Can’t Keep a Bad Man Down

With the hunger for war again rising in Republican political circles, I guess this report from the Wall Street Journal‘s Patrick O’Connor was inevitable. Yes, Dick Cheney is back:

The former vice president is looking to make a splash on the national stage with a new book to be published in September and a group he and his daughter Liz launched to advance their views.

The effort is sure to play directly into the 2016 presidential debate, in which national-security policy is already a point of difference between the Republican candidates, many of whom are looking to turn the page on George W. Bush’s administration.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds, Mr. Cheney previewed some of his likely positions:

* He characterized one leading GOP contender, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, as an isolationist. “He knows I think of him as an isolationist, and it offends him deeply,” Mr. Cheney said. “But it’s true.”

* An early critic of nuclear talks with Iran, he thinks the U.S. should be prepared to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. He also favors additional arms shipments to U.S. allies in Eastern Europe and further military exercises in Poland to send a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

* And he scoffed at the debate that tripped up Mr. Bush’s brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, over whether or not he would have invaded Iraq with the virtue of hindsight. (Mr. Bush, after some back and forth, eventually said he wouldn’t). Mr. Cheney instead said Republicans should scrutinize the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq under President Barack Obama.

Since most of the Republican candidates for president are already embracing most of these positions, why, one might ask, do they need Dick Cheney, one of the most unpopular public figures of the twenty-first century, to articulate them? Well, there’s one small but influential subsection of public opinion where Cheney has never lost his cache:

Mr. Cheney already exerts quiet influence over his party, making semiregular trips to the Capitol to address House Republicans and advising some GOP White House hopefuls. He wouldn’t discuss those conversations. Two of his top foreign-policy aides have signed on with Jeb Bush. And he is headlining donor events all over the country for the Republican National Committee.

“The party is very fortunate to have an active and engaged Dick Cheney for this upcoming political cycle,” said Reince Priebus, the party’s chairman, noting the number of candidates and elected officials who turn to the former vice president for advice. “He’s a top fundraising draw, in high demand.”

I suppose this is an example of what the church calls the “glamor of evil” in the Easter baptismal renewal vows.

At times, Mr. Cheney seems to relish his villainous public persona. Outside the rodeo arena, he took a moment to show off the latest feature on his truck, a Darth Vader trailer-hitch cover, a nod to his alter-ego from the Bush days. “I’m rather proud of that,” he said, flashing his signature uneven grin.

It’s reasonably clear Cheney wants to encourage Republicans to complete their devolution on the Middle East and come to defend Bush administration policies–including torture, black sites, the nightmare of the Iraq occupation and the original decision to invade that country–in their entirety. I guess Lindsey Graham’s presidential candidacy isn’t viable enough to ensure that happens.

Speaking of which, maybe the Republican presidential field could consummate its isolation of Rand Paul and its determination to make 2016 a “national security election” via an agreement that whoever wins the nomination would put Cheney on the ticket, to seek a return to his old job of running U.S. foreign policy from the shadows. I’m sure a lot of Democrats would love to promote the idea.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.