Once again the Cheney attack dog is on the prowl for Barack Obama. It's just not the Cheney you're thinking of. On Monday, in the Wall Street Journal, just two days after the New York Times reported that Dick Cheney concealed a secret CIA counterterrorism programme from Congress during the Bush administration, his daughter, Liz, assailed Obama on his recent speeches on US international relations.
Her argument is as simplistic as it is ridiculous: Obama doesn't spread the myth of American exceptionalism and thus engages in historical revisionism, which emboldens our enemies and hurts America. A high-level official in the Bush state department and a ferocious defender of her father's legacy, Cheney sees Obama's recent speeches in Trinidad and Tobago, Cairo and Moscow as either "an attempt to push 'reset' – or maybe to curry favour" with our enemies.
Why? Because Obama hasn't defended the standard tropes of the US cold war mythology in his own speeches or rebutted foreign leaders' less forgiving take on US foreign policy.
According to Cheney, Obama should tell our adversaries:
America was an unmatched force for good in the world during the cold war. The Soviets were not. The cold war ended not because the Soviets decided it should but because they were no match for the forces of freedom and the commitment of free nations to defend liberty and defeat communism.
Anything less and Obama is pushing the historical "reset" button, because by proclaiming "moral equivalence between the US and our adversaries, he readily accepts a false historical narrative, and he refuses to stand up against anti-American lies."
But Obama has apologised for the right things to foreign audiences and has listened to anti-American screeds from foreign leaders because, here's the nasty little truth, those historical narratives have been pretty accurate.
Consider the two benefactors of US cold war policy that Cheney trots forth as examples: Iran and Nicaragua.
Regarding US relations with Iran during the cold war, Cheney argues that Obama's speech in Cairo "asserted there was some sort of equivalence between American support for the 1953 coup in Iran and the evil that the Iranian mullahs have done in the world since 1979."
Here's what Obama said:
For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the cold war, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against US troops and civilians.
Conveniently, Cheney, and even Obama, leaves out the context of why the US and UK supported the coup in Iran. In 1951, Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadeq nationalised Iran's oil industry, ending Britain's Anglo-Iranian Oil Company control over its precious natural resource. In return for helping with the coup, the US demanded that Britain cease its monopoly control over Iranian oil. After the coup, the US and UK installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the dreaded Shah, who ensured that US and UK multinationals received 80% of Iran's oil profits split down the middle. Under his dictatorial rule, dissidents were jailed, tortured and murdered.
It's not without irony that Cheney can write "the Soviets ran a brutal, authoritarian regime. The KGB killed their opponents or dragged them off to the Gulag. There was no free press, no freedom of speech, no freedom of worship, no freedom of any kind." Iranians dealt with the same kind of state terrorism under the Shah and his secret police, only this time trained and funded by the US. Yet Cheney fails to mention this inconvenient little fact.
Obama also annoyed Cheney because he didn't stand up to Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega after he "listened to an extended anti-American screed". While it's certainly hard to defend Ortega the man, the Sandinista movement he led did eventually overthrow the US-installed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1978, and initiated many necessary social welfare policies, such as literacy and healthcare programmes and agrarian reform. In response, the US funded the Contras, which carried out a systematic, terrorist war against the Sandinista revolution, while mining Nicaraguan harbours. These offences led the International Court of Justice to rule against the US and order it to pay reparations to Nicaragua.
In his speech before the fifth Summit of the Americas last month, Ortega spoke about meeting Jimmy Carter. It's illustrative of American exceptionalism and hubris, considering what the US would have done to a country that violated its sovereignty and funded a terrorist army against it:
I had the opportunity of meeting with President Carter, and when President Carter was saying that "now that the Somosas were gone and that we had defeated and brought down the Somosa tyranny," he said, "it was high time for Nicaragua to change," and I said, No sir, Nicaragua doesn't have to change, those that have to change are you sir.
You have to change because Nicaragua has never invaded the United States. Nicaragua has never undermined and has never set mines in the US ports. Nicaragua has not even launched one stone against the American nation. Nicaragua has not imposed governments in the United States, therefore, I said President Carter, you are the ones who have to change, it is not the Nicaraguans who have to change.
It should never cease to amaze how conservatives like Cheney continue to view the cold war theologically, with US as the anointed messiah of civilisation facing the satanic forces of the Soviet Union. Both imperial nations put up impressive body counts in defence of their antithetical ideologies. And yet, the US didn't learn the value of nuance in foreign affairs with the same good/evil narrative pervading the "war on terror", driven by the same cognitive dissonance that allows engaging in acts we find rightly morally reprehensible when other regimes or terrorist groups do it. Hopefully this is beginning to change.
When you take a close look at Liz Cheney's grievance against Obama after seeing it in its proper context, it's easy to understand her definition of American exceptionalism: The US and its clients can torture, but others can't. The US can willingly violate the norms of war, but others can't. The US can subvert democracy wherever it wants, but others can't.
The rationale is as easy as it circular: Since the US stands for democracy, anything it does is in the best long-term interest of democracy. Why? Because the US says so. Let's borrow a term from Lenin and call it "democratic centralism", but on a global scale.
"I've spent a lot of time promoting democracy around the world," Cheney told the Washington Times on Monday, declaring herself open to running for political office. "It has made me really grateful for our system and has given me a real understanding of how important it is to participate."
With democracy practitioners like Cheney and her father, who needs detractors? By simply mouthing the word "democracy", they discredit it.