone here agree with the vice president?’ Not a single hand went up around the room. I had done all I could, and I’m not sure the president’s mind would have been changed if the others had agreed with me.”He notes with some relish that two months later the Israelis took unilateral action and destroyed the reactor. The clear implication is that Bush and the others had lost their nerve, that they lacked the necessary spine to act as he had recommended.
The vice president views America’s reluctance to destroy the reactor as a sign of weakness. Yet power is about more than the ability to impose your will overseas — it is about getting the results you need at the lowest possible cost. The reactor is gone, but the US did not bear the risks and costs of its removal.Foreign policy sometimes demands a little finesse; the rapier is sometimes a more useful weapon than the sledgehammer.Foreign policy is more like an organ than a trumpet; there are many keyboards, two sets of pedals and a very wide range of stops that can produce sounds ranging from a trumpet fanfare to a quiet, reedy flute. The besetting sin of the Bush administration was its lack of familiarity with the full range of possibilities. It was like a carpenter who only seemed to know how to use one or two of the many tools in the toolbox. The Vice President’s memoirs help us understand why that was so.