No Comment — December 1, 2009, 4:30 pm

Praise George W. Bush, Damn Richard B. Cheney

James Fallows pens a striking side-by-side of the last president and last vice president in retirement.

Since the results of the 2008 election became clear, the 43rd President of the United States has behaved in a way that brings honor to him, his family, his office, and his country. By all reports he did what he could to smooth the transition to his successor, including dealing with the house-is-burning-down world financial crisis. Since leaving office he has — like most of his predecessors in their first years out of power — maintained a dignified distance from public controversies and let the new team have its chance. He has acted as if aware that there are national interests larger than his own possible interests in score-settling or reputational-repair.

The former vice president, Dick Cheney, has brought dishonor to himself, his office, and his country. I am not aware of a case of a former president or vice president behaving as despicably as Cheney has done in the ten months since leaving power, most recently but not exclusively with his comments to Politico about Obama’s decisions on Afghanistan. (Aaron Burr might win the title, for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, but Burr was a sitting vice president at the time.) Cheney has acted as if utterly unconcerned with the welfare of his country, its armed forces, or the people now trying to make difficult decisions. He has put narrow score-settling interest far, far above national interest.

Does silence have the power to redeem? If so, then Fallows is right about Bush. But he’s certainly right about Cheney. Indeed, the Cheney “interview” with Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim Vandenhei marks a new low point. Cheney attacks Obama’s “weakness” for ordering as many as 44,000 more troops into Afghanistan—whereas he, presented with the same request, simply rolled it over for his successor to address a year later. A Senate report has concluded that Osama bin Laden and his entourage escaped because of an order that Donald Rumsfeld issued to pull out of Tora Bora. But most of the key leadership of Al Qaeda was, at about this time, encircled in Kunduz, their last redoubt, as American and Northern Alliance forces laid siege to it in November 2001. How did they escape? Dick Cheney knows. He personally authorized “Operation Evil Airlift,” shutting down the bombing and opening an air corridor so that Pakistani transports could airlift them to safety in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, where they were able to regroup. Perhaps Dick Cheney would like to own up to his catastrophic bad judgment? It’s just part of the vast mess that he left behind for others to clean up.

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I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

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