Richard B. Cheney, like Bob Dylan, was born “the year they bombed Pearl Harbor.” And he too is still out there on the road, unsentimental about this world of darkness, but unwilling to roll over for it either. And for that I think all Americans ought to be grateful.
His speech today at AEI was a knockout. It was a reminder of why — despite the eventual cost of not having a chosen successor to run in 2008 — George W. Bush’s first decision as a presidential candidate (to pick Dick Cheney as his V.P.) was an excellent one, and one which made his administration stronger. (That first decision is often very telling.)
Being the first vice president who had also served as secretary of defense, naturally my duties tended toward national security. I focused on those challenges day to day, mostly free from the usual political distractions. I had the advantage of being a vice president content with the responsibilities I had, and going about my work with no higher ambition. Today, I’m an even freer man. Your kind invitation brings me here as a private citizen–a career in politics behind me, no elections to win or lose, and no favor to seek.
The entire speech should be read, even or especially by Cheney’s critics, but here’s one excerpt:
For all the partisan anger that still lingers, our administration will stand up well in history–not despite our actions after 9/11, but because of them. And when I think about all that was to come during our administration and afterward–the recriminations, the second-guessing, the charges of “hubris”–my mind always goes back to that moment.
To put things in perspective, suppose that on the evening of 9/11, President Bush and I had promised that for as long as we held office–which was to be another 2,689 days–there would never be another terrorist attack inside this country. Talk about hubris–it would have seemed a rash and irresponsible thing to say. People would have doubted that we even understood the enormity of what had just happened. Everyone had a very bad feeling about all of this, and felt certain that the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Shanksville were only the beginning of the violence.
Of course, we made no such promise. Instead, we promised an all-out effort to protect this country. We said we would marshal all elements of our nation’s power to fight this war and to win it. We said we would never forget what had happened on 9/11, even if the day came when many others did forget. We spoke of a war that would “include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success.” We followed through on all of this, and we stayed true to our word.
To the very end of our administration, we kept al-Qaeda terrorists busy with other problems. We focused on getting their secrets, instead of sharing ours with them. And on our watch, they never hit this country again. After the most lethal and devastating terrorist attack ever, seven and a half years without a repeat is not a record to be rebuked and scorned, much less criminalized. It is a record to be continued until the danger has passed.