Bill Long 10/30/06
Torture on the Mind; the 10/24 Interview with Scott Hennen
I remember the days, about 20-25 years ago, when Dick Cheney was not considered a bad guy by almost anyone. He was married to Lynne, who at that time was Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the two of them together cut a rather impressive figure in the Washington establishment. The combination of the family's apparent commitment to liberal learning as well as its seemingly moderate politics suggested that an attractive breed of Republican was here--a breed that should have struck fear into Democrats' hearts. But times change and people change. Whether the latter happens because circumstances intervene to push us to new conclusions or whether we end up adopting positions which really were the inclinations of our hearts from the beginning is certainly a knotty philosophical problem. But what we can say is that in the case of Dick Cheney, as with others (such as Colin Powell), the post-9/11 world has brought out the worst in them. I have talked about Colin Powell elsewhere; here I will deal with Mr. Cheney.
The Issue of Waterboarding
The particular issue which has gotten the Vice-President into hot water, so to speak, are some comments he made in an October 24 interview to conservative North Dakota radio commentatory Scott Hennen. The full text of the interview is here. The question that got the discussion rolling was this one:
"As I reflect on our previous conversations, much of the focus has been on the enemies we face in this war on terror. And in the five years since 9/11, I'd like you to reflect for a moment and rate the performance of the administration."
It was a decent-enough question and one which the Vice President then answered in quite some detaiil. His major point was the way that the present Administration's vigilance on the terror front had nixed other possible attacks against the United States since 9/11. You can tell, however, how much mental space this issue has occupied in Cheney's life for the past five years when you understand his following statement:
"Those of us who bear some responsibility for the security of the nation, on the other hand, look at it and say, next time, they could, in fact, have far deadlier weapons that they did last time, that the ultimate threat is a group of terrorists in one of our cities with a nuclear weapon, and that would cause more casualties that we lost in all the wars we've fought in the 230-year history of the Republic. So it is a huge problem, and periodically, I think people are reminded of it."
Actually, I not only can "hear" the VP as he says this, but it makes me sympathize with him in his job. After all, we haven't really faced the kind of threat that 9/11-type attacks have forced us to face. So, we are in comparatively uncharted territories. The one thing that I have learned over the years is that if you are doing something completely new you make tons of mistakes. But we are in such a partisan political climate, where distrust reigns, that neither side is willing to 'fess up to mistakes they make. Thus, we drive ourselves deeper into our own brand of isolation and paranoia, and we dig in defensively and stop our ears to all criticism. This, for example, was George Bush's tactic in the 2004 Presidential elections. No mistakes had been made in Iraq, he proudly and doggedly told us.
But then things changed in the interview. I find it interestingly ironic that the word Cheney then used to describe our success in forestalling another terroristi attack was a nautical one: swimmingly. "But as long as things are going along swimmingly..." Then, Hennen used an interview technique which Chris Wallace tried to use against former President Clinton a month ago and miserably failed at it. However, Hennen would succeed beyond his wildest expectations. Perhaps he "succeeded" against Cheney because his conservative credentials "disarmed" even Cheney. But here is what happened.
Hennen said that he had "heard from a lot of listeners," (i.e., 'THEY want to know and I am only reporting what they want...'), and they wanted to know some things. Some wanted to know if we will "complete the job" by an even bigger "shock and awe" in the future. Some wanted to know about terrorist interrogation. And then he set up the VP with an innocent-sounding question which, I am convinced, put the VP at such ease that he actually told the truth. Here was Hennen's question/s.
"And terrorist interrogations and that debate is another example. And I've had people call and say, please, let the VP know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we're all for it, if it saves American lives. Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?"
Freezing the Action Right Here
Let's pause for a moment to capture the "spirit" of the interview right at this moment. Cheney has given a rather expansive answer to Hennen's first question--an answer that not only gives us some sympathy/support for the VP but suggests that he is doing a good job. Then, while Cheney is basking in this, Hennen slips in the "people want to know" question. He deliberately (in my judgment) gives a perspective that allows Cheney to look like a moderate in response (i.e., by supposedly referring to a listener that wants to use more shock and awe). Cheney must have been thinking that he had hit every pitch out of the park; indeed, that the entire interview was going "swimmingly." Then, Hennen just has to ask the silly question--the question about a "dunking" in the water. 'It really is so silly, isn't it, for anyone to object to this little dunking episode, a kind of swim in the bath, when we are facing the monumental threat of terrorism, isn't it?'
I really don't know Hennen and what he was "up to" though I have a theory--laid out in the next essay. But if he wanted to "tempt" the VP to a fall, he did it marvelously. Now, all Dick has to do is to fall into the trap. The next essay shows how he did so.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long