There is not much to thank Dick Cheney for. But perhaps he deserves credit for one thing: illustrating how effectively our political systems can rehabilitate even the most monstrous of moral monsters.
Just watch this short clip that went viral on X (formerly Twitter), in which Cheney warns against the re-election of Donald Trump. Perhaps not surprisingly, it has proven a big hit with Democratic party supporters, those who once reviled Cheney for his role in invading Iraq.
In the video, Cheney declares: “In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump.”
“In our nation’s 246-year history, there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump."
-Former VP Dick Cheney pic.twitter.com/VEwYshijCZ
— Republicans against Trump (@RpsAgainstTrump) September 7, 2023
That is almost certainly wrong, even judged in narrow, parochial terms that only consider U.S. domestic concerns. The damage unleashed by Cheney – and the shockwaves that continue to ripple abroad and at home two decades on – surely qualify him as an even greater menace.
But current president Joe Biden should be in the running, too. He has risked all of our lives in Ukraine by playing a game of nuclear chicken with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
Before grappling with such issues further, let’s offer a brief recap for those for whom the 2003 Iraq war is a distant memory.
Cheney was vice-president during George W. Bush’s presidency – and the man who actually ran the show.
While Bush struggled to form complete sentences – much as Biden does today – but looked all-American in his vintage leather jacket, the ghoulish Cheney went about arranging the destruction of entire countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq, on behalf of the military-industrial complex.
Untold millions of people in the Middle East died, were made homeless, or were driven across borders through his deceptions. Those wars, though catastrophic for the Middle East, were exceptionally lucrative for corporate interests invested in the West’s war industries.
Not least among them was Halliburton, which Cheney had headed until he became vice president. Following the invasion, Halliburton was awarded a $7 billion contract in Iraq – without a competitive tender.
Cheney continued to retain large stocks in the company while it was helping to plunder Iraq’s resources, including its oil.
He did not just trash Iraq and Afghanistan. He intensified the dark sectarian forces unleashed in the 1980s by the “Great Game” clash of imperialism between the Soviet Union and the U.S. in Afghanistan that spawned the mujahideen and later al-Qaeda.
The destruction of Iraq, in particular, launched the death cult of the Islamic State, which would gain a more significant footprint every time the U.S. meddled in the Middle East, from Libya to Syria.
If anyone can rightly be described as a monster, if anyone should be in the dock at The Hague accused of the “supreme international crime” of launching a war of aggression, it is Dick Cheney. More so than the ridiculous, strutting Bush Jr.
But if we are considering how our political systems are designed to shorten memories so that not only can monsters walk among us, but they are celebrated and profit year after year from their crimes, then Tony Blair deserves a dishonorable mention.
If anyone is as politically and morally monstrous as Cheney, it is the vainglorious, power-worshipping British prime minister of that period. While Bush sold the neocon plan for Iraq’s destruction in a leather jacket, Blair sold it to Europeans – or at least those who were gullible enough to take him seriously – in crisp white shirts and power suits.
Blair’s role was to fill in the credibility gaps of the inarticulate, posturing Bush. Blair was the brains to Bush’s brawn.
Blair fronted the diplomatic push. He made measured but impassioned appeals for action to the public. And most especially – with the “dodgy dossier” of intelligence lies cribbed straight from the internet, claiming that Saddam Hussein could hit Europe with his stockpile of non-existent weapons of mass destruction in little more time than it takes to have a shower – he excelled at fearmongering.
It is hard not to notice how the treatment of Blair and Cheney exemplifies our skewed political and moral priorities, even after much of the dust has settled in Iraq and across the Middle East.
The clamor grows daily for Putin to be dragged to the Hague war crimes court for invading neighboring Ukraine. In March, the International Criminal Court even issued an arrest warrant for him to be tried over the alleged forced deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.
There is, of course, no arrest warrant for either Blair or Cheney, even though in the hierarchy of war crimes, their roles are almost certainly worse. Putin at least has an argument that his invasion was provoked by NATO’s efforts to move weapons ever closer to Russia’s border, undermining Moscow’s nuclear deterrent.
By contrast, no one ever refers to the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq as “unprovoked,” even though it undoubtedly was. The “dodgy dossier” was packed with lies, as was Gen to the United Nations. There were no WMD in Iraq, as UN inspectors had warned. And Saddam Hussein had no ties to al-Qaeda. Every pretext for the invasion was disinformation – just as it was intended to be.
For this reason alone, the rent-a-quote Blair has been remarkably careful to avoid discussing war crimes concerning the Ukraine war. Whatever allegations he makes against Putin could easily be turned against him three or fourfold. Instead, his focus has been simply on how to “defeat Russia.”
The man who, in power, so loudly and childishly framed world events as a clash of civilizations – in which the West was always on the side of the angels – speaks now in hushed tones about the manufactured moral crusade of the day: Ukraine.
But it is far worse than the lack of an arrest warrant and trial. In Blair’s case, the media continued to treat him with reverence. His opinion is sought out. In no media interview is he ever confronted with the evidence that easily proves he committed the supreme crime against humanity in invading Iraq.
A strange thought. Why does every BBC interviewer of Ken Loach feel the need, whatever the topic, to raise entirely evidence-free smears tying him to antisemitism, while no BBC interviewer ever raises with Tony Blair the easily proved war crimes he committed invading Iraq? https://t.co/SMoWiOwb2Z
— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) September 28, 2023
And worse still, his crime has actually been subsumed within his brand, becoming a selling point. He is an international statesman, an Elder, and the head of a think-tank empire, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. He now has 800 staff dedicated to advancing his policies in 40 countries.
The truth is that, despite his official rehabilitation by the media and fellow politicians, much of the British public reviles Blair. This is why, by necessity, the power he wields – possibly greater than when he was Britain’s prime minister – operates entirely in the shadows.
Blair, like Cheney, is still every bit as much of a swamp creature, a peddler of concealed corporate interests – from the oil industry and arms makers to the parasitic bankers that feed off the asset-stripping the other two excel in – as he was when he invaded Iraq.
One of his main clients is Saudi Arabia, a regime that has used its oil riches to bomb civilians in Yemen year after year and to finance poisonous religious extremist movements that have helped to wreck entire countries.
His institute, representing corporate interests such as bankers JP Morgan and Swiss insurance behemoth Zurich, can now bypass even the minimal democratic accountability Blair was subjected to as prime minister.
Behind the scenes, Blair was the one advocating on behalf of his corporate clients for many of the science-busting COVID policies the UK government adopted, and he continues to push hard for the roll-out of digital identification technologies and investment in artificial intelligence.
His Brave New World privacy-destroying tech agenda, shared with the billionaire class, from Bill Gates to George Soros, is barely scrutinized.
This is why his brand grows, even as his credibility with the British public remains rock bottom.
Grandpa of politics
Across the Atlantic, the dull-witted George W. Bush may not have managed to establish an Institute of comparable standing in his name. Still, efforts to rehabilitate his image among the public have been more successful. His very gormlessness has been rebranded as down-to-earth affability, honesty and kindliness.
In 2003, Bush’s simple-mindedness offered Cheney and the West’s war industries the “plausible deniability” they needed to shelter behind. The destruction of Iraq could be excused as an unfortunate, well-intentioned cock-up – a “humanitarian war” that turned out badly – rather than another colonial-style resource grab by corporate America.
Bush, like Cheney and Blair, an indisputable war criminal who puts anything done by Russia’s Putin in the shade, has not only paid any price for his crimes. Instead, courtesy of the establishment media, he has been refashioned as the kindly grandpa of U.S. politics.
When they come, Obituaries will not focus on the Iraqi families incinerated by the Shock and Awe bombing campaign he greenlighted on entirely bogus grounds. They will show him reaching out to hand a sweet to Michelle Obama, wife of a supposed political rival, at John McCain’s memorial service and again at his father’s funeral.
It is a tender, bipartisan moment meant to serve as a stark, juxtapositional reminder that Trump supposedly exists outside this club of the great and good.
We are meant to forget that before Trump entered politics, there were plenty of photos of him rubbing shoulders at elite parties with the Bush and Clinton political dynasties.
Image-laundering is a staple of our political systems. It is why most of the billionaire-owned media have continued to treat Biden deferentially, dismissing his glaring cognitive difficulties simply as evidence of a lifelong stutter, even as the president is regularly caught on video not only going off-script but losing any sense of where he is or what he should be doing.
It took the rightwing, Rupert Murdoch-owned “Sky News,” which prefers that Biden be replaced with a Republican, to give a flavor in the mainstream of how severe Biden’s physical and mental decline is. Even then, it was Murdoch’s distant Australian operation that took the gloves off:
In truth, the public image assigned to our leaders is force-fed into our subconscious – like stuffing a goose before slaughter – by a corporate media embedded in the same web of corporate interests that oils the tank treads of the West’s war machine.
Cheney’s claim that Trump is some anomaly in U.S. politics is so plainly nonsense. Or at least it is in the sense that Cheney means it.
True, Trump is an outlier. As a narcissist operating in the always-on, digital era – one in which distinctions between news and celebrity have been eroded – Trump happily suns himself in the glare of publicity.
He is a paradox: a political showman and a shadowy corporate deal-maker. These combined roles make this a high-wire act, one in which the safety net of plausible deniability is removed.
He is no different from a corrupt Cheney, a corrupt Gates, or a corrupt Soros. Except unlike them, Trump has given the swamp an incentive – at least a temporary one – to expose him, not least because he cannot be rebranded as a philanthropist or elder statesman.
Elon Musk is treading a similar, reckless path – unless he can be corralled back into line. Once best known and loved for producing “planet-saving” electric cars, he has turned unlikely, and increasingly loathed, whistleblower, highlighting the corrupt ties between social media corporations and the intelligence services.
But the idea of good and bad billionaires is yet more misdirection.
There is no way to become that rich without being entangled in the inherently corrupt world of transglobal capital movements, without carrying out secretive corporate operations that depend on the collaboration of resource-rich states and their similarly corrupt elites.
Any billionaire could face their own Russiagate if their rivals willed it. Each certainly deserves it. But only in Trump’s case is the incentive strong enough to carry it through.
Why? Because Trump found a replacement for the safety net. He exploited the paradox at the heart of his brand by presenting himself as the insider-outsider, the rich man fighting for poor, white America, the billionaire taking on the media owned by and enriching his best friends. He sold himself as the opposition to the swamp he feeds off.
Trump’s act, his man-of-the-people posturing, made it impossible for the swamp to rehabilitate him, as it has done Cheney and Bush. To acquit him would be to indict itself.
This is why the swamp is now trying to drown him in legal entanglements to keep him out of the White House.
Soaked in blood
The paradox is coming full circle. Trump draws his political power from the crowd, from the mob. If Trump was less of a narcissist, was he more of a political strategist, was he the Hitler so many imagine him to be, he could harness that support, mobilize it, beat back the swamp’s onslaught and protect himself.
He would be able to browbeat his corporate friend-rivals into submission. But Trump is no Hitler. So the swamp is winning: it is crushing Trump legally and politically. It will seek to bog him down in legal difficulties to sap him of political momentum.
But as is the danger with all paradoxes, the picture could yet grow more complex. The more the swamp tries to drown Trump, the more credibility it breathes into his showman’s bogus claim that he is standing up for the little guy. But also, and more dangerously, the more the swamp makes itself visible.
Trump’s vanquishment inevitably comes at a heavy price: focusing public attention on the reality that a tiny, corrupt corporate elite has rigged the system to maintain its power and enrichment.
It should not have needed someone like Trump to have made this explicit. The arch-criminals Blair, Bush and Cheney are all soaked in blood. The fact that their images have been so wholly laundered that they are publicly treated as whiter than white should have been proof that we are being subjected to a sustained campaign of gaslighting.
So long as swamp creatures like Cheney can direct our gaze exclusively at Trump, they grow in power. They can keep waging wars, keep stealing resources, keep bombing children – and keep getting richer.
The system they built to maintain their power needs to be overthrown. But that cannot be achieved so long as only Trump – not Bush, Blair and Cheney – is facing the dock.
Feature photo | Illustration by MintPress News
Jonathan Cook is a MintPress contributor. Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is www.jonathan-cook.net.