Slipped His Moorings

I fear the vice president has had one too many heart attacks. His mind seems to have slipped its moorings and is drifting out into the sea of fantasy.

Dick Cheney was the misleader in chief prior to the war in Iraq, and in a recent speech in which he chastised people for suggesting that, he made yet another whopper of a misleading statement.

"Those who advocate a sudden withdrawal from Iraq should answer a few simple questions," Cheney said, such as whether the United States would be "better off or worse off" with terror leaders like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri in control of Iraq.

Dearly beloved, that is akin to saying that if Eliot Ness hadn’t come along, Al Capone would have been the dictator of the United States. Zarqawi is a miserable little terrorist with a small band of fanatical followers and a life span that is shrinking by the day. To suggest that there was even a remote possibility of him taking control of Iraq is, well, grossly misleading. Zarqawi is a Jordanian, not an Iraqi; he has been denounced by his tribe and his family; and he has killed more Iraqis than Americans. It is just a matter of time before some Iraqi drops a dime on him and he’s packed off to Islamic hell.

As for bin Laden and his Egyptian adviser, they are — assuming they’re still alive — hiding out in some cave or rat-infested village in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They could not control a small town, much less a country of 25 million people of which neither of them is a native.

I don’t know who the vice president’s speechwriters are, but he ought to fire them all forthwith. What he said was so far off the map of reality that it is embarrassing. He might as well have said that if Americans withdraw, Martians will land in spaceships and take over the country. His statement is that bizarre. If he himself believes what he said, then he has displayed an ignorance of the Middle East that is embarrassingly gargantuan. A 12-year-old street vendor in Baghdad could tell you that those three men have zero chance of ruling Iraq.

I’m beginning to feel like a crew member of the doomed ship Pequod, with mad Captain Ahab stumping about on the quarterdeck and cursing the heavens in his fanatical pursuit of the white whale that crippled him. One likes to believe that the leaders of one’s country are, at a minimum, sane, no matter how flawed their policies might be.

Whether we leave or stay, we probably won’t like the man who emerges from the December elections as the leader of Iraq. There are no Thomas Jeffersons over there. Twenty-five years of brutal dictatorship do not produce either idealists or democrats. But he will not be a terrorist, and he will not be a man who will tolerate terrorists. Least of all will he be a foreigner.

The Iraqis are desperate for security and stability, and once they have the power, woe to anyone who challenges them on those points. The Bush administration, in order to maintain a never-ending war, has greatly exaggerated the power and influence of terrorists. From the way Cheney is acting and talking, he seems to have been taken in by his own propaganda.

Just keep in mind that no terrorist has an army; no terrorist controls a country or even a city. Terrorists are nothing more than criminal gangs scattered about and perpetually on the run. When they occasionally draw blood, it is usually at the cost of their own lives. However magnified they might be in Cheney’s murky mind, they are in reality losers, doomed to die for lost causes.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.