Joe Conason's Journal

Dick Cheney performs straight off of a John Birch Society script.

Published March 17, 2003 7:42PM (EST)

Conservatives or Birchers?
Today's lead story in the Wall Street Journal confirms what many observers have suspected for months now: The Bush administration has never taken the diplomatic alternative seriously, and the pretense of doing so has been scripted by the vice president from the beginning. The former Wyoming congressman is an unreconstructed, old-fashioned right-winger with about as little respect for multilateral organizations and alliances as that old John Birch Society bumper sticker, circa 1962: "Get the U.S. Out of the U.N."

Cheney articulated this viewpoint with startling candor yesterday to NBC News' Tim Russert, who asked about former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft's publicly articulated concern about the costs of perceived U.S. unilateralism and arrogance:

"We have been forced to come to grips with issues that our allies to date have not yet had to come to grips with, that the problem, once you look at 9/11 -- and, again, think back to the past -- we had certain strategies and policies and institutions that were built to deal with the conflicts of the 20th century. They may not be the right strategies and policies and institutions to deal with the kind of threat we face now from a nuclear-armed al-Qaida organization, for example, should that development [occur], and we have to find new ways to deal with those threats.

"We've been forced, partly because we were hit on 9/11, to come to grips with that very real possibility that the next attack could involve far deadlier weapons than anything the world had ever seen. And then it won't come from a major state such as would have been true during the Cold War, if the Soviet Union had ever launched at the United States. It will come from a handful of terrorists on jihad, committed to die, and then the effort to kill millions of Americans. The rest of the world hasn't really had to come to grips with that yet. They're still, I think, thinking very much in terms of the last century, if you will, in terms of policies and strategies and institutions, and part of the difficulty we're faced with here is we do have, I think, a different perception of the world today, and what's going to be required to secure the United States, than they do. And that, in part, accounts for the current debate and difference of perception, if you will, between Americans and Europeans ...

"And, now, as we go forward and look at the threat of rogue states and terrorists equipped with deadly weapons in the future, the only nation that really has the capability to deal effectively with those threats is the United States. The Brits have got some capability, and they're great allies, and we badly want them onboard in any venture we undertake, but the fact of the matter is for most of the others who are engaged in this debate, they don't have the capability to do anything about it anyway."

Cheney's "analysis" is utterly wrong, of course. Every success in the real war against terror has been the result of cooperation with allies, large and small, from Germany and France and Russia to Pakistan and the Philippines. Any chance to prevent terrorists from gaining access to nuclear materials will depend on American relationships with those allies, for instance in Russia, where those efforts need to be intensified. Capturing enemies such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, which would have been impossible without Pakistani assistance, suggests how dangerous it is to insist that Pakistan support a war against Iraq that nearly everyone there opposes.

Whatever the outcome of the impending war -- and one can only hope that it will be conducted in a way that permits a heroes' welcome for American troops -- we will soon regret the diplomatic ruin it has already caused. The Bush administration has vandalized relationships and institutions that have taken half a century to build. And it has created support for a policy of preemptive war by deceiving the public about the dangers posed by the Iraqi regime. What is "conservative" about any of that?

Eno excuse
To anyone who was unable to access the Brian Eno essay to which I linked last Friday, I apologize for your difficulties. The article was sent to me by a friend the day before -- and in those dawning hours, before my second cup of coffee, I didn't notice that it was from Time Europe's Jan. 12 edition. The result was that some readers (though not all, apparently depending on browser choice) were unable to access it. I was using Internet Explorer when I first linked to the essay -- and it still works. One reader tells me that when he turned off Javascript on his Netscape browser, he got it, too. Again, please excuse.
[11:42 a.m. PST, March 17, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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