Cheney's memoir: heads really did explode

Critics – including former Secretary of State Colin Powell – fulminate over Dick Cheney's memoir.

"Even the cover [of Dick Cheney's memoir] is daunting," writes US News and World Report critic Susan Milligan, noting that it features “a grimacing Cheney inside the White House, looking like he's deliberately trying to scare away the tourists.”

He promised exploding heads, and explode they did.

Dick Cheney’s anticipated book, “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,” hit bookstores today and – no surprise – like the man himself, it’s already creating a stir.

The 46th vice president spends the bulk of the book, co-written with his daughter, Liz Cheney, defending his controversial policies and practices, promising more than once that he has no regrets and would repeat his actions “in a heartbeat.”

Among those actions are his support of waterboarding, which he calls “tough negotiations,” and his support for the Iraq war and for military actions in Syria.

He also makes no qualms about breaking ranks with former administration members Condoleeza Rice, George Tenet, and Colin Powell, whom he said undermined the president when he expressed doubts about the Iraq war.

Today, Powell struck back. Former Secretary of State Powell said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that many disclosures in Cheney’s book seemed to be "cheap shots that he's taking at me and other members of the administration who served to the best of our ability for President Bush."

Powell disputed Cheney’s claim that the vice president had pushed Powell out in 2004, saying that’s when he had intended to leave, and described the administration as dysfunctional at the time of his departure.

“It was clear by 2004 that the team was not functioning as a team,” Powell said. “And we had different views, and not just views, not views that could be reconciled. And so I said to the president that I would be leaving at the end of the year, after the election, and he ought to take a look at his whole team to try to resolve all these issues.”

Powell also said Cheney went too far to sell more copies of his book, using the tactics of a supermarket tabloid to promote it.

"I think Dick overshot the runway," Powell told CBS' Bob Schieffer, adding that he would have expected Cheney’s comment that the memoir would "makes heads explode" from a gossip columnist, not a former US vice president.

The twisted tale Cheney weaves in his memoir is a bald attempt to rewrite history, writes Robert Kaiser, in the Washington Post.

“If this book were read by an intelligent person who spent the past 10 years on, say, Mars, she would have no idea that Dick Cheney was the vice president in one of the most hapless American administrations of modern times," says Kaiser. "There are hints, to be sure, that things did not always go swimmingly under President George W. Bush and Cheney, but these are surrounded by triumphalist accounts of events that many readers – and future historians – are unlikely to consider triumphs.”

But then again, what memoir isn’t self-serving?

“This is not surprising,” Kaiser continues. “The genre of statesman’s memoir rarely produces self-criticism, or even much candor. Apparently, the point is to redeem your large advance from the publisher with a brisk, self-complimenting account of your life and times, with emphasis on your moment in the limelight.”

Susan Milligan of US News and World Report was similarly unimpressed.

Cheney’s memoir, she wrote, is “so unapologetic as to be a caricature.” Although former President George Bush’s memoir made no apologies either, it wasn’t angry. Cheney’s, by contrast, has done nothing to remove his “Darth Vader” nickname.

“There is characteristically nothing kind or charming or insightful to be found in Cheney's tome,” she writes. “Even the cover is daunting – a grimacing Cheney inside the White House, looking like he's deliberately trying to scare away the tourists.”

Throughout, Cheney has pushed back against critics, defending his stance on waterboarding, the Iraq war, and his harsh comments about his colleagues.

About waterboarding, he says, "The fact is that it worked. We learned valuable, valuable information from that process and we kept the country safe for over seven years."

About the Iraq war, he told NBC’s “Today Show”: "I don't think that it [the Iraq war] damaged our reputation around the world.”

And on Powell, Cheney had this to say: "I wrote the events as I participated in them," he said, adding that he held Powell in high regard "but a balanced account, I think, also required me to put down what my opinion was, and I think that's what I've done."

Even if his memoir were 576 blank pages, or oodles of doodles, we wouldn’t be surprised by the blowback. After all, it’s penned by the man who left office with a staggeringly low 13 percent approval rating. The man who is among the most reviled politicians in US history. The man who former president Ronald Reagan’s son, Ron Reagan Jr., called a war criminal.

Yes. Heads were exploding long before your memoir was even a stroke on the page, Mr. Cheney.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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