Are We Really All Cheneyites Now?

That President Obama has adopted some of the former vice president's controversial policies obscures just how many he has rejected

dick cheney.jpg

In Newsweek, Zev Chaffets turns his attention from Rush Limbaugh and James O'Keefe to another member of the "ends-justify-the-means" right, Dick Cheney. He sums up Cheney's about-to-be-released memoir as follows:

When he signed the deal in 2009, he was in bunker mentality--an embattled ideologue gearing up to defend a deeply unpopular terrorism policy under constant attack from the left. As his tome arrives in bookstores at summer's end, the battlefield has changed dramatically. His defense brief lands after the court of public opinion has ruled--in his favor. President Obama has largely adopted the Cheney playbook on combating terrorism, from keeping Gitmo open to trying suspected enemies of the state in military tribunals. Obama's drone war, which has quadrupled the number of attacks in the past two years, reflects Cheney's whatever-it-takes approach. The leftist wrath once trained on Bush's veep is aimed at the Democratic incumbent these days.

Even the Bush-Cheney pro-democracy doctrine, born as a substitute rationale for the Iraq War after the failure to find WMD, is bearing fruit, toppling dictators from Cairo to Tripoli. The dirty little secret of the last few years is that the man George Bush called "Big Time" won. We're all Cheneyites now.

This gets more wrong than right.

Although President Obama has betrayed his supporters by adopting some Bush/Cheney policies that he campaigned against, particularly the expansive view of executive power advanced by the former vice-president, Obama continues to regard the Iraq War as a foolish conflict to have entered; has rejected Cheney's counsel that torture should be used to interrogate captured terrorists; and ignores the approach Cheney would take in places like Iran and Syria.

Chaffets is also wrong to characterize events in Cairo or Tripoli as the Bush-Cheney pro-democracy doctrine "bearing fruit." Events in Egypt and Libya were very different from one another, but one thing they have in common is that Obama's policy towards them wasn't what Cheney would've done. Another is that neither country has yet developed into a stable democracy. A third is that Islamists are arguably more empowered in their post-revolution phases.

There is, finally, the silly hyperbole that "We are all Cheneyites," though Cheney remains one of the most polarizing figures in America. In closing, I present two people who are not Cheneyites:

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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