Harkin: Cheney is Cowardly
Iowa Senator Tom Harkin has let Dick Cheney have it over Cheney’s questioning of John Kerry’s ability to understand the war on terrorism–calling the vice president a “coward”. CNN quotes him,
“It just outrages me that someone who got five deferments during Vietnam and said he had ‘other priorities’ at that time would say that,” said the Iowa Democrat, a former Navy fighter pilot . . . The issue first arose when Harkin joined with Des Moines police officials protesting the call-up of a police officer who already had completed his eight year military commitment. Harkin said that it angered him to hear tough talk from Cheney. “When I hear this coming from Dick Cheney, who was a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil,” said Harkin. “He’ll be tough, but he’ll be tough with someone else’s kid’s blood,” said Harkin.
Actually, I don’t think declining to serve in Vietnam is necessarily a sign of cowardice. Those who didn’t buy the Domino Theory or just didn’t consider the North Vietnamese a threat to the California coast might well have declined to risk their lives in that war. But presumably Cheney did believe that fighting international Communism was a worthy cause. He did ask for and receive five deferments, one after another. It is clear that he had higher priorities, as he said, than fighting in the Vietnam War.
This behavior suggests not necessarily cowardice, but hypocrisy. If he was exercised about a threat, why not go meet it? It could be cowardice, of course. We cannot know for sure. But it was at least hypocrisy.
Now that we are on Cheney, I wanted to respond to his recent sarcastic criticism of John Kerry for saying that we need to fight the war on terror sensitively.
‘ “America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive,” Cheney told an audience of veterans in Dayton, Ohio. ‘
Many pundits pointed out that George W. Bush had used exactly the same language about a sensitive approach to the war on terror, so that Cheney was implicitly criticizing his own superior.
But as a historian, I have to say that Cheney’s statement is bizarre and uninformed. Let me just give one example. The practice round for World War II was fought in North Africa, then controlled by the Vichy French. Dwight Eisenhower developed Project Torch, involving the landing of US troops in Morocco and Algeria.
It was essential to the US effort that the French colonial soldiers be quickly won over and convinced not to put up stiff resistance to the invasion. The original plan would have explicitly used British naval power. But the Free French objected loudly to this plan, since they did not want the British Empire’s ships anywhere near their North African possessions. The French and the British had old rivalries in this regard. Moreover, there were still French bad feelings about the British attack on the French fleet at Mers al Kabir in Algeria in 1940.
So Roosevelt and Eisenhower asked Churchill to keep the British navy in the background off Gibraltar and out of sight of the Moroccan coast. Churchill agreed.
That is, Roosevelt and Eisenhower had their successful landing in North Africa precisely because they were entirely willing to bend over backward to be sensitive to French feelings.
And that is the big difference between Cheney and Bush as wartime leaders on the one hand, and on the other Roosevelt and Eisenhower. Cheney and Bush are diplomatically tone deaf, projecting nothing but arrogance and being all too willing to humiliate traditional allies. They have no sensitivity. And it is for that reason that they have the U.S. stuck in Iraq with only one really significant military ally, the U.K. (the Italians only have 3,000 troops there, and most countries just a few hundred, which makes their presence a token one). They have perhaps permanently alienated all the countries that might have lent the U.S. a hand.
And that pattern of arrogant, unilateral war-mongering worries me more than Cheney being a coward.
If the Bush/Cheney team gets back in, there will be further wars and massive disturbances to world peace and security, starting with Iran. Maybe the whole doctrine of pre-emptive war is a form of inferiority complex, impelling Cheney to be a strident war-monger to try to vindicate his uninvolved youth. If he was a coward, he may be endangering us all (and especially our teenagers) in a desperate ploy to regain his own manhood.