Published on Tuesday, September 3, 2002 in the Los Angeles Times
Dick Cheney's Nightmare of Peace
by Robert Scheer
In the dreams of Dick Cheney, to which I am not privy, I imagine there are boldly contrasting scenes of victory and despair.
In one fantasy, he leads a victorious U.S. Army to a hero's welcome through the crowded streets of Baghdad, cheered wildly for having been the most outspoken proponent of war against Saddam Hussein.
In his nightmares, meanwhile, he is led off in handcuffs, accused of crimes committed while CEO of Halliburton, securing that company's place in the ever-growing pantheon of post-boom corporate fraudsters.
Peace, particularly the functioning of the economic order, has turned out to be far riskier than the waging of war for this administration. A typical American POW these days is a captain of industry who played loose with his company's books, and both Cheney and his alleged boss ran with that crowd.
Of course, we should probably leave the novelization of a hawkish vice president's innermost thoughts to the likes of Tom Clancy. Regardless of Cheney's best-and worst-case scenarios, there are myriad other destinations still possible on the strange, grim trip we've all taken since that bizarre election night not yet two years ago.
For example, the go-it-alone invasion of Old Mesopotamia that Cheney is pushing could dangerously backfire in the ways a bunch of Republican elders are predicting: Eroding allied support for the campaign against Al Qaeda, further destabilizing the Middle East and raising the likelihood that Hussein might launch whatever nasty weapons he does have.
Cheney, though, is unmoved by voices of moderation. He even argues that the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq, something the U.S. and our allies have been demanding for years, would only strengthen Hussein.
Perhaps the veep is worried that the inspectors might not find the weapons of mass destruction that he, almost alone, is convinced are already operational.
As for the CEO-in-handcuffs nightmare, it would be wrong to deny Cheney the presumption of innocence in any of the possible violations by Halliburton being pursued by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Still, one can imagine Cheney bolting awake in a cold sweat and moaning, "How could I have been so stupid as to make a video effusively thanking Arthur Andersen for giving me 'good advice over and above the normal by-the-books audit arrangements'?"
There's just no way that sounds good when the SEC is looking into whether Halliburton cooked the books like those of other companies that the disgraced accounting firm helped to defraud stockholders. Somehow, we Joe Blows thought corporate accountants should keep to "normal by-the-books audit arrangements" when assessing the companies we pour our retirement savings into.
Color us naive.
But, as with the Republican war skeptics, here too Cheney is being bitten from behind. A conservative organization that successfully hounded Bill Clinton for years, Judicial Watch, charged in a lawsuit that "Vice President Cheney broke the law" with accounting tricks as Halliburton's CEO.
Cheney also might be wondering whether he wasn't a bit too greedy in grabbing an $18-million profit on the sale of his Halliburton shares shortly before the stock tanked. Whether it was insider trading or just luck, the timing looks bad; no wonder, then, that a CNN poll showed only 11% of Americans believed that the vice president was telling the truth about his Halliburton history.
Cheney is not dumb. He assuredly recognizes his future reputation and domicile might be riding on a Republican sweep of the November election.
Imagine what a field day a Democrat-controlled Congress would have looking into how Cheney was able to cash out with $30 million after sending Halliburton down the road to possible bankruptcy, thanks to his lack of "due diligence" on a merger deal?
It might also take a close look at a decade of lucrative government contracts Halliburton secured while Cheney was in and then out and then back in the White House.
Or, how about that whole Enron thing, so many corporate scandals ago?
A Democrat-controlled Congress might be able to finally get answers to what exactly Enron's role was in the Cheney-led drafting of the administration's energy policy. The VP has managed to keep secret the minutes of meetings between himself and Enron officials--including top Bush campaign contributor and then-Enron CEO Kenneth Lay.
Maybe the elusive Cheney has a bunch of good explanations for all of this bad-smelling stuff. Until he decides to publicly share them, however, his passion on Iraq will remind many of us of the old saying that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. For Cheney and his embattled cohorts in the White House, facing a potential second recession in their first term, peace is just too risky. Better to go back to sleep and dream of war.
Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times