[…] Those 40 years, interrupted by a lucrative stint at defense contractor Halliburton, saw Cheney rise to become secretary of defense and later vice president, presiding over wars that put him in considerable conflict with Colin Powell. It is Powell — who was experiencing the reality of war in Vietnam at the time Cheney was winning bureaucratic battles in Washington — who is scorned in Cheney’s memoir as the hopeless dove.
It was the more cautious war veteran Powell who, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Iraq war, proved to be far more effective a leader than Cheney, who was then secretary of defense. What is confirmed by Cheney’s memoir is that he seized upon the second Iraq invasion as a way of settling scores with his adversary by assuming the role of an ultra-militarist.
Powell, who inside the administration clearly opposed the invasion of Iraq — “If you break it, you own it” — was cast as a puppet who in a dramatic appearance before the United Nations lied to the world about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. But despite Powell’s woefully misplaced sense of loyalty to President George W. Bush, Cheney is merciless in condemning the general for allegedly undermining the administration. Powell has fired back at what he termed Cheney’s “cheap shots” and reminds us that “Mr. Cheney and many of his colleagues did not prepare for what happened after the fall of Baghdad.”
It’s not clear that Cheney is a true believer in military mayhem as much as he is an uncontrollable careerist who finds war talk a convenient tool for advancement. He seems to have no real sense of the cost of the Iraq War beyond what it might have done to hurt his own legacy. If his memoir has any enduring value, it is not as another offering of hollow excuses for an unjustifiable war but rather as a study in what the famed historian of European fascism, Hannah Arendt, termed the “banality of evil.”