Lately I’ve been trying to figure out why Dick Cheney can’t keep his mouth shut about President Obama’s torture-related moves since his inauguration. And then Greg Sargent nudged me toward a conclusion:
Cheney and company are working to shift the debate onto the narrow question of whether torture “works,” and as Ben Smith notes, this is probably not an argument Obama wants to have right now.
Nonetheless, Cheney’s high-profile entry into the debate is a net win for Obama and Dems. It makes this whole fight is about Bush’s — or, worse, Cheney’s — legacy, at a time when Republicans want it to be about the current Commander in Chief and whether he has what it takes to keep us safe.
So Cheney wants to talk about whether torture worked. This makes sense for him because it lets him talk about how be believes torture did work, and it doesn’t matter if it did or didn’t.
Why? Because it lets him act as though he was just looking out for the best interest of the country. This sounds much better than Cheney telling Hannity, “Well, Sean, I had no problem with the CIA torturing prisoners because I’m a vindictive asshole with little regard for the rule of law.”
But Cheney must know he can’t just say, “We were trying to keep America safe.” He can’t win that argument, because we have little evidence that waterboarding Abu Zubaida 83 times in a month, for example, protected us from further attack. He has to take the sophism a step further, calling for Obama to release more memos that allegedly prove torture did work.
This brings me back to Sargent’s post. Cheney saying something like this is, indeed, a net loss for the Republicans. (How many Republican talking heads are more odious right now than Dick Cheney?) But for Cheney it’s a net win. Why? Because it gives his original justification for torture two shoddy legs on which to stand. It doesn’t matter if these new memos actually exist. Assuming they’re just a conjured slice of Cheney’s imagination, Cheney can just keep claiming Obama and Hillary Clinton are keeping them secret because they can’t admit he’s right.
Obviously, it’s a completely cynical way of thinking. It’s also a bit fantastical; Cheney might as well have demanded Obama release evidence proving Saddam Hussein was in Al-Qaeda. But why stop there? Cheney’s selling himself short. Remember, wishes are free. In his whimsical world, he can wish for anything he wants. And as long as Cheney’s wishing for a new reality, he might as well wish that he was right about everything and throw in a wish for a pony, too. That’s what I’m wishing he’d do publicly. Then, at least, he’d be providing a sideshow rather than a talking point.