Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
Last week, continuing the sometimes catty intraparty feud between Republican hawks and GOPers skeptical of foreign intervention, former Vice President Dick Cheney took a shot at Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). But Paul is not likely to be fazed by criticism from Cheney, for several years ago the Kentucky senator was pushing the conspiratorial notion that the former VP exploited the horrific 9/11 attacks to lead the nation into war in Iraq in order to benefit Halliburton, the enormous military contractor where Cheney had once been CEO.
Speaking at a private Las Vegas gathering of Republican funders and activists on March 29, Cheney blasted what he termed isolationists within the GOP. "One of the things that concerns me first about the  campaign, that I'm worried about," Cheney said, "is what I sense to be an increasing strain of isolationism, if I can put it in those terms, in our own party." He didn't name names, but he didn't have to—at least, in one case. He obviously had Rand Paul in mind. And Cheney, who also approvingly talked about bombing Iran, chided the unmentioned Paul and other less hawkish GOPers for having not learned the supposed lessons of 9/11.
Cheney's remarks were the latest round in the tussle between the Republican Party's hawks and intervention skeptics. A year ago, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) referred to Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), and other Republicans unenthusiastic about drone strikes as "wacko birds."
But years before this dustup began, Paul was on the attack against Cheney. In not widely noticed appearances on the campaign trail, Paul claimed that Cheney's advocacy of the invasion of Iraq was partly nefarious and predicated on corporate self-interest, not national security priorities.
On April 7, 2009, as Paul was on the cusp of announcing his senatorial bid, he spoke to student Republicans at Western Kentucky University. Recalling President Dwight Eisenhower's warning about the military-industrial complex, he noted, "We need to be fearful of companies that get so big that they can actually be directing policy." And the company he had in mind was Cheney's former home: "When the Iraq War started, Halliburton got a billion-dollar no-bid contract. Some of the stuff has been so shoddy and so sloppy that our soldiers are over there dying in the shower from electrocution. I mean, it shouldn't be sloppy work; it shouldn't be bad procurement process. But it really shouldn't be that these people are so powerful that they direct even policy."
Paul then indicated to the students that he believed that Cheney had used 9/11 as an excuse to launch the Iraq War to serve Halliburton's interests.
There's a great YouTube of Dick Cheney in 1995 defending [President] Bush No. 1 [and the decision not to invade Baghdad in the first Gulf War], and he goes on for about five minutes. He's being interviewed, I think, by the American Enterprise Institute, and he says it would be a disaster, it would be vastly expensive, it'd be civil war, we would have no exit strategy. He goes on and on for five minutes. Dick Cheney saying it would be a bad idea. And that's why the first Bush didn't go into Baghdad. Dick Cheney then goes to work for Halliburton. Makes hundreds of millions of dollars, their CEO. Next thing you know, he's back in government and it's a good idea to go into Iraq.
The day after 9/11, [CIA chief] George Tenet is going in the [White] House and [Pentagon adviser] Richard Perle is coming out of the White House. And George Tenet should know more about intelligence than anybody in the world, and the first thing Richard Perle says to him on the way out is, "We've got it, now we can go into Iraq." And George Tenet, who supposedly knows as much intelligence as anybody in the White House says, "Well, don't we need to know that they have some connection to 9/11?" And, he [Perle] says, "It doesn't matter." It became an excuse. 9/11 became an excuse for a war they already wanted in Iraq.
Critics of President George W. Bush and Cheney have long assailed the pair for pushing a WMD-centered case for war that was false and questioned their reasons and motives for invading Iraq. But it's notable that a member of the Senate who might be a leading contender for the GOP's 2016 presidential nomination thinks that the most recent Republican vice president snookered the nation into war to boost profits for a company he once steered.
Paul's dark remarks about Cheney to those college Republicans were not a one-off event. At a Republican rally in Montana during the 2008 presidential campaign when Paul was speaking for his father (who was then running for president), he raised the same points. He told the crowd that there had been "no link" between 9/11 and Iraq and cited this "great YouTube clip that everyone should look up." He described the video and explained its meaning:
It's Dick Cheney in 1995* being interviewed on why they didn't go into Baghdad the first time under the first [President] George Bush. And his arguments are exactly mirroring my dad's arguments for why we shouldn't have gone in this time. It would be chaos. There'd be a civil war. There'd be no exit strategy. And cost a blue bloody fortune in both lives and treasure. And this is Dick Cheney saying this. But, you know, a couple hundred million dollars later Dick Cheney earns from Halliburton, he comes back into government. Now Halliburton's got a billion-dollar no-bid contract in Iraq. You know, you hate to be so cynical that you think some of these corporations are able to influence policy, but I think sometimes they are. Most of the people on these [congressional] committees have a million dollars in their bank account all from different military-industrial contractors. We don't want our defense to be defined by people who make money off of the weapons.
The message is clear: Cheney, a corporate shill, was more loyal to Halliburton—and the millions of dollars he earned from the company—than to the United States, and he and Halliburton manipulated the country into the Iraq War. Paul was essentially accusing Cheney of a profound betrayal: using 9/11 to start a war to profit Halliburton.
This is a harsh charge—and in these videos, Paul seems to believe it fully. He has, though, not spoken in such terms of late. (His Senate office did not respond to a request for comment.) In a recent speech on foreign policy, Paul talked about the value of "containment" and "engagement" and assailed the Cheney wing of the party—without naming the ex-veep—by decrying neocons for promoting a "neo-isolationism, in which diplomacy is distrusted and war is, if not the first choice, the preferred option." Yet his previous accusations about Cheney, 9/11, and Iraq could well provide rich material for questions in presidential debates, should Paul run in 2016. The remarks illustrate just how sharp the divide is between Paul and the GOP establishment on foreign policy and suggest the bad blood runs deep, very deep.
Update: A reader alerted us to what may have been the clip of Dick Cheney that Paul referred to. View it here.
Update II: But that clip was dated 1992. Another reader pointed to this clip, which captured a slice of an interview conducted with Cheney at the American Enterprise Institute in 1994, which is closer to the year (1995) Paul cited.
What do former Vice President Dick Cheney, billionaire megadonor Sheldon Adelson, and Republican activists and funders talk about—and applaud—when they're behind closed doors at a Las Vegas hotel? Bombing Iran.
This past weekend, the Republican Jewish Coalition held its spring leadership meeting at Adelson's Venetian hotel, where several possible 2016 contenders, including ex-Gov. Jeb Bush and current Govs. Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and John Kasich, showed up to kiss the ring of the casino magnate, who's looking to bankroll a viable Republican presidential candidate. Though the heavy-on-Israel speeches of the White House wannabes were open to the press, the keynote address delivered by Cheney on Saturday night was off-limits to reporters and the public. But Mother Jones has obtained a recording of Cheney's talk, during which he once again derided President Barack Obama on foreign policy, blasted the isolationists within his own party, assailed critics of the National Security Agency, and seemingly endorsed the idea of an Israeli strike against Iran.
Not too long into Errol Morris' new documentary on Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known, the viewer learns almost all he or she needs to know about the former defense secretary who helped President George W. Bush lead the nation into war in Iraq. After a short recap of the initial US military action in Afghanistan following the horrific September 11 attacks, Morris notes that a "confusion" set in, with many Americans believing Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, was involved in 9/11. Morris puts this to Rumsfeld during the Q&A that makes up the spine of the film. Rumsfeld, in his familiar know-it-all way, dismisses the premise: "I don't think the American people were confused about that." Morris, who is not on screen, counters by citing a 2003 poll showing that 69 percent of Americans said it was "likely" that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the assault. Rumsfeld responds, "I don't remember anyone in the Bush administration saying anything like that, nor do I recall anyone believing that."
Really? Rumsfeld is not acknowledging a known known. Within hours of the Al Qaeda attack, according to now-public memos, Rumsfeld was asking if Saddam Hussein could be hit in response, and for weeks afterward, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, repeatedly said during administration meetings that the Iraqi leader might have been behind the 9/11 plot. As Michael Isikoff and I noted in Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Wolfowitz sent memos to Rumsfeld asserting that Saddam may have played a critical role.
Morris doesn't cover any of this, but he exposes Rumsfeld in a different and effective way—with Rumsfeld's own words. Immediately after Rumsfeld tells Morris he has no clue how any American got the impression Saddam was tied to 9/11, Morris inserts video from a Rumsfeld press conference at the Pentagon in early February 2003. Saddam had recently declared that he possessed no weapons of mass destruction and had no relationship with Al Qaeda. A reporter asks Rumsfeld to respond. "Abraham Lincoln was short," Rumsfeld says curtly—and no more. The reporter, not satisfied with this all-too-cute answer, presses Rumsfeld for more, and the secretary obliges: "How does one respond to that? It's a continuous pattern. It's the local liar…He almost never, rarely tells the truth."
With this response, Rumsfeld was certainly bolstering the notion that Saddam was part of the 9/11 scheme. Yet now he plays dumb. And, thus, nothing else he says in the documentary can be taken at face value. This is a fellow who either is not as smart as he thinks or not perceptive enough to handle the hard truths.
Of course, after the invasion of Iraq—which Rumsfeld had sold on false pretenses—it was clear that Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush-Cheney crew had failed to prepare adequately for the occupation, in what was one of the dumbest moves in US military history. In this film, Rumsfeld hardly comes to terms with all that. (Ditto the 100,000-plus civilian Iraqi deaths caused by the war—though he does choke up while talking about one American soldier wounded in Iraq who pulled through.) That's no surprise. Neither is Rumsfeld's cocky attitude—which was often on full display during his matinee press conferences at the Pentagon. Yet throughout the engaging film, Rumsfeld, as he did during his decades in government, hides behind a creepy sort of profundity. At one point, Morris cites Rumsfeld's belief in the notion that "if you wish for peace, prepare for war" and notes that "you can use that to justify anything." Rumsfeld responds by citing one of his "Rumsfeld rules": "All generalizations are false—including this one." He then offers a thin smile, chuckles, and adds, "There it is."
Yes, the zen of Donald Rumsfeld, which is merely camouflage for stupid mistakes that caused mayhem and death. That much is certainly known.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the GOP's vice presidential nominee in 2012, was still defending his recent comments about inner-city culture this week, when he appeared on Fox News and told host Bill O'Reilly, "I don't have a racist bone in my body." Ryan was responding to criticism he drew after saying earlier this month, during an interview with conservative radio host Bill Bennett, "We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work. There is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with." Some accused Ryan of using racist—or racially loaded—rhetoric. Ryan replied that he had been "inarticulate" but was not "implicating the culture of one community"—that is, African Americans. Yet his interview with Bennett was not the first time that Ryan, a potential 2016 presidential contender, had given the impression that inner-city poverty was linked to the supposed cultural deficiencies of minority Americans.
In 2005, Ryan spoke to the Atlas Society, a libertarian outfit devoted to the philosophy of Ayn Rand. "I grew up reading Ayn Rand," he noted, "and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It's inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff." And he observed that all political battles "usually" come down "to one conflict: individualism versus collectivism." Asked to describe the best Randian argument to advance libertarian notions on Capitol Hill and beat back the welfare state, Ryan replied,
I think the victimization argument. I think that the fact that collectivists speak down to people as victims is not only an arrogant thing to do, but it produces poor results. So backing up, this victimization class that collectivists try to produce, and showing the folks you're trying to convince that this is not only in their best interests—in their worst interests—that it's not dignifying, and it's arrogant. That seems to work. We're trying to recruit a lot of minority legislators to work with us on personal [savings and health] accounts because, of all things, it's in their best interest to fight party bosses from the Democrats, who are really insisting on everybody toeing the line… But I always try to show how victimhood has gotten them nothing.
You can listen to Ryan's full answer here:
In these remarks, Ryan appeared to be associating the "victimization class" with "minority legislators," and suggesting that this group of people have gained nothing by accepting "victimhood." It's a message close to Mitt Romney's 47 percent remarks and Ryan's own takers-versus-makers line. But there is a racial cast to the comment.
In a 2012 interview, Ryan contended that inner-city crime was a cultural matter. Speaking to a reporter with the ABC television affiliate in Flint, Michigan, Ryan remarked,
[T]he best thing to help prevent violent crime in the inner cities is to bring opportunity in the inner cities, is to help people get out of poverty in the inner cities, is to help teach people good discipline, good character. That is civil society. That's what charities, and civic groups, and churches do to help one another make sure that they can realize the value in one another.
A key problem, he appeared to be saying, was with the character of poor people within the inner cities. Given the high percentage of African Americans in such areas, this remark, too, could be seen as racially charged.
It's no shocker when Ryan—or other libertarians—denounce government assistance programs for breeding dependency and preventing recipients from developing a robust work ethic. But Ryan contends all this assistance leads to a cultural problem. In 2012, he told conservative host Star Parker that the best way to undo the harm caused by a "welfare state that lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency" is to bring "cultural antibodies back in." And by tying this depraved culture to inner-city Americans, Ryan presents an analysis that can be read to include a racial component. What he said on Bennett's radio show was not out of sync with his usual rhetoric. It was not inarticulate. It was a view he has expressed before and presumably believes fully.
In recent weeks, I've talked to several Washington politicos close to Bill and Hillary Clinton, and when I've asked if they will be joining Hillary's presidential machine, should she run, I've received a variant of this (understandably) not-for-citation reply: If Mark Penn is involved, no f-ing way.
Penn is famous—or infamous—for being the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign of inevitability that turned into a colossal failure. That effort was marked by hubris, lousy messaging, poor strategic planning, and legendary internal tensions—including back-biting, leaks, and fierce inside politics—that many within the politerati blamed, fairly or not, on Penn. In the book Game Change, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin described the campaign as "a simmering cauldron of long-held animosities—most of them directed at Penn." It was personal: "[T]he rest of Hillaryland detested Penn personally. They thought him arrogant and amoral, a detrimental force whose perniciousness was amplified by his inexplicably tight bond with the Clintons."