What will history think of Dick Cheney? I believe that jury is still out, but I know one thing: Cheney is doing his best to steer the criticism.
I’ll be honest: I only read this up until the chapter when Cheney starts his account of 9/11 and its aftermath. At that point, I decided that his most recent history–relating to September 11, 2001 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan–was sufficiently loaded that it would be difficult to read without some extratextual reading…fact checking, as it were. Too often I’ve seen Dick Cheney compared to Darth Vader (or worse), and while I do not agree, even a bit, I would have a hard time taking his perspective on the events in the post-9/11 world without a grain of salt. Ergo, I’ll postpone judgment until I can read more on inner history of the time (which, admittedly, I’ve been living through…).
So I stopped reading there, at least for now.
Now, to rewind, a bit, and to look at the rest of the memoir for what it is: a memoir. Dick Cheney’s lived a life most would count as remarkable, especially for a guy who started out as a college dropout from Wyoming (granted, that college was Yale, but who’s keeping track?). Eventually earning a Ph.D. in political science, he ended up in Washington advising congressmen and Presidents, including Donald Rumsfeld and Gerald Ford. Over the course of a career that began during the Nixon Administration, Cheney served the country variously as White House chief-of-staff, Congressman, Secretary of Defense, and finally Vice President (and perhaps the most powerful man to hold that office, yet).
Yet, for all his years in government service, the memoir provides astonishingly little detail, seemingly only giving a burnish his reputation, such as he would like it to appear. Don’t get me wrong; in many respects, I like Dick Cheney. However, as a look back at a very long and distinguished career, it is short thrift, skimming through decades of dramatic changes in American government and politics. While it was interesting to hear about his time and the events in which he had participated, as well as some of the insider politics of the campaigns and party conventions of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Cheney sacrifices detail for brevity. It keeps the story moving, and so the “In My Time” is readable. However, it left me feeling like I had read the Cliff’s Notes version, not the full memoir.
That said, and I return to my first caveat: I’ve not finished the book’s final chapters, yet, and I would surmise that this last section on 9/11′s aftermath will prove to be the interesting and volatile. Cheney’s legacy will, in the end, be determined by the outcome of what has been called by some the “long war” against Islamic terrorism and its attacks on the United States. That, however, remains to be seen, and may not even be clear for decades to come.
[Previously posted at Publius Online]