Wilkerson on the Real “Vice” Cheney – (1/4)
Monday, December 31, 2018
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, coming to you from Washington. Richard Bruce (known as “Dick”) Cheney served as the 46th vice president of the United States, from 2001 to 2009 under George W. Bush. He had worked his way into the White House during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Cheney served the latter as White House chief staff. In 1978 Cheney was elected to the US House of Representatives from Wyoming. He was reelected five times, eventually becoming House minority whip. Cheney was selected to be the secretary of defense during the presidency of George H. W. Bush, holding the position of the majority of Bush’s term, during the time Cheney oversaw the 1991 Operation Desert Storm, among other actions. While out of office and during the Clinton presidency, Cheney was chairman and CEO of Halliburton, from 1995 to 2000. Now joining us to talk about Dick Cheney is someone who worked with Mr. Cheney, often crossed swords with him in the White House, is Lawrence Wilkerson. Larry Wilkerson teaches national security policy in Washington and was Colin Powell’s chief of staff. Thanks for joining us.
LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thank you.
JAY: So to be fair to Mr. Cheney, you have had some public debates and disputes with them, particularly since you and he left the White House. But talk about—give us your take on Mr. Cheney. You know, when we talk about people who have played an important role in history, they’re not there just as individuals; they represent an alignment of forces. Who’s Cheney, and who does he represent?
WILKERSON: Well, let me correct one thing. I didn’t cross swords with Dick Cheney. One—as a chief of staff, one doesn’t cross swords with the vice president. My boss crossed swords with Dick Cheney, and I picked up the blood afterwards. And one wonders sometimes where the blood was from, Dick Cheney or my boss. Cheney has a long history. Cheney goes all the way back, as you said, to an administration that was roiled by the aftermath of Watergate, Jerry Ford’s administration, often called a caretaker administration. Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld appear on the scene, again in tandem during the Ford administration, and they will actually engineer the demise of probably the most powerful man in the Nixon administration other than the president—Henry Kissinger. They will first strip him of his duality of roles as national security advisor and secretary of state, and then they will more or less push him out of government. They did this because he was looking for détente with the Soviet Union, which they thought was actually the wrong policy. They wanted to stand up to the Soviet Union with the full armored might of America, and fight a war if necessary. And so Kissinger was persona non grata and had to be gotten rid of. I had lunch with a gentleman before I stepped into my shoes at the State Department in 2000, as we were going through the deliberations on who would be president. I had lunch with an 80-year-old gentleman who was nonetheless extremely lucid and coherent from that time period. And this is what he said to me: beware of Donald Rumsfeld; he is an abject liar; lying is a way of life to him, and I watched him lie to Gerry Ford and get rid of people, even Cabinet officers, so he could then take their position; be very careful around Donald Rumsfeld; he is also as smart a bureaucratic operator as I’ve ever seen. This was the gist of the luncheon conversation. I then said, well, what about Cheney? Cheney and Rumsfeld are linked at the hip, he said. So that was—.
JAY: And who’s he?
WILKERSON: That was—I won’t tell you his name. That might get him in trouble. He’s still alive. He’s pushing 90 now. He worked for Reagan, and he was in a very important position for Reagan, but he also preceded Reagan in terms of being in the White House, and a very astute Republican who nonetheless had these things to say about Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. And from that moment on, I have to say I was on my guard. I would understand later, a year or a year and a half later, when Rich Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, would refer to the Cheney office as the Gestapo and refer to Cheney operatives like Scooter Libby and John Hannah and David Addington as the SS, as Nazis.
JAY: So who does Cheney represent? Cheney doesn’t become so powerful all on his own.
WILKERSON: No. Cheney represents, I think, first of all a strain in American political thought that goes way back, certainly goes back to World War II, and really takes on an enormous secure national security dimension after World War II because of the power America had gained in that war—she was the new Rome—and because of the adversary she confronted, ideological adversary of communism and a real adversary of the Soviet Union, a country of 11 time zones, and at the end of the war 90 to 100 divisions, which frightened the bejesus out of Europe in 1946 and ’47. So Cheney is of that ilk of American politician who says, I never met a defense program I didn’t like and vote for; I think that the most powerful thing America can do in the world is spread herself everywhere; and in order to do that we must have a second-to-none-military; I am a conservative par excellence; I’m not a neocon; I’m not a neocon; I’m what you would call a hypernationalist—America first, second, and third. And they are prepared, as Machiavelli wrote about in The Prince in his more dire notes, they’re prepared to do anything for that. It was no surprise to me when Ron Suskind, for example, talked about the 1 percent theory with Dick Cheney: if you keep 700 people in Guantanamo, 680 of which are innocent, and you’ve got 20 hardcore terrorists, you’re doing good; if you kill 1,000 people and one of them was going to do something really bad to you, you’re doing good. This is the kind of philosophy that I think Dick Cheney brought into the White House.
JAY: Now, when Cheney was secretary of defense, the research I’m reading, he actually cut the military budget a little bit post-Reagan.
WILKERSON: Well, that’s—you know, he got to the secretary of defense through some ironic dealings too. George H. W. Bush picked John Tower from Texas to be his secretary of defense. Unfortunately, John Tower had created some enemies in the Senate, and he was a womanizer and an alcoholic, I think—I think that’s fairly well corroborated now—and so he couldn’t get confirmed, which is kind of odd coming from the body that has to confirm you and you can’t get confirmed. So Dick Cheney goes boom into the void and becomes secretary of defense. From my perspective, working for Colin Powell, as chairman of the joints chiefs of staff directly under the secretary of defense, Cheney was a darn good secretary of defense, in fact probably one of the top three in the short history of that position since World War II. Cheney knew how to make a decision. He knew how to get things done. He knew exactly where to go to push the right buttons to get things done. He knew how to establish his control over the defense department. He fired the chief of staff at the Air Force, even over Colin Powell’s, essentially, advice not to. And it didn’t matter: chief of staff was expendable; the Air Force guy was expendable. Cheney was making a point. He was looking around for someone to fire so he could make a point. “I’m in charge, boys.” That was the point he wanted to make. So he didn’t care whether it was the chief of staff of the Air Force or whatever. That’s the way he operated. But he was very good. Here’s how I think Dick Cheney was able to do that at that time, though. As you pointed out, through the first Gulf War, through Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama, and through a number of other things, he had adult supervision. He had George Herbert Walker Bush, probably the most qualified president of the United States in terms of national security and foreign affairs since Dwight Eisenhower. He had Jim Baker, one of the most competent secretaries of state we’ve had in a long time, who put power back in the State Department, and a very close friend of George Herbert Walker Bush. He had Colin Powell beneath him, Colin Powell, the youngest chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the history of that position, first African-American, first non-academy grad. I mean, this was a real team around Dick Cheney, so he couldn’t go anywhere that someone wouldn’t check them if it weren’t the right place to go. Once he becomes vice president, he does not have adult supervision, certainly not from the president, who is probably the most unsteeped in these things—national security affairs, foreign policy, and so forth, even domestic policy—of any president we’ve had since World War II.
JAY: Talk about what doesn’t normally get talked about in public, this sort of power behind some of the different political figures, but in this case Cheney. Like, Cheney, when the Republicans are out of office, goes right into being CEO of Halliburton.
WILKERSON: He didn’t go right in.
JAY: Well, and you don’t become CEO of Halliburton unless you’ve already built all of these alliances. These alliances helped create you. So how does that all—what’s the dynamic?
WILKERSON: You’ve—historians are going to play with this and they’re going to get the story sometime. What Cheney goes into right after he walks out of the Pentagon—without even saying goodbye to Colin Powell. I mean, Powell talks about that in his book, My American Journey. Cheney was gone. Powell went up to say goodbye to him, and he was gone already. He didn’t even bother to say goodbye. That was Dick Cheney. Dick Cheney goes out, and with Jim Baker and others explores the possibility of him being president of the United States. He starts a tour, he starts a mini campaign, if you will, an exploratory process to see just what his chances might be, and as one person who was privy to that said to me, he gets shut down pretty quick. No one wanted to give him money, no one wanted to vote for him, no one wanted to form committees for him, and so forth. He just didn’t have the charisma; he didn’t have the kind of electricity that someone has to have, I think, to generate that kind of interest that quickly. So I think he made a decision: I’m not going to get elected, because I’ve just seen what the American people would do to me if I campaigned; I can’t get any money; so I’d better go do something else. So he goes off to Halliburton. And I have people who’ve told me—they’ve looked at his IRS records, I think, and they say he went from a personal wealth of somewhere in the neighborhood of $2-$3 million, which in this day and age was not a whole hell of a lot, to somewhere between $60 and $70 million working for Halliburton. And essentially what he was doing was using Halliburton. He didn’t know what Halliburton did in any real way. He went out and used his congressional contacts, which he’d gathered over those five terms in office, the contacts he’d made when he was secretary of defense, in domestic arena and in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, and he turned that Rolodex into profit for Halliburton. I mean, this was a man who could get in everywhere—Riyadh, Beijing, you name it, he could get in anywhere. And so he used that, as so many people do today who go through that revolving door, to generate profits for Halliburton, and they rewarded him accordingly. And then along comes a novice dude from Texas named George W. Bush, who had about as many qualifications to become president of the United States as Br’er Rabbit, and all of a sudden asked him to be head of his exploratory committee for vice president. At that moment I think Cheney knew he was going to be vice president, and ultimately he knew he was going to be president, at least for as long as he could achieve it. And to his credit, bureaucratic and otherwise, he achieved it for about five years. It wasn’t until February 2006, if memory serves, that Bush got rid of Rumsfeld, fired him, and—.
JAY: But what you’re alluding to is what people have called the Cheney presidency.
WILKERSON: Yes. I think the first term in particular, 2001-2005, January 2005, was a co-presidency, and many times Cheney was the weight on the balance.
JAY: In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about Dick Cheney and big oil. Please join us next segment of our interview with Larry Wilkerson.
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