If the Bush administration were a football team led by a candid NFL coach of the Bill Belichick or Rex Ryan variety, its postgame press conference would’ve started something like this: “Well, there’s not much to say. You saw what happened out there. We couldn’t get the job done. We got outplayed, outcoached, made bad decisions, and had terrible mental mistakes. We couldn’t do anything. We just didn’t play well in any facet of the game.”
But this is politics and not the NFL. Bullshitting — not actual merit — reigns supreme. That’s why right now we have a guy like Dick Cheney — who in any sane world would have no credibility on anything related to governance — is making the rounds offering policy advice and denouncing President Obama’s “weak” foreign policy. Yet, as dangerous as he thinks Obama’s rejection of the Bush doctrine is, (i.e., bomb first and ask questions later), Cheney is even more disturbed by the possibility of a Rand Paul presidency. That’s why he and daughter Liz formed the Alliance for a Stronger America — not to stop Obama, but to stop Rand Paul.
In an interview with The Daily Caller, Cheney acknowledged the nascent libertarian movement within the Republican Party that for the first time in decades, has made restraint in international affairs part of the GOP’s conversation about foreign policy. Asked about Rand Paul’s views, Cheney let loose:
“I worry that there is a growing isolationist strain in my own party. The view that if we just turn our backs on that part of the world, bring all the boys home, let them stew in their own juices over there, everything will be fine. But any student of history has to remember not only what happened to isolationism as a theory in the 1930s, prior to the time we got into World War II, it clearly didn’t work then. And now, in the aftermath of 9/11, it’s especially dangerous.”
Cheney’s mischaracterization of Paul’s position as “isolationism” betrays a perverse worldview where if you don’t believe the U.S. should spend insane amounts of money on “defense” and military bases and waging occasional wars of choice, then you’re a 1930s style isolationist content to let Hitler run roughshod over whole continents. For Cheney, any foreign policy more reserved than his is “isolationist.”
But there’s also something deeper going on here. While the rest of the country looks at Cheney and sees a man who was so wrong about so much, Cheney thinks he’s fighting for his legacy. And in a way he is. After all, it was his administration that authored the biggest foreign policy disaster since the Vietnam war while being totally indifferent to the huge budget deficits it was racking up along the way. When Rand Paul’s father, Ron, ran for president in 2008 and 2012, he was providing a “true” conservative remedy within a party that had become an ideological laughingstock unable to lay any claims to being the party of small government.
That “isolationist strain” Cheney lamented was revived in the GOP by Ron Paul. Against the backdrop of two wars, foreign policy was an important plank in the Paul platform, and it still is now but in the person of his son, who’s currently strolling through the path his father cut over a four year span. It’s not a clear path to the Republican nomination in 2016, but it’s a lot smoother than it would have been eight or nine years ago.
Cheney knows all of this. He knows that the decision to go into Iraq helped give rise to the Pauls, who have long believed — like most Americans, who are similarly “isolationist” — that the U.S. shouldn’t attempt to police the world or try to shape it in its own image. This view is an outright rejection of neoconservatism, which has been a given in the Republican Party. And now for the first time in decades, his party could very well nominate a man who repudiates this long-held GOP orthodoxy thanks in large part to the decisions that Cheney helped make.
A Rand Paul nomination in 2016 wouldn’t be a death knell for neoconservatism, especially if he lost the general election. But it would serve as an irony in a way, in that for once, Dick Cheney was finally held accountable for what he did.