It was no cakewalk for Vice President Mike Pence. He had showed up in Sea Island, Ga., reckoning that he would schmooze with the wealthy donors to the American Enterprise Institute and answer some prearranged questions from Dick Cheney aka Vice. No dice. Cheney, the wily veteran, took a look at the parvenu occupying his old office and decided to go off script.
Where were all the ‘softball’ topics, Pence remarked. Cheney was having none of it. There wasn’t much gratitude for the administration that had finally gotten around to pardoning his former aide I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby. Instead, Cheney breathed fire.
For a start, Cheney complained, ‘we’re getting into a situation when our friends and allies around the world that we depend upon are going to lack confidence in us.’ Withdrawing troops from Syria was anything but a neat idea. NATO allies should be handled with care. And so on.
Then came the unkindest cut of all. At bottom, Donald Trump, he suggested, was no different than the loathed Barack Obama. ‘I worry,’ Cheney said, ‘that the bottom line of that kind of an approach is that we have an administration that looks a lot more like Barack Obama than Ronald Reagan.’
Ah, the Gipper. Once the lodestar of the Republican party, he has become almost an afterthought for the votaries of Donald Trump, the sun around which the members of the GOP, like it or not, must orbit, or face banishment into the frozen recesses of the Republican universe. Pence made it clear that he’s clinging to Trump as firmly as his master hugged the American flag at CPAC a weekend ago.
Whether being like Barack Obama is really something that Trump is doing is more than questionable. Obama never dissed America’s allies or thought he should fall in love with Kim Jong-un. If anything, Trump has broken new ground in pursuing an avant-garde foreign policy, one that has centrists in both the GOP and Democratic party rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Obama got into hot water for performing a little bow to the Saudis; Trump extols them as his new best friends.
There’s also something more than a little peculiar about Cheney, the cheerleader of the Iraq War, rightly called a disaster by Trump during the Republican primary in South Carolina in 2016, defending the honor of the intelligence agencies. It was Cheney, after all, who sought to muscle over the CIA in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, claiming that evidence of ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, not to mention Iraqi WMD, could be found if only the CIA and other intelligence agencies sought to find it. Over at the Pentagon spider-web charts of the links between various terrorists and Iraq filled the wall of an entire pseudo-intelligence unit that Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld employed to stovepipe information about Saddam’s maleficent activities to top officials. Cheney viewed the intelligence agencies with deep suspicion. They were to be outmaneuvered. By the time Bush started to cotton on to Cheney’s machinations in 2006, it was too late.
In querying Pence, however, Cheney didn’t sound as kooky as he used to during the Bush administration. He pointed out that when it comes to NATO, ‘it’s a lot more than just the checkbook.’ Jeepers creepers. Maybe it’s a sign of just how wacky our times have become under Trump that he makes Cheney sound normal.