The Magazine

Cheney's War on the Democrats

He might be unpopular, but he's winning the debate.

May 25, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 34 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Obama could overrule the agency, but he's chosen to hide behind the FOIA technicality. It's hard not to see politics here. On April 16, the White House declassified four Bush-era Justice Department memos that would have almost certainly been covered by the same FOIA restrictions. And on April 22, at the request of Senator Jay Rockefeller, the White House declassified and released a chronology of the Bush interrogation program.

Despite repeated claims that he will run the most transparent administration and his own order that federal agencies consider all FOIA requests with a presumption of disclosure, Obama has thus far refused to share key documents with the public.

Meanwhile, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has proved utterly incapable of providing a coherent or consistent narrative of her knowledge of the enhanced interrogation techniques. On Thursday, she accused the CIA of "misleading Congress" on interrogations.

While some of these wounds are self-inflicted, there is little doubt that the constant pressure applied by Cheney is having a significant effect.

Cheney is making arguments that the Bush administration largely avoided throughout the second term. Aside from an occasional, defensive speech about its war on terror policies, the Bush White House allowed its opponents to level harsh attacks with little or no response. Only in the final months of the administration did the White House offer a consistent, unapologetic argument that Bush administration policies, however controversial, were responsible for keeping the country safe in the seven years after the 9/11 attacks.

Equally important is that the views of the American public on national security are much closer to Cheney's than Maureen Dowd's. Democrats have made the assumption that because Cheney is personally unpopular, the policies he has advocated are, too. Obama did not become president because voters supported his positions on national security and the war on terror. They don't.

In a widely overlooked Pew poll on "torture" released late last month, respondents were asked: "Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?" (Cheney would no doubt object to the wording of the question, insisting that the policies used by the Bush administration were not "torture.") If Cheney is batty because of his views on interrogation, what must Maureen Dowd think of the American public.

A stunning 71 percent of those surveyed said that the use of torture could be justified--with 15 percent saying it is "often" justified, 34 percent saying it is "sometimes" justified, and 22 percent saying it is "rarely" justified. Independents fall decisively in what most journalists might characterize as the "pro-torture" camp. More than three-quarters of independents--77 percent--said that torture could be justified: with 19 percent saying it is "often" justified, 35 percent saying it is "sometimes" justified, and 23 percent saying it is "rarely" justified. The phrasing of the question also likely resulted in underreporting the support for what Cheney calls "enhanced interrogation," since some of the respondents might be hesitant to admit to a random telephone caller that they favor "torture."

Cheney plans to continue his public role as Obama's chief critic on these issues. He will formally appeal the CIA's decision to withhold the memos, and on May 21 he will pop out of his dungeon once again to give a speech that promises to offer his most comprehensive defense yet of Bush administration's war on terror policies.

No word on whether there will be organ music.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.