Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

History Repeating Itself

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

The Man Who Would Rather Not Be King

For the record, Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu (1585-1642), was consecrated as a bishop in 1607 and only later entered politics, becoming a Secretary of State in 1616. Richelieu rose fast, becoming a cardinal in 1622, and King Louis XIII's chief minister in 1624 - and remained in office until he died. Cardinal Richelieu was known by the title of the King's "Chief Minister" - he was sort of the world's first Prime Minister in the sense we now use the term.  And he saw his real job was rather basic - consolidate royal power and crush domestic factions. The French nobility was politically sidelined - no one got a say in anything - and France became a strong, centralized state.  His big foreign policy objective was to check the power of the Austro-Spanish Habsburg dynasty - the bad guys of the day.  And his time in power was marked by war, specifically the Thirty Years' War that pretty much involved all of Europe. War and maintaining power go and in hand.

Yeah, he was a patron of the arts and founded the Académie française and all that - and was a leading character in Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers - the heavy.  He was one piece of work.

Cardinal Richelieu's successes were extremely important to the next guy - Louis XIV. That king continued Richelieu's work of creating an absolute monarchy - further suppressing the formerly advisory aristocracy, and utterly destroying all remnants of Huguenot political power. And the Thirty Years' War helped establish French dominion in continental Europe - France finally became the most powerful nation in Europe during the late seventeenth century.

Richelieu's legacy is clear - his ideas of a muscular nation-state with a hyper-aggressive foreign policy, with war as its method of getting things changed, pretty much created the modern system of international politics.

Yeah - but so what?

Think about this.  He may have somehow returned.

Back in April 2004 that idea was floated in these pages in Richelieu in the White House - and the idea was that Vice president Cheney was doing a pretty good Cardinal Richelieu.

Sidney Blumenthal first floated the idea in Some More Questions For Condoleezza - The Guardian (UK), Thursday April 8, 2004 - where he contended that woman, at the time the national security adviser, had sabotaged "the road map to peace" that everyone was talking about back then -

    The story of the Middle East debacle, like that of the pre-9/11 terrorism fiasco, reveals the inner workings of Bush's White House: the president - aggressive and manipulated, ignorant of his own policies and their consequences, negligent; the secretary of state - proud, instinctively subordinate, constantly in retreat; the vice-president - as Richelieu, conniving, at the head of a neoconservative cabal, the power behind the throne; the national security adviser - seemingly open, even vulnerable, posing as the honest broker, but deceitful and derelict, an underhanded lightweight.

She may have been deceitful and derelict, but our Richelieu was conniving and the real power behind the throne.

Cheney as Richelieu? It was an amusing notion. 

Let's see. Richelieu ordering the siege and finally the occupation Les Baux en Provence, finally getting rid of the protestant rebels holed up there, way back when.  One can't have religious fanatics holding a key fortress and being a potential threat.  Richelieu was the power behind the throne making such decisions.  The king was useless.

This all sounds familiar - Cheney as Richelieu, the real power behind the throne making the real decisions.

And after all, the king really was useless - Louis XIII ascended to the throne of France in 1610, when he was eight and a half (after the assassination of his father). His own mother acted as regent until Louis came of age at thirteen - but then she clung to power unofficially until, in petulant frustration, Louis took the reins of government into his own hands at the age of fifteen. Unfortunately he was always in way over his head.  He needed his Richelieu. 

That's spooky. History has a way of repeating itself.

There is no record of course of Vice President Cheney ever visiting the Biltmore Castle - a reconstructed actual French thing in western North Carolina near Asheville that George Washington Vanderbilt had tossed together on a whim between 1888 and 1895 - and ripping the genuine red robe of Cardinal Richelieu from the wall display there and trying it on. That would be over the top. But you never know.

No, our Cardinal Richelieu has been too busy fixing things for the current boy king, as Dan Froomkin notes on Monday, February 26, in The Omnipresent Vice President  -

    President Bush has all but vanished from the national and international radar. But Vice President Cheney is everywhere and in the thick of it all.

    His credibility may be shot, he and his boss may be lame ducks, his signal achievement -- the war in Iraq -- may now be almost universally disparaged, his former chief of staff may soon be found guilty of multiple felonies, but it would appear that rumors of the vice president's demise as a political force have been greatly exaggerated.

    Consider the following:

  • Cheney's latest stops on a highly-publicized world tour have been in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he is said to be belatedly but forcefully pressing government leaders to be more aggressive in hunting down Al Qaeda operatives.
  • Since the British announcement of a troop withdrawal from Iraq last week, Cheney has been the administration's point man in a fervid but inevitably fruitless attempt to spin that as a sign of success.
  • Cheney has also become the foremost defender of the administration's Iraqi policy in general - though in doing so he has further fueled criticisms that his assertions are often unsupported and sometimes misleading.
  • In an interview on Friday, Cheney defended his assertion in 1991 that invading Iraq would result in a quagmire - reopening speculation about what Cheney and Bush knew before they went to war in Iraq, what they told the American people, and the gulf between the two.
  • Last week, Cheney suddenly spoke in highly critical terms about China, scolding it for behavior he called "not consistent" with its stated aim of a peaceful rise as a global power.
  • Even as I write, Cheney's former chief of staff is awaiting his fate at Washington's federal courthouse, and the verdict - whichever way it goes - will inevitably remind the public of Cheney's important and unseemly role in the leaking of a CIA operative's identity.
  • And then there's Iran. The reports that Bush is gearing up for strikes against that country may be ambiguous and speculative - but there appears to be little doubt that Cheney is the lead hawk pushing for a more aggressive posture.

Reports of the man's waning influence have been highly exaggerated, it seems.  He's doing all the work.

The New York Times covered that Pakistan business -

    Vice President Dick Cheney made an unannounced trip to Pakistan on Monday to deliver what officials in Washington described as an unusually tough message to Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, warning him that the newly Democratic Congress could cut aid to his country unless his forces become far more aggressive in hunting down operatives with Al Qaeda.

    Mr. Cheney's trip was shrouded in secrecy, and he was on the ground for only a few hours, sharing a private lunch with the Pakistani leader at his palace.

    … The decision to send Mr. Cheney secretly to Pakistan came after the White House concluded that General Musharraf is failing to live up to commitments he made to Mr. Bush during a visit here in September. General Musharraf insisted then, both in private and public, that a peace deal he struck with tribal leaders in one of the country's most lawless border areas would not diminish the hunt for the leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

    Now, American intelligence officials have concluded that the terrorist infrastructure is being rebuilt, and that while Pakistan has attacked some camps, its overall effort has flagged.

Someone needed to slap the guy around - and you don't send a boy to do a man's job.

The world tour - not just the Pakistan visit - was sending the man who runs things out there to do the slapping. Actually, he probably sent himself, knowing that these people knew to whom they really had to answer. The president, famous for doing four hours of workouts a day and getting to bed each night well before ten, was not the man.

Note that James Fallows in The Atlantic wonders whether this was wise -

    … there could be no less effective spokesman for American concern or for the interests of international order than Cheney. This is the man who has refused to answer to his own public for - well, for anything. For his insistence that everything has gone just as planned in Iraq. For his claim before the war that "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." For his claim after the war that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes." For his role, as described in prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's closing statement, as the central, unindicted malefactor in the Scooter Libby case. Even for shooting his friend in the face. Say what you will about Al Gore's wooden "no controlling legal authority" rationalization when he was asked to explain campaign donations he received. At least he acknowledged some duty to explain things to the American public.

    Dick Cheney, the man who is accountable for nothing, is the person who will tell other countries what is "consistent" with a peaceful image in the world?

    If you haven't spent a lot of time outside the United States recently, you may not have been made aware in a painful, humiliating way of how grievously America's moral standing has suffered because of Guantanamo, Abu Grahib, and the general carnage in Iraq. It's hard in general to get non-Americans to listen to lectures about seemly behavior these days. It's hardest of all when the lectures come from the man who, to the rest of the world, personifies America's squandering of the qualities that made it special.

Maybe so, but he speaks the language of raw power. You don't mess with him.

Christy Hardin Smith doesn't get it -

    Gee, you have to wonder, don't you, what the purpose of sending Dick Cheney out of the country for non-existent non-diplomacy is this week, don't you? I mean, other than the fact that his entire family is working on the government dole in one form or another, to keep an eye on all those interests that Dick Cheney finds useful to his agenda, what exactly is the man doing to bolster the US?

    Or perhaps, I keep asking myself, there was something going on over the last week that Dick Cheney was hoping to miss out on altogether. Hmmm… let's see. It's not Easter yet. Maybe he's got a hatred of Mardi Gras or something.  Hoping to miss the last festive celebrations of Black History Month at the Bush White House?  Not likely. 

    Oh, wait, let's look over here… Libby trial avoidance, anyone?  I am so ready for some accountability.  Any accountability.

That's a minor matter to him.  He's got bigger fish to fry - not just consolidating royal power and crushing domestic factions.  There's the empire to maintain - the current global parallel to the French domination of continental Europe long ago.  After all, Cardinal Richelieu, alarmed by Emperor Ferdinand II's influence, incited Sweden to attack Germany - so Pakistan can do its part these days.  We may never get a modern version of the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years' War, codifying who was top dog, but he may be working on one.

There have been some bumps along the way, as Froomkin notes, like the previous Friday's ABC News interview with Jonathan Karl, the first time any reporter ever asked Cheney to respond to his assertion in 1991 that a US invasion of Iraq would result in a quagmire.

He really had said that, and now he explains - "Well, I stand by what I said in '91. But look what's happened since then - we had 9/11."

So we invaded anyway - "We got hit in '93 at the World Trade Center, in '96 at Khobar Towers, or '98 in the East Africa embassy bombings, 2000, the USS Cole. And of course, finally 9/11 right here at home. They continued to hit us because we didn't respond effectively, because they believed we were weak."

The basic idea is clear - we may have a quagmire, as predicted, but we really had to prove we're not weak.  That's the whole point.

Froomkin thinks reporters should follow up on this issue - "because it is hugely important" -

    Is Cheney really acknowledging that he always knew that the occupation of Iraq would be a quagmire?

    In that case, wasn't it deceitful of him to repeatedly suggest that the invasion would be easy - including his famous prewar statement that "we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."

Well, duh.

There's more too -

    Cheney, for the record, was even more prescient in 1992, as Charles Pope wrote in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last year: "In an assessment that differs sharply with his view today, Dick Cheney more than a decade ago defended the decision to leave Saddam Hussein in power after the first Gulf War, telling a Seattle audience that capturing Saddam wouldn't be worth additional U.S. casualties or the risk of getting 'bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.'

    "'Once we had rounded him up and gotten rid of his government, then the question is what do you put in its place? You know, you then have accepted the responsibility for governing Iraq.'"

    And Cheney's suggestion that the war in Iraq had a lot to do with not looking weak reinforces the view that the administration's reasons for going to war in Iraq were not necessarily the same ones they advertised.

    White House Watch reader Jeffrey Cuneo e-mailed me on Friday: "This, in essence, was and still is his argument to invade Iraq - to show the world, Al-Qaeda and other sympathizers residing mostly in the Middle East that the US is not weak. The problem, however, is that he made up the rest - the WMD's, the nuclear threat, the yellow cake, etc.

    "If Cheney was honest, this was the argument he would have presented to the American people. But it was not. Thus, one must not forget that Cheney has been dishonest with the American people from the beginning. And this dishonesty was fundamentally about war and peace."

Get over it. He's doing what he must for the king.

Josh Marshall has some things to say about that -

    Okay, it seems we need more updates on why Dick Cheney is too dangerously incompetent to have in any position of authority, let alone the vice presidency. You'll see for instance that this morning Cheney showed up in Islamabad warning President Musharraf that al Qaeda is "regrouping" along the Pakistani border. Musharraf must be a little confused since, didn't we sign off on the armistice his government signed with the jihadists and their protectors just a few months ago?

    More to the point, last week Cheney claimed that Nancy Pelosi's position on Iraq would validate al Qaeda since al Qaeda's goal in Iraq is to show that our will can be broken. Reed Hundt chimed in and pointed out that it's far more likely that al Qaeda's goal is to bait us into ridiculous and unwinnable wars that will sap our military strength and financial power.

Heck, the same James Fallows quoted above reported on that last year -

    Documents captured after 9/11 showed that bin Laden hoped to provoke the United States into an invasion and occupation that would entail all the complications that have arisen in Iraq. His only error was to think that the place where Americans would get stuck would be Afghanistan.

    Bin Laden also hoped that such an entrapment would drain the United States financially. Many al-Qaeda documents refer to the importance of sapping American economic strength as a step toward reducing America's ability to throw its weight around in the Middle East.

Marshall -

    In other words, the actual intelligence we have about what al Qaeda wants - not the usual stuff Dick Cheney makes up or gets from Ahmed Chalabi or his butler or whoever - suggests we're playing right into their hands.

    How many American deaths is this goof responsible for? And who in this country has done more to advance the al Qaeda agenda and make the US more vulnerable to attack?

Perhaps Cheney just doesn't have the Richelieu thing down cold yet.  It must be a work in progress.  It's hard work being French.

This item posted in final version - March 4, 2007

[History Repeating Itself]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik