Dick Cheney's craziness used to influence foreign policy.
Now it is foreign policy.
He may have lost his buddy in belligerence, Rummy. He may have tapped out the military in Iraq. He may not be able to persuade Congress so easily anymore - except for Hillary - to issue warlike resolutions. He can't cow Condi into supporting his bullying as he once did, and Bob Gates is doing his best to instill some common sense.
Besides, Cheney is running out of time to wreak global havoc; he's working for a president who is spending his waning days on the job trying to prevent children from getting health insurance.
But the vice president may have hit on a devious tactic used by his old boss Richard Nixon.
President Nixon and Henry Kissinger liked to use madness as a method. In 1969, Nixon told Kissinger to caution the Soviet ambassador that Nixon was "out of control" on Indochina, and could do something drastic.
Three months earlier, as Anthony Summers wrote in "The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon," "Kissinger had sent that very same message by proxy when he instructed Len Garment, about to leave on a trip to Moscow, to give the Soviets 'the impression that Nixon is somewhat "crazy" - immensely intelligent, well organized and experienced to be sure, but at moments of stress or personal challenge unpredictable and capable of the bloodiest brutality.' Garment carried out the mission, telling a senior Brezhnev adviser that Nixon was 'a dramatically disjointed personality ... more than a little paranoid ... when necessary, a cold-hearted butcher.' " All of which, his aides later reflected, was kind of true.
Cheney seems to enjoy giving the impression that he is loony enough to pull off an attack on Iran before leaving office - even if he has to do it alone, like Slim Pickens riding the bomb down in "Dr. Strangelove" to the sentimental tune of "We'll Meet Again." He has even begun referring to his nickname, Darth Vader, noting that it "is one of the nicer things I've been called recently."
Darth shook his fist against Iran again on Sunday, calling Tehran "the world's most active state sponsor of terror" and vowing "serious consequences."
Yet the administration's policy in northern Iraq is another adventure in hypocrisy, according to a story yesterday by The Times's Richard Oppel. The administration expresses solidarity with Turkey and tries to negotiate when Kurdish militants make raids against the Turks. But when Kurdish guerrillas stalk and kill Iranian forces, "the Americans offer Iran little sympathy."
"Tehran even says Washington aids the Iranian guerrillas, a charge the United States denies," Oppel writes.
The neocons who have their heart set on bombing Iran to stop I'm-a-Dinner-Jacket and the mullahs from getting nuclear capability were thrilled and emboldened by the placid reaction to the Israeli air strike on Syria.
The hawks are pounding the drums on Iran as they once did on Iraq, acting as if the hourglass is running out and we have to act immediately or, as the president apocalyptically suggested last week, we could be facing World War III.
Or World War IV, as Norman Podhoretz, a neocon who is a top Giuliani adviser, says. Podhoretz urges bombing Iran "as soon as it is logistically possible" and likened Ahmadinejad to Hitler, as Poppy Bush did with Saddam.
Rudy is using his more martial attitude toward Iran as a weapon against Hillary, painting her as a delicate ditherer on the topic, and Obama is using his more diplomatic attitude toward Iran as a weapon against Hillary, painting her as a triangulator and a two-time administration patsy.
In his new book, the former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton scornfully accuses Colin Powell, and later Condi Rice, of appeasing Iran, including some carrots to get them to cease their nuclear plans.
A top Bush 41 national security official told me shortly after Bush 43 got under way that the younger Bush team's foreign policy was dangerous because it was so "black and white," so dependent on "bogymen."
President Bush has settled on his new bogyman, once more ignoring the obvious choice of Osama. Yesterday, he defended his plans to build a missile defense system in Europe by raising the specter of Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Hit with sticks, the bogyman responded with sticks. He said that Iran will not negotiate with anyone about its right to nuclear technology.
As Pat Buchanan noted on "Hardball," "Cheney and Bush are laying down markers for themselves which they're going to have to meet. I don't see how ... Bush and Cheney can avoid attacking Iran and retaining their credibility going out of office."
In other words, once our cowboys have talked their crazy talk, they have to walk their crazy walk.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company