November 13, 2005
There was a portrait of Winston Churchill directly behind the desk of I.
Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of
staff. As Scooter was indicted on five counts of perjury and obstruction
of justice in the CIA identity leak case, he is no longer there in the
Old Executive Office Building right next to the White House. But two
months after Sept. 11, Libby pointed to the portrait and told Newsweek
editor Evan Thomas that Churchill was his hero. According to Thomas'
account of their conversation, Libby said, "He felt an enormous
spiritual kinship with the small band of men around Churchill who warned
in the 1930s about the gathering Nazi storm — who were ignored and
shunned – but then vindicated at England's finest hour. Libby compared
Cheney to Churchill."
To paraphrase Lloyd Benson when he put down Dan Quayle for comparing
himself to John Kennedy in the vice presidential debate of 1988, I know
quite a bit about Winston Churchill – and Dick Cheney is no Churchill.
As a young man, Churchill was so eager to see military service that he
traveled to India by train and boat for five weeks, at his own expense,
to get to the fighting front. It was in his account of the battle he
joined near the Afghan border that Churchill coined the phrase quoted by
nearly every young war reporter since (including this one), "Nothing in
life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result."
After he was dismissed from his cabinet post in 1915 as a result of the
fiasco in the Dardanelles, Churchill, at 40, asked for a military
commission and went to Belgium where he served six months in the
trenches with front line British troops.
When the United States was at war in Vietnam in the early '60s, Cheney
received four student draft deferments. When they ran out, he got
married. When the war heated up in 1965, the Selective Service
Commission decided childless, married men could be drafted. Cheney's
wife, Lynne, became pregnant. While she was still in her first
trimester, Cheney applied for and received a new exemption for being
married with a family. The child was born exactly nine months and two
days after the rules had been changed to include married men without
In 1989 when Cheney appeared at Senate hearings to be confirmed as
President George Bush the elder's secretary of defense, he was asked why
he had failed to serve in the military. Cheney answered that he "would
have obviously been happy to serve had I been called." While apparently
no one challenged him, seeking five deferments doesn't exactly imply
being "happy" to serve. Later that year, with considerably more
frankness, Cheney told The Washington Post, "I had other priorities in
the '60s than military service."
And what priorities! While a political science graduate student in 1968,
Cheney won a congressional scholarship with Bill Steiger, a Republican
According to The New Yorker magazine, "One of Cheney's first assignments
was to visit college campuses where anti-war protestors were disrupting
classes." He was, in effect, spying for his congressman and a few others
who were trying to make a case for cutting off federal funding to
campuses where violent protests had broken out.
In the 1980s, Cheney was himself elected to the House where his record
included the following votes:
# Against abortion rights.
# Against the Equal Rights Amendment.
# Against the funding of Head Start and the creation of the Department
# Against the imposition of sanctions against the apartheid regime in
# Against the ban on armor piercing bullets, the so-called cop killers.
# Against the ban on plastic guns that could escape detection in airport
security systems (one of only four members — against a ban even the
National Rifle Association did not oppose.)
# Against refunding of the Clean Water Act.
# Against legislation to require oil and chemical industries to make
public records of emissions known to have caused cancer, birth defects
and other chronic diseases.
As defense secretary, Cheney's most significant achievement was to lay
the groundwork for the "privatization" of the military — what could also
be called the outsourcing of planning and providing support for military
operations abroad, including food preparation, laundry service and
latrine duty. The company that was paid nearly $10 million to do a study
on the feasibility of such operations, and then given a five-year
contract to perform the role it was paid to define, was Halliburton.
A great deal has been written about Halliburton — the world's largest
oil and gas services company and now the biggest private contractor for
American forces — of which Cheney was CEO before becoming vice
president. The definitive article, by Jane Mayer, appeared in the New
Yorker Magazine a year and a half ago. These are just a few of the
# Cheney earned 44 million dollars during his tenure at Halliburton.
# Although he claims to have "severed all my ties with the company," he
gets deferred compensation of about $150,000 per year and has stock
options worth 18 million dollars.
# Halliburton's 2002 annual report describes counter-terrorism as
offering "growth opportunities."
# In 2003 the company got a non-competitive contract for up to $7
billion to rebuild Iraq's oil operation in a decision The New York Times
reported, was authorized at the "highest levels of the administration."
# Private companies are insulated from direct congressional oversight
and government ethics rules.
# It's too easy to go to war when you can hire people to do it. Without
private contractors there would be nearly three times as many soldiers
in Iraq — which would make it far harder to obtain and keep
congressional and public support.
I am not suggesting that Cheney strongly advocated the invasion of Iraq
simply to line the pockets of his many business friends, although that
has certainly been a consequence of the war. But it can be argued that
Cheney was motivated by more than terrorism and weapons of mass
destruction. Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill has charged
that Cheney agitated for intervention in Iraq well before the terrorist
attacks on Sept. 11. It is also a fact that before the invasion,
neo-conservatives with Cheney ties were pushing the notion that control
of Iraqi oil would make it possible to marginalize OPEC. At the time of
the invasion, Cheney himself was quoted as saying that Iraq would be
producing 3 million barrels of oil a day by the end of that year. (It's
still under 2 million — the pre-war level).
Could it be, that in Cheney's secret meetings with energy industry
executives to formulate a new Bush Energy Policy (well before Sept. 11),
taking over Iraq's oil was considered a strategic option? We don't know.
But we do know the White House went to the Supreme Court to keep those
And to top it off, Cheney has become, as The Washington Post said an
editorial, "Mr. Torture." Ninety Senators, led by Republican John
McCain, who knows a lot about what it's like to be tortured as a
prisoner of war, want this country to accept international norms in its
treatment of prisoners. But Cheney is fighting tenaciously to exempt the
CIA from such rules. As he put it in 2001 on "Meet The Press," the
government might have to go to "the dark side" adding, "It's going to be
vital for us to use any means at our disposal."
Cheney's record may give you the chills. But it will never be confused
with being Churchillian.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for
ABC News now living in Charlotte.
© 2005 Rutland Herald