I walked into the Stanford Bookstore yesterday and immediately saw Dick Cheney standing on a red carpet with eerie lighting, dressed in black and glowering at me. I began to wonder if In My Time's sales and promotional teams recognized the importance of creepy Darth Vader-like imagery in marketing Mr. Cheney's personal brand. Or if Cheney himself was just poking fun at his popular caricature in the media.
Whatever it was, it certainly worked as a draw, and I started skim-reading. Mr. Cheney's memoir, of course, is like its author, terse, un-weepy, and sure of itself. Amidst some genuinely moving passages and clear-headed defense of Bush-era pronouncements (the much maligned "we will be greeted as liberators" line actually turned out to be somewhat true), Cheney's memoir is remarkable in that it is weirdly anachronistic. Cheney almost never mentions the fiscal and economic issues that occupy most of our political discourse today. As a rule, he is partisan but not ideological on such concerns. To read his book is to be transported back to a long-ago time(it was only five years ago!) when America spent most of its time looking outward to its foes, to Iraq, and to the larger issues of the war on terror. Renditions, interrogations, wiretapping, geopolitics, weapons negotiations, pre-emptive strikes, Niger, yellowcake, and other phrases from that era are jarring to see in print again.
The world has changed. We live, now, in a time, where the majority of declared conflicts in the world are internal. Nations around the world are looking inward. European nations enact austerity programs, grapple with internal debt, and combat internal riots. The U.S. is still reeling from internal collapse and continues to re-evaluate itself and to re-orient its pulse towards a more equitable future. Israel and India deal with massive protests against democratically elected governments. In the Middle East, nations have turned from attacking each other to attacking themselves and their own uprisings. And the world notices the Arab Spring and attempts to aid democratic movements, but in a distracted, confused way.
But it is worthwhile to remember that looking outward, always, is essential in America, and the importance of this cannot be exaggerated. The great issues of national security, weapons control, rogue states, terrorism, and geopolitical rivalries never go away. And while we blink, the one large nation that doesn't seem to have had this inward shift is looking outward. To Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific, and outward. China is not waiting for us to reestablish ourselves. Whether you agree with his arguments or not, Mr. Cheney's memoir is a timely reminder that America's security, America's international presence, and America's standing in the world are constantly evolving external concerns that cannot be put on pause. My sense is that we, as a nation, are attempting to do so, and that we will reap an awful reward. Thoughts?