Sunday, June 1, 2014

the last book I ever read (Duty by Robert M. Gates, excerpt two)

from Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M. Gates:

I met Dick Cheney in the mid-1980s when he was a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence. I had been a junior National Security Council staffer during the Ford administration, when he was deputy White House chief of staff and then chief; I was far too much of an underling to have any contact with him. In my opinion, one cannot understand Cheney without having been in the White House during the Ford years. It was the nadir of the modern American presidency, the president reaping the whirlwind of both Vietnam and Watergate. The War Powers Act, the denial of promised weapons to South Vietnam, cutting off help to the anti-Soviet, anti-Cuban resistance in Angola—Congress took one action after another to whittle down the power of the presidency. Cheney saw it all from the Oval Office. I believe his broad assertion of the powers of the presidency after 9/11 was attributable, in no small part, to his experience during the Ford years and a determination to recapture from Congress powers lost fifteen years before and more.

Because Dick is a calm, fairly quiet-spoken man, I think a lot of people never fully appreciated how conservative he always was. In 1990, in the run-up to the Gulf War, the question arose as to whether to seek both congressional and UN Security Council approval for going to war with Saddam Hussein. Cheney, then secretary of defense, argued that neither was necessary but went along with the president’s contrary decisions. And when the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, Dick wanted to see the dismantlement not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world.

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