- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2009



Nobody knew exactly what Julius Caesar thought as he “left office” - the assassination was too swift! People are still speculating as to what John F. Kennedy was really thinking. One favorite topic of political discussion still bandied about is whether the adored president would have gotten us out of Vietnam quickly.

And who really knows what went on in a consummately evil mind like Adolf Hitler’s as he plotted to kill himself, leaving no notes, rather than face the music of the victors? Or in a consummately good mind like Anwar Sadat’s as he was gunned down by the very men who were supposedly his own.

We’ll never really know what these leaders were thinking, but in these last few weeks before the turn of the New Year our formerly mysterious outgoing president and vice president (you do remember them?) have been busily baring their souls before the press. And their “revelations” have turned out to be about as interesting as they have been as human beings.

President George W. Bush, to start with, tried in a series of interviews, and in particular one with The Washington Times, to present himself as a kind of socially conscious conservative. He told the paper he had worked hard to lift minorities by expanding opportunities for small businesses. “No Child Left Behind is a piece of civil rights legislation,” he was quoted.

While he naturally spoke in all the 10 interviews granted as of this writing about the wars, his stress in the Times interview was on leaving behind a safer country, plus leaving the “tools behind so that future presidents could have the intelligence necessary and the means necessary to respond to intelligence to protect the country.” He spoke almost apologetically about the wars-within-wars that he had embraced with such fervor and certainty.

What are we to make of these Bush revelations, coming as they do at a time when leaders grow reflective, if only out of exhaustion or merely trying, at least for themselves, to make some sense out of their lives and tenures?

While time will surely tell other things, it seems strange to me that George W., after the “aw shucks” big cowboy image he has burdened us with for eight years, should now be trying to appear as the kindly, ameliorative uncle. Perhaps he is just tired of being criticized; perhaps this is some kind of return to his past persona when he was the charming, likable governor of Texas, or to his “inner Bush,” as some have put it. But he surely paints himself as a different person.

At the same time, Dick Cheney’s vice presidential interviews - as of this writing, he has given four - could not present a more unchanged man. The unsmiling, unrepentant and, in fact, wholly unpleasant Mr. Cheney remains totally sure of himself. On “Fox News Sunday,” he outlined how historians would look favorably on the Bush administration’s efforts to keep the nation safe, and insisted the Bush White House had been justified in expanding executive authority in everything from the war in Iraq to the torture of terrorism suspects to domestic wiretapping.

The American president “doesn’t have to check with anybody” - and that means not the Congress, not the courts, not anybody, get it? - before launching a nuclear attack to defend the nation “because of the nature of the world we live in” since Sept. 11, 2001 (Yes, he did say “nuclear attack!” Yes, that is correct.)

In fact, he would do exactly the same things again, and again and again, while he said repeatedly that Sept. 11 had brought on the need for an executive that was one of unitary power - that is, the president and the vice president holding total power in the nation. In fact, Dick Cheney in 1991 wrote a now infamous paper pronouncing, in the wake of the end of the Cold War, that the United States must be the single unitary power in the world - and that no other power or grouping of powers should be permitted ever to challenge it.

Instead, he and his rarefied ideas have left the United States in a financial collapse so severe some economists are calling it the “failure of an entire system,” hated by the entire world and openly challenged by everybody but, well, leave out Somalia, Paraguay and Bangladesh.

A note of pathos was printed on the front page of The Washington Post recently: European nations that were critical of the Bush/Cheney administration’s human rights-challenged policies (i.e., torture) offered to resettle detainees from Guantanamo Bay as an overture of faith to and in the Obama administration. That is how pitiful we have become.

But if George W. has some vague inkling of that, Dick Cheney certainly still does not. A longtime friend and adviser to the vice president was quoted in the New York Times recently as saying Mr. Cheney “sees himself more in a Churchill-like role, as the sentinel issuing the call for vigilance.”

Somehow it always ends with comparing yourself with Churchill. The poor man - he must be turning over in his grave.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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