Dick Cheney's warped vision of the world

The bloodthirsty speech delivered to AIPAC by Dick Cheney yesterday reveals all one needs to know about why America is losing the "war of ideas."

Published March 13, 2007 1:38PM (EDT)

(updated below)

In his speech to the AIPAC convention yesterday, Dick Cheney laid out his thirst for literally endless war -- and his equally intense aversion to war-avoidance -- as unabashedly as can be. The towering question which America faces is whether it wants to continue to embrace this bloodthirsty and truly crazed vision (which many leading presidential candidates seem to share), or whether we want to repudiate it fundamentally. This is what lies at the core of Cheney's world view:

An enemy that operates in the shadows and views the entire world as a battlefield is not one we can fight with strategies used in other wars. An enemy with fantasies of martyrdom is not going to sit down at a table for negotiations. Nor can we fight to a standoff -- (applause). Nor can we fight to a standoff, hoping that some form of containment or deterrence will protect our people. The only option for our security and survival is to go on the offensive, facing the threat directly, patiently and systematically, until the enemy is destroyed. (Applause.)

Cheney, of course, is not merely speaking there about Al Qaeda, but about the whole range of Evil Enemies against whom we must seek merciless and final destruction, including those about whom his audience cares most -- Iran, Syria, the Palestinians, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Just compare Cheney's mentality as he himself described it to the core description offered 43 years ago in Harper's by Richard Hofstadter of the defining attributes of The Paranoid Style in American Politics:

The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic termsb

As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish.

Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated -- if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid's sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.

What Hofstadter described almost five decades ago as the mental hallmark of the right-wing paranoid is exactly what came out of Cheney's mouth yesterday almost verbatim. That is to be expected, as Hofstadter noted at the end of his essay:

The paranoid style is not confined to our own country and time; it is an international phenomenon. . . .

Studying the millennial sects of Europe from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, Norman Cohn believed he found a persistent psychic complex that corresponds broadly with what I have been considering a style made up of certain preoccupations and fantasies: "the megalomaniac view of oneself as the Elect, wholly good, abominably persecuted, yet assured of ultimate triumph; the attribution of gigantic and demonic powers to the adversary; the refusal to accept the ineluctable limitations and imperfections of human existence, such as transience, dissention, conflict, fallibility whether intellectual or moral; the obsession with inerrable prophecies . . . systematized misinterpretations, always gross and often grotesque."

We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.

That describes not only Dick Cheney and his followers, but Osama bin Laden and his followers as well. As noted a couple of weeks ago, if you read Cheney's speeches, they sound conceptually almost exactly like those of Osama bin Laden's (or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's) -- we are in an apocalyptic struggle of Good versus Evil; we must obliterate the Evil Enemy mercilessly and without limits; and the Other Side wants to dominate the world with superior force and the only priority that matters is to crush them. This is how Dick Cheney described the cave-dwelling religious radicals yesterday:

We are the prime targets of a terror movement that is global in nature and, yes, global in its ambitions. The leaders of this movement speak openly and specifically of building a totalitarian empire covering the Middle East, extending into Europe and reaching across to the islands of Indonesia, one that would impose a narrow, radical vision of Islam that rejects tolerance, suppresses dissent, brutalizes women and has one of its foremost objectives the destruction of Israel. . . .

And their aim, ultimately, is to acquire the means to match that hatred and to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to impose their will by unspeakable violence or blackmail.

Does Dick Cheney really believe that Osama bin Laden is going to rule over a "totalitarian empire" that subsumes all of Europe, the Middle East and even "the islands of Indonesia," destroy Israel, and impose their will on the world with their stockpiles of nuclear weapons? One can debate what's really in someone's mind only with speculation, but I think he probably has come to convince himself of that. There is no doubt that hordes of the hard-core Twenty-Three-Percenter followers have come to believe that. And our foreign policy, and large parts of the domestic behavior of our government, is absolutely predicated on that twisted worldview.

As always, the person whom Cheney quoted most heavily in his speeche yesterday is bin Laden, because they see world events in exactly the same apocolyptic terms. Here is Cheney quoting bin Laden's thought process which, as is often the case, matches Cheney's exactly:

Yet the critics conveniently disregard the words of bin Laden himself. The most serious issue today for the whole world, he has said, is this third world war that is raging in Iraq. He calls it a destiny between infidelity and Islam. He said the whole world is watching this war and that it will end in victory and glory or misery and humiliation. And in words directed at the American people, bin Laden declares, "The war is for you or for us to win. If we win it, it means your defeat and disgrace forever."

This leader of al Qaeda has referred to Baghdad as the capital of the Caliphate. He has also said, and I quote, "Success in Baghdad will be success for the United States. Failure in Iraq is the failure of the United States. Their defeat in Iraq will mean defeat in all their wars."

Obviously, the terrorists have no illusion about the importance of the struggle in Iraq. They have not called it a distraction or a diversion from their war against the United States. They know it is a central front in that war and it's where they've chosen to make a stand.

As always, it is the warped, delusional and paranoid rhetoric of Osama bin Laden which shapes our foreign policy and molds (and mirrors) the thinking of our highest government officials. Osama bin Laden, from the remote Pakistani cave in which we are told he is forced to hide, has proclaimed an apocalyptic theological battle, and therefore, that is how we must approach the world. After all, Bin Laden says so, and -- as always -- he's right.

Perhaps most amazingly, Cheney continues to pay lip service to this notion: "The war on terror is more than a contest of arms and more than a test of will, it is also a battle of ideas. We know now to a certainty that when people across the Middle East are denied freedom, that is a direct strategic concern of all free nations."

But no rational person can dispute that we are losing that "front" of the "war" as completely as is possible. And it is Cheney's vision for endless obliteration of our "enemies" without negotiation or compromise, which is precisely what is fueling, and will continue to fuel, that defeat.

Jordan's King Abdullah delivered an extremely important though almost completely ignored address to Congress last week in which he implored the U.S. to stop blindly supporting Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians and instead work towards a resolution, precisely because nothing fuels anti-American hatred and Islamic radicalism as much as Israel's ongoing occupation. This is what he said:

Nothing impacts this choice more than the future of peace in the Middle East. I come to you today at a rare, and indeed historic, moment of opportunity, when there is a new international will to end the catastrophe. And I believe that America, with its enduring values, its moral responsibility, and yes, its unprecedented power, must play the central role. . . .

The entire international community has vital decisions to make about the path forward, and how to ensure Iraq's security, unity, and future. But we cannot lose sight of a profound reality. The wellspring of regional division, the source of resentment and frustration far beyond, is the denial of justice and peace in Palestine.

There are those who say, 'It's not our business.' But this Congress knows: there are no bystanders in the 21st Century, there are no curious onlookers, there is no one who is not affected by the division and hatred that is present in our world. Some will say: 'This is not the core issue in the Middle East.' I come here today as your friend to tell you that this is the core issue. And this core issue is not only producing severe consequences for our region, it is producing severe consequences for our world.

The security of all nations and the stability of our global economy are directly affected by the Middle East conflict. Across oceans, the conflict has estranged societies that should be friends. I meet Muslims thousands of miles away who have a deep, personal response to the suffering of the Palestinian people. They want to know how it is, that ordinary Palestinians are still without rights and without a country. They ask whether the West really means what it says about equality and respect and universal justice.

Everyone knows that the Bush administration's explicit abandonment of any pretense of objectivity or broker role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict -- replaced by our virtual participation on the side of Israel in that conflict -- has done as much, if not more, than any single other factor to fuel the Islamic radicalism which we claim we are so eager to defeat (the only cause which can possibly compete in terms of significance is our ongoing active involvement in the internal affairs of virtually every Middle East country, as symbolized by our military occupation of multiple countries in that region).

King Abdullah's message was, of course, the same conclusion reached by the bipartisan, super-Establishment Baker-Hamilton Commission -- the conclusion which single-handedly provoked the most vicious attacks on Jim Baker as an anti-semite:

The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush's June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This commitment must include direct talks with, by, and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel's right to exist), and particularly Syria -- which is the principal transit point for shipments of weapons to Hezbollah, and which supports radical Palestinian groups.

The United States does its ally Israel no favors in avoiding direct involvement to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But Cheney goes before AIPAC and sets conditions on our negotiating -- as opposed to waging endless war -- that are, by design, never going to happen, and as a result, this is how we are faring in the "war of ideas":

Israel, Iran and the United States were the countries with the most negative image in a globe-spanning survey of attitudes toward 12 major nations. Canada and Japan came out best in the poll, released Tuesday. . . .

Israel was viewed negatively by 56 percent of respondents and positively by 17 percent; for Iran, the figures were 54 percent and 18 percent. The United States had the third-highest negative ranking, with 51 percent citing it as a bad influence and 30 percent as a good one. Next was North Korea, which was viewed negatively by 48 percent and positively by 19 percent.

We're sandwiched between Iran and North Korea in terms of how the world perceives us. And there should be no debating whether that collapse of our credibility in the world matters, given that George Bush and Dick Cheney themselves define this "war" as a "war of ideas," with the goal the winning of "hearts and minds" of people around the world as the key to our national security. It is hardly possible for us to lose that "war" more devastatingly than we are losing it, and the obvious cause is the twisted, bloodthirsty and sociopathic mentality -- shared by Osama bin Laden and the Bush movement alike -- which was laid out with such ugly nakedness by the Vice President yesterday.

Far more than haggling over Iraq bills that are not going anywhere or picking apart the various proposals of each candidate, the critical priority is to demand that these fundamental premises guiding our behavior in the world be meaningfully examined and debated. The Baker-Hamilton Report actually tried to provoke such an examination, which is why it was so viciously demonized and instantaneously discarded. But until those premises are candidly discussed, we are going to remain on the incomparably dangerous path which the Bush presidency has so fervently embraced.

UPDATE: Speaking of endless war, Dick Cheney and AIPAC, Congressional Quarterly reported last week that AIPAC and its Congressional allies were "pushing to strike a provision slated for the war spending bill that would, with some exceptions, require the president to seek congressional approval before using military force in Iran." As BooMan documents today, they succeeded: "key language mandating that Bush get Congressional approval before going to war with Iran has been taken out."

For awhile, many people were resisting the notion that right-wing Israeli-centric groups like AIPAC (as absolutely distinct from the majority of American Jews generally) were "agitating for a U.S. war with Iran," but the evidence proving that becomes clearer all the time (one commenter here, Gator90, was insistent that there was no evidence of such a connection, but to his great credit, acknowledged that there was in the wake of the CQ story). The AIPAC-type agitators combine with the Cheney-type paranoid militaristic hysterics to ensure that the U.S. continues with its warmonger posture in the world.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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