One of the few things that unifies people from both parties in Washington D.C. today is a mutual hatred of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Maligned by the left for his eight-year tenure as the powerful second-in-command to George W. Bush, and by the right for his opposition to President Donald Trump’s policies, Cheney is possibly the least popular living American politician. This hatred is unreasonable.
Cheney was not nearly as bad as Americans choose to remember him and he should be celebrated for the positive contributions he made to the country while in office.
One of the most common criticisms of Cheney stems from his term as CEO of Halliburton, a major oil services company. A common accusation made against Cheney is of corruption relating to Halliburton’s oil contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These critiques consider only part of the truth. Former Halliburton subsidiary KBR was often employed for logistical matters during the Iraq War. The connection to Halliburton is often brought up to indict Cheney for supposed war profiteering, but this does not reflect KBR’s role in military projects throughout history.
Since World War II, KBR has been one of the largest contractors of the United States military. They were long established for their logistical prowess and were used again in Iraq. Cheney’s connection had nothing to do with Halliburton’s contracting in Iraq.
Another common criticism relates to Halliburton’s relationship to enemies of the U.S. While it is true that Halliburton supplied the Libyan and Iraqi regimes with equipment, these policies were in fact stopped when Cheney took over in 1995.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Cheney’s career was his support for the use of torture. While these methods are both immoral and ineffective, it is disingenuous to place the blame squarely upon Cheney.
The U.S. government requires dozens of officials to sign off on substantial operational decisions like the one made to implement enhanced interrogation. In fact, the enhanced interrogation program was mostly implemented by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in an effort to avoid the Central Intelligence Agency, whom he distrusted.
After the presentation of a convincing legal case for the program by Rumsfeld, Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Department of Justice legal counsel Jay Bybee signed off on its implementation. The legacy of the U.S.’s usage of torture belongs to the executive branch of 2002, and indeed to the entire revenge culture of this country in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Cheney’s time in power was not defined only by negatives. His heart was usually in the right place as far as policy decisions went.
In 2004, he was nearly dropped from Bush’s presidential ballot after coming out in favor of LGBTQ+ rights, something that even today’s Republican Party is dragging its feet on.
In recent years, he has established himself as a critic of the Trump administration’s foreign policy and treatment of immigration issues. Cheney’s brand of interventionism is seated firmly in the global liberal order he helped to establish after the Cold War, focusing on stopping oppression wherever it arises in the world.
Although the results of the Iraq War have ultimately been negative, this fact came from bad execution, not bad ideals. Saddam Hussein, a dictator who murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people during his bloody 24-year rule, was deposed by the war. If the U.S. decided to remain in the country after 2011, the Islamic State group—ISIS—would never have formed.
Unseating the Taliban in Afghanistan was a more successful accomplishment, resulting in a democratically elected government that has begun to rebuild the war-torn country. This path only began to unravel after the Obama administration cut troop levels in the country, resulting in the formation of a Taliban shadow government returning to parts of Afghanistan.
It’s fine to disagree with Cheney on ideological grounds, but the whole story must be considered before he is painted as the devil incarnate. He wasn’t as bad as many remember, and compared with today’s leadership, seems downright heavenly.