Former vice president Dick Cheney appeared on the “Today” show Tuesday as part of the promotion for his new autobiographical book, In My Life: A Personal and Political Memoir. In his characteristically autocratic manner, he described to NBC’s Matt Lauer the world as he saw it when in office and how he viewed the world today. As with most things, the final adjudication, for the former vice president as well as most, comes down to a matter of perception. A case in point: Cheney’s statement on “Today” where he insisted that America’s reputation had not been hurt by the Iraq War.
“I don’t think that it damaged our reputation around the world,” Cheney told Lauer. “I just don’t believe that. I think the critics at home want to argue that. In fact, I think it was sound policy that dealt with a very serious problem and eliminated Saddam Hussein from the kind of problem he presented before.”
The problem with statements like the aforementioned is the presumption that Cheney might have been discussing America’s reputation of good standing in the international community. Those who agree with Cheney did not and do not see the problems that ensued from the invasion of Iraq (the insurrection, the debacle that was the provisional government, the expansion of the number of terrorists and of terrorist groups, etc.).
They see only the end results of a limited goal structure, where Iraq now hosts a democratic government and maintains a measure of stability, where “good standing” is only relative to power and positioning. Those who disagree believe that Cheney’s arrogance and might-makes-right mentality blinds him to world perceptions.
But Cheney most likely was not talking about American diplomatic or international good standing. The American reputation for being the strongest nation — economically and militarily — on the planet and having the ability to force other nations to do its will was most likely the meaning behind Cheney’s words. And in that regard, Cheney would be correct. America’s reputation for clumsy military interventions, global bullying, and imperialism remained intact.
Cheney’s line of thinking — at least as far as foreign policy and the war in Iraq is concerned — can be described best as a 20th century edition of manifest destiny. It is embodied in the “Statement of Principles” of the Project for a New American Century, of which Cheney was a major signatory.
Among the goals of Washington organization, which pushed the idea that “American leadership is both good for America and good for the world,” was regime change in Iraq. Headed by political analyst and editor of The Weekly Standard Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, the neoconservative group spearheaded a defense-oriented and militarily aggressive agenda.
Along with Cheney, its major signatories included Jeb Bush, President George W. Bush’s brother; Donald Rumsfeld, who became Bush’s Secretary of Defense; and Paul Wolfowicz, who became Bush’s Deputy Secretary of Defense. The organization, which took shape in response to President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton’s foreign policies, would place over a dozen members in key positions in the Bush administration. Their advocacy for a war with Iraq would see fruition in March 2003 on the flimsiest of evidence.
And thus would begin the degeneration of America’s reputation — but only in some respects.
But Cheney’s America-centric worldview aside, what about his perceptions of how others regard the United States? Surely he is aware of the major series of studies undertaken by the Pew Research Center to assess what the international community thinks of Americans and American policies?
Andrew Kohut and his organization published its findings in the 2006 book, America Against The World: How We Are Different and Why We Are Disliked. They found that an overwhelming majority of nations not only disliked Americans as a people and found the nation warlike, imperialistic, and contemptuous of other nations.
The views persist. In a lecture given at the University of Delaware in March, Kohut noted that after 240,000 interviews in 57 countries regarding studies that covered polling on economic issues, public well-being, and social values, the Center had become known ” chronicling the rise of anti-Americanism during the Bush years.”
Kohut stated that the war on terrorism was seen by many nations, but most strongly in Arab and Muslim countries, as the U. S. picking on Muslim countries. “Iraq,” he said, “drove this home to many Muslim countries around the world.”
It is undoubtedly a mistake to think that former Vice President Cheney does not see or understand that these perceptions exist. Not to presume to know the mind of the former vice president, but it is far more likely that the forceful former politician simply dismisses those oppositional perceptions as irrelevant.
To repeat: it might be a mistake to think that Cheney — in his comments on the “Today” show — was talking about the views of others or the good standing — including diplomatic good standing — of the United States. Again, it is far more likely that he was talking about the reputation of the United States as a strong military and political entity on the world stage, respected and feared for its strength and its abilities, military and economic positions, and overall intent within the convoluted workings of the world community. And in that regard the former vice president would be right. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has not damaged America’s reputation at all.