In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir
“. . . from the book’s inception, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir was designed to invite controversy and to out-shout any review. . . . If Mr. Cheney were determined to get in the first word, then those critics have not hesitated to respond. Former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have characterized some of the book’s revelations about them as unfair, ‘cheap shots.’”
Were Dick Cheney’s book an ordinary memoir, then it might prompt an ordinary review in which objectivity should be the reviewer’s principal objective. The New York Journal of Books tries to do that, arming readers with information to make a better-informed choice among the thousands of titles vying for their attention. But Mr. Cheney’s book is no ordinary memoir.
In fact there are only three major points about the book that are not in dispute:
1. Published by Simon and Schuster, it contains 576 pages.
2. The former Vice President was assisted in the book’s publication by his lovely and accomplished wife, Lynne, to whom it is appropriately dedicated.
3. The attacks of September 11, 2001, were the only successful terrorist attacks against the American homeland during the balance of the Bush-Cheney administration.
But from the book’s inception, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir was designed to invite controversy and to out-shout any review. With no pre-publication looks permitted, a pre-prelease media blitz was carefully organized so that the former Vice President’s own voice might be amplified by a score of television megaphones. The intent: To preempt the hostilities of critics—who exist in some profusion.
If Mr. Cheney were determined to get in the first word, then those critics have not hesitated to respond. Former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice have characterized some of the book’s revelations about them as unfair, “cheap shots.” A former aide to Secretary Powell even suggested to ABC News that the memoir’s aggressiveness was due to Mr. Cheney’s fear of his potential liability to war crimes charges.
You are therefore likely to value this book—and probably even to buy it—depending on where you stand on the following issues:
• If you think the Iraq war was a good idea—or not;
• If you believe that water-boarding and Guantanamo Bay were appropriate responses to fighting terrorism—or not;
• If you believe that Dick Cheney had a policymaker’s honest disagreements with the intelligence community over Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and North Korea among a host of other countries—or was simply trying to get the CIA to cook the books his way.
Admire the man or deplore him, the Cheney memoir is a plainly written account of what he believes and how those beliefs led him to occupy this country’s principal leadership positions for the better part of a generation. For a man who has occupied those offices and written a book of over 500 pages, there are few nuances or delicate implications to be unearthed by future historians. Instead, Dick Cheney gives it to you straight-up and no-nonsense, like the county lineman he once was.
To have served in Washington anytime over the last 30 years meant that you heard things about Dick Cheney. It was hard not to. He always had the reputation for being a sphinx, someone who played every hand close to the chest.
His eventual falling-out with Colin Powell may have been foretold during Desert Storm, when Dick Cheney formally directed the general, as Joint Chiefs Chairman, to restrict his recommendations to military rather than political advice. “’General, I said.” I need some options.’ The business we were about was deadly serious and I wanted him to understand he was receiving an order. ‘Yes, sir, Mr. Secretary, he replied.’” Fair enough: but then his memoir reveals how Secretary Cheney set parallel inquiries in motion throughout the military chain of command because “I wanted to send a message.”
Those and similarly Machiavellian tactics seem to have been instinctive in his evolution throughout public life, from the Nixon and Ford White Houses to Bush-Cheney. He always had the reputation of being a brilliant bureaucratic infighter who knew the nuances of policy questions better than anyone.
So it will drive you crazy to read those chapters in which the author glibly recounts such major issues as the sloppy intelligence on Iraq; the shoddy planning for postwar Iraqi reconstruction; or the constant drift as that debacle exploded into a deadly insurgency. Through it all, the Vice President spins the words and sidesteps responsibility, the only adult leadership in the room that might have made a difference.
Only in Chapter 14—the Surge—does the Vice President emerge as Rasputin in a de facto palace coup against the prevailing political narrative of wartime defeat then paralyzing the American government. Mr. Cheney’s account reveals just how tenuous that eventual decision was, how retired generals were slipped into the Oval Office, how open-source intelligence was mined, and how the new counter-insurgency strategy was haltingly embraced as a kind of counterculture.
Most startling: How White House advisors had to be coaxed into using the dread term “victory.” Mr. Cheney’s final assessment about the Surge: “. . . George Bush’s decision will stand out as one that made a difference for millions and put history on a better track.”
Yes, Mr. Vice President: Finally. And maybe marking Iraq and 9/11 as the essential bookends of the Bush-Cheney administration, for good or for ill.