Feature

Reading Shakespeare in Kandahar

The United States has won some measure of revenge in the 10 years since 9/11. But as in Shakespeare's bloodthirsty play Titus Andronicus, has the cost been too great?

"Thank you for coming," Prof. David Kastan told the half-full auditorium. "You did not have to be here this morning. I did. It means the world to me that you came." I looked around at my fellow classmates; we were all tired and dazed. The night before, the acrid, unforgettable smell of melted steel, atomized concrete, and human remains had drifted seven miles north, from southern Manhattan up to Columbia University's campus.  

It was Sept. 13, 2001, and I was 21 years old. Two days earlier, I had walked into Kastan's Shakespeare class before the attacks began and walked out after the second tower had already fallen. Columbia canceled classes for two days. I spent my time at the daily student newspaper, the Spectator, where I was managing editor. On Thursday morning, the first class back was Shakespeare.

"I will not make a political statement today," Kastan continued. "But I will say this: This play we will discuss today is about revenge -- and what demanding revenge can do to a person. I only hope that the people who will be making decisions on how to respond to Tuesday's attacks read Titus Andronicus."

When he finished, the class gave him a standing ovation.

Nine-and-a-half years later, I found myself standing outside a large house in Pakistan. It was 1:00 p.m. on May 2, 2011, and I was a correspondent for ABC News. Twelve hours earlier, the United States had finally taken its revenge. In the middle of the night, Navy SEALs shot the man who ordered the 9/11 attacks in the head and chest. After loading his body onto a helicopter, they flew it to Afghanistan and then to a ship at sea, where they dumped the prepared body in the ocean. I was the first American reporter to arrive at Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad. My team and I aired the first video from inside the compound and filed 11 stories in five frantic days.

It was only after I had returned to my home in Islamabad, about a 90-minute drive away, that Titus Andronicus and Kastan's warning came to mind. I was sitting with a group of American and British friends -- journalists, NGO workers, and diplomats -- having that familiar melancholic conversation about 9/11: "Where were you?" And, because we now lived where 9/11's plotters had fled: "Did you imagine you'd be here, 10 years later?"

No, I said. I hadn't imagined, sitting in my Shakespeare class a decade ago, that I would end up in Pakistan reporting the death of Osama bin Laden. But perhaps Shakespeare might have imagined the United States would be "here," 10 years later.

Titus Andronicus is a play about revenge. It is about how a general fighting for an empire -- Rome -- finally defeats the "barbarous" Goths and returns to his capital with prisoners, the vanquished queen and her sons. Despite the queen's pleas, Titus kills her oldest son to avenge his own sons' deaths, beginning cycles of brutal violence that end in the death of nearly every major character.

At its core, Titus Andronicus is a play about how good people can  become unhinged and indeed overwhelmed by the need to avenge. It is about how powerful people surrender themselves to cycles of violence, how tribal and religious customs unequivocally demand retaliation, and how two tribes' or two religions' speaking past rather than with each other can lead to chaos.

"Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand,/Blood and revenge are hammering in my head," one of Titus's enemies says before the bloodletting begins.

Kastan was right to worry. The United States has made many of the same mistakes that Titus Andronicus and his fellow tragedians made: prioritizing revenge and killing the enemy over helping the local populations; choosing allies who help produce short-term gratification (security gains) but long-term trouble; refusing to truly engage with a population that seemed so different from themselves.

Had the Americans learned from Shakespeare's epic of vengeance, might Afghanistan and Pakistan, where I have lived for the last three years, been less violent and more welcoming of the United States today?

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'Tigers Must Prey'

In early November 2009, I walked through what had been the colorful and crowded aisles of Meena Bazaar in Peshawar, Pakistan. Every time I visited, the city always felt ancient, mostly unchanged from how it has been described for decades: filled with dust, smelling of diesel fumes and baked brick. In this part of town -- far from the old British-built cantonment of green lawns and red mansions -- the streets were thin and gray. Autorickshaws competed with horse-drawn carts.

Meena Bazaar was rare in that it catered to families -- one of the few places in Peshawar where you saw women in large numbers. But on this day, there were no girls choosing colorful bangles, no women buying dresses. Most of the small, fragile shops were now piles of debris, destroyed two weeks before by a massive car bomb that had gutted this crowded corner of the city. The explosion was one of the most violent acts of terrorism in Pakistan's history. The official death count was more than 110, but residents said at least 60 additional bodies were never found, obliterated in the blast.

The explosion coincided with a visit to Islamabad by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her timing could not have been worse. The bomb in the Meena Bazaar exploded just before she began to speak. The aggressive, ubiquitous Pakistani TV channels showed her news conference in split screen: Clinton on one side, the aftermath of the explosion on the other.

The Pakistani Taliban were in the middle of one of the most violent campaigns of retribution the country had ever seen. They were blowing up police and soldiers, but also bombing mosques and markets full of civilians. And yet the depravity of a Peshawar bomb clearly designed to kill as many innocents as possible somehow did not stoke the city's anger at militants. (For their part, the Taliban denied involvement in the attack.)

Most people in Peshawar blamed the United States -- not the Taliban. Clinton's speech about developing a "partnership between the people" of the United States and Pakistan fell on deaf ears. Residents either directly accused the United States of planting the bomb or accused it of inspiring the violence by pushing Pakistan to fight "America's war" along the Afghan border.

Shams ul-Ameen, a property dealer, told me he was walking into the bazaar as the bomb went off. He was blown off his feet but survived, and he saw a scene like "doomsday." A few days after the explosion, he had found the body of a 4-year-old girl on a nearby roof. Like everyone I spoke with that day, Ameen blamed a "foreign hand" for the violence -- including the United States, India, Afghanistan. Anyone but the Taliban.

"These are foreign forces," Ameen said. "Hindus and white men together want to destroy Pakistan. This is an American trick. On the surface, they pretend to be friends, but they strike Muslims in the back."

Siraj ul-Munir, whose shop was destroyed in the Meena Bazaar explosion, told me he was worried Pakistan had no future.

"We are wondering what will become of our future generations who today ask us, 'Father, why do these bomb blasts take place? Who are these bombers?' We can't answer them," he said. "We are innocent people. Tell us what we did to deserve this. It's since the arrival of the Americans that there's been a spike in all this violence."

For years, U.S. officials have found statements like that unfair. They have been frustrated by the anger that Pakistanis and the Pakistani media often exhibit toward the United States -- despite billions of U.S. dollars flowing into the country. In 2010, one U.S. diplomat told me, with some derision, that Pakistani perceptions of the United States were "a collection of conspiracy theories."

But the people of Peshawar were reacting to a basic fact: Their lives have gotten worse since the United States invaded Afghanistan. A decade ago, there were no suicide attacks on markets in Peshawar. (There was only one suicide attack in Pakistan before 9/11. Since then, there have been some 300.) A decade ago, the phrase "Pakistani Taliban" did not exist. The people of Peshawar were responding to the world around them and what they saw the United States doing. They saw CIA drone attacks in the nearby tribal areas. They saw U.S. soldiers fighting and killing in Afghanistan. They saw the United States pouring money into developing Pakistan, but much of it going to high-priced Western consultants who did not engage with the population and demanded big, expensive programs that helped the elite, not the masses. And the people of Peshawar saw the United States unconditionally pour even more money into a Pakistani military that supported Afghan militants labeled "good Taliban," even though blowback into Pakistan was evident.

A U.S. official once admitted to me that, for years, "U.S. policy in Pakistan came from Langley rather than Foggy Bottom," implying that the CIA (and the Pentagon) ran the show and that drones and counterterrorism tactics were more important than the diplomats and development experts.

In Titus Andronicus, Titus gets halfway through the play before he realizes that not only do his historic enemies -- the Goths -- seek revenge; his fellow Romans may as well. "Rome is but a wilderness of tigers," Titus says. "Tigers must prey."

Elsewhere in Pakistan, where the United States sought not to avenge but to assist, the population doesn't blame its ills on Americans. A few months before the Peshawar attack, I visited the Government Centennial Model High School in Dadar, a school destroyed by the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. One student was killed and more than a dozen injured when the buildings crumbled on top of them. By 2009, the school was filled with shiny new classrooms, one of which displays a large plaque from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The principal, Mohammad Irfan, said he was proud to have received U.S. help.

"We were destroyed. We were ruined at that time," he told me. "Now, we feel very, very happy with America. We now feel, 'Long live America, long live USA, long live Pakistan!'"

Down the road, Badr ul-Islam, an old man with a long white beard, had received $5,000 from the United States to buy refrigerators for his struggling dairy business. He was not a government official or bureaucrat, like so many recipients of U.S. aid. He was just a private businessman, and he was even more positive: "The people who oppose America, they should see how they've helped me. And they will change their minds."

But these vignettes are sadly rare. In most areas of Pakistan -- where people perceive their lives as less secure and less developed since 9/11 -- there is still a strong anti-American narrative, from the streets of slums to elite drawing rooms.

That feeling extends even to Islamabad, the capital. In September 2008, I arrived at the swank Marriott hotel on a Ramadan evening. Rubble was piled 10 feet high, electric wires sparked against pools of water and gas, and mangled iron gates poked out of the mud. I saw at least eight bodies. As one police officer walked outside, he threw up into his own hand, sick with the stench of death. Inside the lobby, the reception desk had been crushed, a piano was thrown against a wall, and a fish flopped against the marble, its glass aquarium lying shattered nearby. Twenty minutes earlier, militants had exploded 2,200 pounds of military-grade explosive at the outside gate.

Even then, some of my fellow Islamabad residents -- who opposed the Taliban and their suicide attacks -- blamed America. "It's not a good thing what they are doing, but they're doing it out of compulsion," said one Islamabad resident of the Taliban, asking me not to print his name. "If my home was bombed," he continued, "and my parents and brothers were killed, wouldn't I become a suicide bomber?"

Revenge is ingrained in this culture. In Pashto -- the language spoken by 40 million people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is a saying: "Even if I wait 100 years to take revenge, I've made haste."

For Pakistanis, the war launched to avenge the 9/11 attacks had created a vicious cycle of revenge.

A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images 

'Ease the gnawing vulture of thy mind/By working wreakful vengeance on thy foes.'

On a sunny morning in October 2009, Capt. Michael Thurman, an eloquent military police commander out of Fort Stewart, Georgia, drove me through the streets of Kandahar.

Thurman was an example of a gifted, post-9/11 breed of officer I've come across in Afghanistan: men and women in their late 20s or early 30s who have come of age inside a military as it fought two wars. Smart and brave, it seemed like Thurman had read every book about insurgency and Afghanistan. He was respected by his men.

I'd come to southern Afghanistan ahead of an expected surge of U.S. troops. Forty percent of the population of southern Afghanistan lives in and around Kandahar city, and I'd spent about a week with Canadian troops, the only soldiers who were living inside the city at the time.

If Peshawar was mostly the same after the last few decades, it felt like it had been centuries since Kandahar had changed. Some of the dirt-packed roads had been replaced by asphalt, but most shops were still made of mud, as were the large boundary walls that protect every house. The city rose early and filled with the sound and smell of diesel generators. Men with beards and turbans filled the markets; women, when they appeared in public, were covered by burqas.

Thurman's orders were to get through the city quickly, but on the way out of town, his convoy of 30,000-pound, mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles skidded to a stop. On the other side of two lanes of traffic, an empty fuel truck and a passenger van had overturned after a crash. A group of people surrounded two drivers who were badly injured.

Thurman wanted to help, so we hopped out of the vehicle and walked over to the crash site.

For 30 minutes, Thurman's medic examined the large, bleeding gash on the truck driver's head and the dozens of cuts on the body of the van's driver. Thurman handed out water, teased children who nipped at his heels, and engaged with local elders who had congregated to watch. At one point he took off his sunglasses and helmet -- something U.S. soldiers weren't supposed to do -- so he could better relate to the crowd. Most just stared at him in silence. They did the same with me.

After the wounds were dressed and the kids had scattered, Thurman and his medic packed their gear and began to walk off. As they did, not one person shook Thurman's hand. Not one person said thank you. In Afghanistan, guests are royalty; not shaking hands was the equivalent of a slap in the face.

"They still don't like us," Thurman responded when I asked him why he thought he had been snubbed. "When I took my helmet off, a kid jumped away from me.... We haven't spent enough time engaging with the people."

For years, soldiers were suspicious of everyone who lived in this Taliban stronghold, and they often failed to take the time to connect with the people. And crucially, many of those whom U.S. soldiers did spend their time with and helped install into government positions were the very people whom Kandaharis trusted least: ruthless warlords who had been thrown out by the Taliban. (One Kandahari once joked to me that the United States had brought "demoorcracy" into his city, purposely mispronouncing the English word by inserting a Pashto word in the middle that means, roughly, "mother-fucking.")

One of those warlords is Abdul Raziq, a local police commander who at that time controlled Spin Boldak, the crossing between Kandahar and Pakistan's Baluchistan province. I met him on Christmas Eve 2009.

"You are welcome anytime!" he greeted us with a slightly squeaky and much younger voice than I had expected. Despite his position of seniority, he was only 30 years old. "The embassy has given us a lot of money! Come, sit!"

Raziq's boyishness hid a ruthless history. Western officials -- speaking only on background -- have, for years, accused him of helping run drug rings, private militias, smuggling rackets, and his own prisons in Kandahar. They accuse him of helping to fuel the insurgency with his opium connections. Kandaharis from other tribes associate him with the pre-Taliban warlords who ruled different parts of the province in the early 1990s by controlling segments of road with the help of murder and rape. Raziq's uncle worked for a particularly cruel commander back then; he was later hanged by the Taliban from the turret of a tank.

Despite that history, the United States allied with Raziq because he provided immediate security gains. He controlled the vital border crossing, and he had done this job effectively: As the rest of Kandahar became increasingly violent, the border town of Spin Boldak was an island of relative calm in late 2009.

Which is why, after we left his office, the U.S. military officials I was with told me that Raziq was an example of what was going right in Afghanistan: a strong commander bringing peace to his little area. America needed Raziq because he could produce quick results. But by prioritizing short-term security gains, the United States is risking Kandahar's long-term stability. The Taliban originally gained their popular appeal by opposing the ruthlessness of leaders like Raziq's uncle. By in helping install Raziq, the United States became associated with such discredited sources of power.

Like the characters of Titus Andronicus, the United States was seduced by those who could provide immediate satisfaction: "ease the gnawing vulture of thy mind,/By working wreakful vengeance on thy foes."

Recently, the U.S. military stopped handing over detainees to Raziq until it can be confident he is not secretly torturing them, as his critics allege. But his power has only grown since I met him at the tail end of 2009: U.S. forces have increasingly teamed up with his men throughout Kandahar province, and U.S. commanders have praised him as a go-to leader. Today, he has moved up from his position on the border. He is the now the police chief of Kandahar city.

JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images 

'I Tell My Sorrows to the Stones'

In December 2010, I sat in a small guesthouse in Kunduz, Afghanistan, near the border with Tajikistan. The owner was an affable German-Afghan who had made a lot of money working with the cash-rich coalition and ran small hostels on the side. On this night, we sat around a wooden table below a single light, powered by a generator, that illuminated a meal of fried fish, the local specialty. I sat with my ABC News colleagues and the owner's guest, a thin, 30-something contractor who worked at the local NATO base staffed with German troops. The guesthouse was unmarked, and men with automatic weapons guarded the front gate. Security in the city was not good.

The guest was a serious, well-read Afghan from Kunduz who lamented the state of the once-peaceful north. He believed the United States had squandered the support Afghans initially provided. Eight years before, when the war began, most in the country had welcomed the young Americans who threw out the Taliban. Afghans heard U.S. promises and dreamed into the future, expecting American-sponsored beneficence and development. In early 2002, President George W. Bush promised to rebuild Afghanistan in the tradition of the Marshall Plan.

Slowly, some things improved: The number of Afghan children in school is, today, seven times what it was on 9/11; almost eight times more Afghans have access to health care, compared with 2001; and women's gains have been especially inspiring. As Habiba Sarabi, the only female governor in Afghanistan, once told me while we overlooked gaping holes in the rock where the Taliban had blown up Buddha statues in Bamiyan: "Women were deprived for a long time -- deprived of education, deprived of facilities, deprived of rights. I can be a role model for other women, and other women in society can see that if a woman can be in a higher position like a governor, they will feel more comfortable and gain self-confidence."

But over time, the United States failed to deliver on that Marshall Plan promise. Just as people in Peshawar saw their lives worsen after 9/11, many Afghans feel let down by the lack of improvement in their lives in the last decade.

The guest in Kunduz, after we ate our dessert and drank our tea, recalled a story that helped summarize the United States' failures. He remembered that on a sunny morning, the troops he worked with stood proudly at a news conference, helping the local governor open a multimillion-dollar school that the troops had paid for and helped construct. But every Afghan there -- everyone but the foreign troops, the guest insisted -- knew the school wouldn't last. The foreign troops' funds weren't allowed to be used to pay for maintenance or teachers' salaries. And the Afghan government certainly couldn't afford either. And so, eventually, the building deteriorated and the teachers stopped coming. The area where he worked became more violent, leading the troops to become more aggressive, leading to less education, development, and governance work.

"Don't build me a school," he implored. "Give me a teacher. That's how to pacify an area."

It was a lesson I had seen for myself the year before in the poor province of Zabul, Kandahar's neglected neighbor.

Qalat, Zabul's capital, is filled with the same Pashtun ethnic population as Kandahar and Peshawar, but it has a fraction of the wealth -- or the charm of either city. Downtown, a simple market is filled with some cars and carts, but there are no tucked-away, middle-class areas. The city of 40,000 quickly becomes rural: Just a stone's throw from the market, entire neighborhoods are composed of mud houses.

But, like Kandahar, it has always been a key location on the road toward the Indian subcontinent. On the city's highest point sits the ruins of a 2,000-year-old castle built by Alexander the Great. Down the steep hill from the castle, the senior U.S. officer on Qalat's Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) walked me through "New Qalat City." It had been built in 2006 as a sign that the United States cared about Zabul province. It was meant to be a sort of Emerald City, with relatively modern buildings that would revitalize the town.

A new hospital. A new governor's house. A fire station. A justice center. A visitors' center.

But there was a problem: Nobody ever asked whether the Afghans wanted those buildings, according to the 2009 PRT commander, Lt. Col. Andrew Torelli. And they never taught the contractors how to maintain them or how to use the Western construction equipment.

And so, as we walked from building to building, each sat empty and crumbling. The power director's building had no water, so nobody worked there. The hospital was collapsing and reeked of urine. Most medical supplies were unused, as the staff had never been trained. The fire station was never going to be filled; Qalat had never had a single firefighter.

I told that story to the dinner guest in Kunduz. He said it represented everything the United States was doing wrong.

"They never listen," he said of the West. "They only did what they wanted to do."

As Titus says when he feels his former allies have abandoned him: "I tell my sorrows to the stones."

STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

'Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge'

For centuries, Titus Andronicus was neither popular nor particularly respected by critics, who believed the play's barbarity was overindulgent and implausible: After Titus kills the captured queen's son, her other sons rape Titus's daughter and cut off her tongue and hands; Titus kills her after she is raped; and the list of brutal, violent acts goes on. T.S. Eliot called it "one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written."

But in 2011, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, this revenge-driven cycle of violence does not seem so far-fetched. In this "post-9/11 world," where we have seen so much barbarity, Titus is less shocking than ever. In many ways, Titus Andronicus is a play "written for today," as the director Julie Taymor put it -- and that was back in 2000.

In one of my first interviews in Pakistan, in 2008, Gerald Feierstein, then former U.S. deputy ambassador to Pakistan, made it clear to me that revenge was not a solution for Pakistan and Afghanistan -- that "kinetic activity," as the military calls offensive actions, was not going to be enough.

"What we need to do is give people an alternative narrative for hope for the future. And that's really much more important in terms of how we're ultimately going to achieve success in that part of the world than anything we're going to do in terms of kinetic activity," he said. "What we need to do is prevent them from being drawn into extremism in the first place, and you do that through education and economic growth and other kinds of development activities."

But three years later, it seems the United States is no closer to this ambitious goal. And on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan and Afghanistan are suffering from continuing cycles of violence. I am making the final edits to this piece late at night in a hotel with failing Internet on a trip to Peshawar. It has been a long few days. On Wednesday, Sept. 7, in Quetta, militants stormed a military officer's house and killed his wife and 22 others, including two children. A few days before, in Kabul, police picked up the body of an American civilian working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He had been strangled to death.

Julie Taymor's film adaptation of Titus Andronicus ends when Titus's grandson walks out of the Coliseum where much of the action takes place -- suggesting that the next generation of Romans could exit out of the cycle of revenge.

But nobody expects a Hollywood ending for Afghanistan or Pakistan.

BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

Feature

Lightning Rod

As Dick Cheney's punch-throwing memoir hits store shelves, Foreign Policy hosts a freewheeling debate on the legacy of America's most controversial vice president.

The publication this week of Dick Cheney's fiery memoir, In My Time, has a lot of tongues wagging, including those of many of his former colleagues in George W. Bush's administration. The former vice president's book has reopened festering wounds in Washington and sparked a ferocious debate over everything from the Iraq invasion to domestic surveillance to Condoleezza Rice's tears. If anyone expected the hard-nosed Cheney to have softened in his retirement, think again: The book is an unapologetic recapitulation of neoconservatism, power projection, American exceptionalism, and brass-knuckle politics -- in short, all of what made Cheney the most feared, hated, and influential vice president in recent history. Foreign Policy asked an all-star line up to debate his legacy.

James Traub: He was a maniac

Elliott Abrams: A man of principle

Kori Schake: Biting the hand that fed him

Dahlia Lithwick: A torturous rigidity

Tom Malinowski: His cruel and unusual legacy

Thomas E. Ricks: When Cheney was good

Jake Bernstein: First and foremost, a political warrior

Anne Weismann: No secret-sharer he

Robert Dallek: A memoir full of mysteries

He was a maniac
By James Traub

In A First-Rate Madness, Nassir Ghaemi, a psychiatric researcher who claims to know something about political leadership, argues that "mania" makes leaders "more creative and resilient." I wonder what he thinks of Dick Cheney.

I have always been inclined to think of Cheney as the Lucifer of George W. Bush's administration, manipulating the Boy President with his dark and sinister arts. On reflection, however, I think I have given the former vice president too much credit for cool rationality. Cheney believed things that rational people -- for example, the rational people in the U.S. State Department -- understood to be baseless. And he believed them with a fiery certainty. He was a maniac.

In Plan of Attack, Bob Woodward describes Cheney's obsession with Saddam Hussein's alleged connections with al Qaeda. Woodward writes that Secretary of State Colin Powell "thought that Cheney had the fever. The vice-president and [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz kept looking for the connection between Saddam and 9/11.... Nearly every conversation or reference came back to al Qaeda and trying to nail the connection with Iraq." Cheney would leap at every cryptic fragment of intelligence to vindicate his wild claims. Woodward -- being Woodward -- asked Bush whether he "sensed a fever in Cheney," and the president, being the president, said no. "Fever to me is this kind of delirious -- He's in control," Bush said.

But, of course, that's the paradox. Cheney was in control -- frighteningly so. He was in control on 9/11 when the president was not, and he was in control at all those National Security Council meetings where he kept his counsel, only to wait for a quiet moment to whisper his dark suspicions in the president's ear. Cheney was the silent custodian of dreadful secrets, like the diabolical lawyer Tulkinghorn in Bleak House. But they weren't secrets; they were nightmares. Cheney was a supremely rational man in the grip of mania.

Perhaps where we go wrong with Cheney is confusing secularism or temperance with intellectual and moral clarity. Cheney, unlike Bush, was an unillusioned man. He did not believe that American missiles could seed the barren soil of Iraq with liberal democracy (though he did believe that Iraqis would strew petals on arriving U.S. tanks). He does not appear to have believed that God was guiding his hand -- the kind of magical thinking that Bush taught us, by example, to fear. Cheney was not transfixed by such lights; and yet he was transfixed by something dark. Perhaps it was what journalist Ron Suskind called "the one percent doctrine": the belief that America could not afford to take even a 1 percent risk of attack. But that was Cheney's own formulation, rearranging the tangled sheets of his nighttime fevers into the semblance of a well-made bed.

"For abnormal challenges," Ghaemi writes, "abnormal leaders are needed." This would be a laughable sentiment had the abnormal leaders of just the other day not shown it to be grotesque. Abnormal challenges require men of cool judgment -- General Eisenhower, not General MacArthur. Spare us, please, your maniacs.

James Traub is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and author of, most recently, The Freedom Agenda. "Terms of Engagement," his column for ForeignPolicy.com, runs weekly.

A man of principle
By Elliott Abrams

The early reviews of Dick Cheney's memoir have not evaluated the book, but instead have used its publication as an occasion for attacks on Cheney and his record, with general assaults on George W. Bush's administration thrown in for good measure. (Perhaps the best, i.e. worst, example of this is Robert Kaiser's strident "review" in the Washington Post.)

Cheney's memoir is not about 9/11, or solely about Bush's administration, but about his entire life and political career. I first knew Cheney when he was chairman of the Republican Policy Committee in the House of Representatives (from 1981 to 1987), and our discussions centered then on the wars in Central America. Neither controversy nor scandal shook his view that preventing communist takeovers in that region was an important goal for the United States. Later, when I served at Bush's National Security Council, I sometimes worked with Cheney, then vice president. Despite those who claim he changed over time, I did not find that so. The central qualities remained: total devotion to principle and to country, and complete and unswerving commitment to any policy he believed served American interests.

If that sounds predictable or normal in a vice president, think again. Many vice presidents are concerned above all about their own reputations and political futures. Some separate themselves from the president to curry favor with the press, their party, or even the opposing party. Many use leaks to protect their personal interests. Cheney did none of these things. When he differed from a policy he told the president so, privately, and told the press and those outside the White House nothing -- a practice that earned him unending attacks in the media from gossip-hungry journalists.

Cheney fervently believed that America was at war after 9/11, and this belief led him to the conclusion that America must fight and win. Such a conviction would have been commonplace after Pearl Harbor but was less so in the years after 2002 -- and especially as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq became unpopular. Many politicians would have flinched, adjusted, tacked; in fact, many did. Cheney refused, and for this he suffered caricature as a warmonger, torturer, and fanatic. Or perhaps suffer is the wrong verb, for though the attacks came they usually made him grin, not grimace. He did not much care, for he thought far more was at stake than his approval ratings.

News stories about the memoir have noted above all his criticism of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over North Korea policy, and of Secretary of State Colin Powell over leaking to defend his own policy choices and his personal popularity. As to North Korea, Cheney and Rice had a deep disagreement, but the criticism is not personal; readers must judge who had the better of the policy argument then and who has it now. To me, Cheney appears to win hands down, but we must await the Rice memoir due in November to see what arguments she can muster. As to Powell, the criticism is more personal, for Cheney accuses him of criticizing the president and his policies to people outside the administration and of constant leaking.

Powell himself has admitted that he could not continue after 2004 because his views could not be reconciled with those of Bush. He has not admitted to the leaking, but the leaks by Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, were too widely known in Washington to require any additional proof. And as to Cheney's indictment of Powell and Armitage for standing by while Scooter Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, was unjustly prosecuted for the leak of Valerie Plame's name, the facts are in; the complaint is justified.

Here again, Cheney's comments now and his conduct while in office are a reminder that there are values and principles that must be still honored when popularity and even reputation are at risk. He believed this, put country first, and acted accordingly.

Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, was deputy national security advisor handling Middle Eastern affairs in U.S. President George W. Bush's administration.

Biting the hand that fed him
By Kori Schake

It's incredibly discouraging to see former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney vituperatively reopen disputes from George W. Bush's administration. His scorched-earth excoriation of critics makes little distinction between those who would recklessly endanger America and those who also had the country's -- and the president's -- best interests as their motivation. This cannot assist the conservative cause; in fact, it serves to remind us how much the vice president's actions have impeded acceptance of the very policies he advocates.

By his own testimony, Cheney supported, and continues to support, all the policies that most incensed the administration's critics and even some of its supporters: "enhanced interrogation techniques," the Guantánamo prison, politicization of intelligence, assertion of executive authority, sharp-edged uses of military might, and support for Iraqi expatriates as a government-in-waiting after the 2003 invasion. He denigrated both the policies (diplomatic engagement, working through international institutions) and the people (Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice) that argued his approach was unduly driving up the cost of achieving the president's aims.

Give Cheney his due: Many of these policies were and are essential to protect Americans from terrorist attacks. The proof of which is Barack Obama himself -- a candidate who ran for president on opposition to those policies, but then adopted nearly all of them once in office, including indefinite detention and trial by military tribunal.

But if Cheney deserves credit for staunchly advocating necessary policies, he also deserves considerable blame for crafting and enacting those policies in ways that increased the cost to the president for adopting them, and made them more difficult to sustain.

The most damaging example was Cheney's vociferous support for reclaiming executive authority instead of working with congressional leaders to pass legislation that would demonstrate broad political support and establish the basis for judicial review. It freighted terrorism policies with the added requirement of subordinating the other branches of government. As Ben Wittes (whose blog Lawfare is essential reading on these issues) has often argued, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, there was a bipartisan consensus in Congress -- as the authorizations for the use of military force showed -- and much that needed to be achieved could have been achieved with skillful engagement of the machinery of American democracy.

Executive privilege had consequences beyond setting solid foundations for sustaining the policies, too. As Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor powerfully argued at West Point in 2005, it left the U.S. military in the unfair position of being both "our combatants and our conscience," because the executive and legislative branches of government failed to provide them the proper framework for their actions.

But Cheney displays a contempt for Congress and those who don't agree with him to an extent that is unhealthy in a free society. The former vice president is now a private citizen. Conservatives who are public citizens, engaged in running for office and crafting policies, would do well to remember how much Cheney's approach hurt both the president he served and the causes he sought to advance. Having the right answer isn't good enough. The president and his cabinet must also engage the levers of democracy to build a broad base of support, especially when the policies have few good alternatives. His legacy has made it more difficult for conservatives to support and enact the very policies he advocated. 

Kori Schake is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and an associate professor of international security studies at the United States Military Academy. In 2007 and 2008 she was deputy director for policy planning in the State Department, and during President George W. Bush's first term, director for defense strategy and requirements on the National Security Council.

A torturous rigidity
By Dahlia Lithwick

Like most others, I write this before reading In My Time, basing my conclusions instead on Dick Cheney's statements as part of his book tour/charm offensive. If I am proved wrong when I get my hands on the book, I will amend my thoughts accordingly.

To my mind, the most striking aspect of Cheney's conduct this week has not been his widely reported unwillingness to apologize for the Iraq war; I would be surprised if he had the capacity to acknowledge personal error. I'm not even surprised by the snarling AM-radio tone he has taken, though it's clear why it might be stunning to Colin Powell and others who believed that high-level politicians do not speak of one another in the manner of The Real Housewives of D.C.

What surprises me only somewhat is the report, for instance on this week's Today show interview with Matt Lauer, that Cheney so readily describes the U.S. torture program -- including waterboarding -- as "safe, legal, and effective," and his oft-repeated claim that he has "no regrets" because the program "saved American lives." Cheney admitted in 2008 that he had been directly involved in approving abusive prisoner interrogation techniques used by the CIA and that he had personally played a critical role in approving waterboarding. Long after most torture apologists have grown weary of the fight, Cheney's legacy has been a continued devotion to the idea that torture is both legal and effective. He argues this despite the fact that virtually nobody who knows anything about torture in general and the "enhanced interrogation program" in particular agrees with any of those conclusions. It's a position espoused by a fistful of men who either created the torture program themselves or believe in legal fictions cooked up on TV shows like 24, or legal philosophers with plenty of time to ponder nonexistent "ticking time bomb" scenarios.

The U.S. torture program did not save lives. In August 2009, a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by anti-torture groups revealed that the CIA knew that that non-abusive techniques actually helped elicit some of the most important information obtained in the war on terror. Most interrogation experts agree that information elicited through torture is neither reliable nor useful. From the outset, military advisors argued that torture made Americans less safe in the field. The vice president continues to pretend all of their expertise and experience away.

The program was not safe. Many of those subjected to waterboarding and other forms of torture while detained by U.S. forces have been damaged for life. Furthermore, it was not legal. It contravenes both long-standing U.S. domestic law and international treaties to which the United States is a signatory. That is why Japanese officials were prosecuted and convicted for waterboarding Americans in World War II. Waterboarding was only "legal" because Cheney's underling, John Yoo, briefly made it so through the memoranda he wrote for the White House Office of Legal Counsel, in the same way he might have emptied Cheney's ashtray or brought him a coaster. That required completely reinventing the definition of pain and suffering and immunizing torturers from all but the most inhuman acts. In July, a federal judge used the word "torture" to describe conduct that didn't even include waterboarding. That's because nobody, with the exception of the former vice president, believes that torture becomes not-torture simply by rewriting the law in secret for a short time.

Long after the legal and international communities have concluded that the facts do not support any of these pro-torture legal claims, Cheney will continue to argue from his dusty old toolbox of counterfactuals, declassified and now-discredited memos, and thrilling Jack Bauer plot lines. It's working for him as a legal matter, and it will probably sell a few books. But torture isn't safe, it isn't legal, and whether or not anyone will ever prove that it "saved American lives" is and has always been immaterial.

Cheney said in his Today show interview that, for some reason he could not articulate, American citizens should be spared torture, while foreigners need not be. That's precisely the kind of legal analysis that has ensured that Cheney's chief legacy will be his forever standing alone.

Dahlia Lithwick is a legal correspondent for Slate.

His cruel and unusual legacy
By Tom Malinowski

Reasonable people can disagree about most of the history that former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney relates in his new memoir, as they can about most of the controversies debated in Washington. The justification for the Iraq war, the legality of warrantless surveillance, the wisdom of engaging with Iran -- I may have strong opinions on some of these issues, but I also have respect for people (including friends who worked for Cheney) who disagree.

But there is one aspect of Cheney's legacy that people cannot reasonably disagree about, and that is torture. And here I am not referring, as journalists occasionally do, to "interrogation techniques that human rights groups claim constitute torture" (this is also part of Cheney's legacy -- convincing some Americans that there is actually a debate about the definition of the term). I am referring to techniques, such as controlled drowning, better known as waterboarding, that U.S. courts have prosecuted as torture for over 100 years, and others, like long-term sleep deprivation and "stress positions" that cause excruciating pain without leaving scars, that the U.S. government has condemned as torture when perpetrated by dictatorships like North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union.

Torture has occurred in every war the United States has fought. Ethicists sometimes have considered whether there are exceptional circumstances under which individuals might be justified in violating domestic and international laws against torture. But prior to George W. Bush's administration, there was no debate in America about the legitimacy of the practice per se, any more than there was a debate about the legitimacy of rape or slavery. And the U.S. government had never before sought to give it legal sanction.

The moral costs of this shift were incalculable. The practical costs can at least be estimated. Once authorized for so called "high-value" terrorism suspects, cruel techniques made their way into interrogation guidelines issued to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, where their use helped fuel insurgencies that claimed many American lives. Misleading information extracted through torture contributed to the intelligence failures prior to the war in Iraq. Evidence needed to prosecute suspected terrorists was tainted. America's most important strategic asset -- its moral authority as a country of principles and laws -- was undermined.

Cheney says that intelligence obtained through torture saved lives. But there is no convincing evidence to support that claim. FBI Director Robert Mueller has said that no attacks on the United States were disrupted because of evidence obtained through the euphemistic "enhanced techniques." The known intelligence breakthroughs leading to the capture or killing of al Qaeda leaders came about through traditional means.

Many decent officials in the Bush administration and the military opposed Cheney's methods. A few young soldiers caught on camera using them in Abu Ghraib prison ended up in jail. Ultimately, Republicans in the Senate, led by John McCain, helped stop the use of these techniques, and President Barack Obama closed what legal loopholes remained. But so long as torture is seen as a legitimate subject for debate in American politics, Cheney's harmful legacy lives on.

Tom Malinowski is the Washington director of Human Rights Watch.

When Cheney was good
By Thomas E. Ricks

Dick Cheney and his old mentor, Donald Rumsfeld, are so linked by now as the unapologetic, panicky, pro-torture hard-liners of George W. Bush's administration that it is easy to forget how different they were as defense secretaries.

Reading Cheney's memoir brought this back to me. As a journalist, I covered the tail end of his time at the Pentagon and remember the vibe of the place back then.

The biggest difference between Cheney and Rumsfeld was how they handled planning for their respective wars, and especially how they dealt with their senior generals. Both were tough, but Cheney productively so, while Rumsfeld almost certainly contributed to the problem.

In 1991, during the planning for the Gulf War, Cheney pushed Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf to be more imaginative, more innovative. To ensure that happened, he started his own independent planning effort and let it be known that if Schwarzkopf did not come up with something else besides "hey diddle diddle, right up the middle" as an approach, the Pentagon would have other options.

By contrast, in 2002 and 2003, on the eve of the Iraq invasion, Rumsfeld thought he was reaching for innovation and instead pushed Gen. Tommy Franks repeatedly to simply reduce the size of his invasion force. Rumsfeld's nit-picking approach by itself was not wrong, but its focus was; in the process, he and Franks exhausted a planning staff that should have put aside the relatively easy question of how to invade an exhausted country with a broken military, and instead looked at what to do after getting to Baghdad.

Both men sought to control their military subordinates, but Cheney did so more successfully. Rumsfeld tended to chew on people endlessly but stop short of firing them. Cheney was a cooler customer, generally remote from his generals but quick to fire them when he wanted to -- just ask Gen. Fred Woerner, fired before the invasion of Panama, or Gen. Mike Dugan, defenestrated for being too candid with reporters. In this regard, Cheney was very similar to Robert Gates, a first-class defense secretary whose decades of intelligence work apparently taught him how to decapitate people so quickly that their heads remained in place, often with a smile on the face.

In addition, like other good defense secretaries -- Gates and William Perry come to mind -- Cheney picked his fights well. He understood that the military establishment is so huge that not every pressing problem can be addressed. He also knew that Congress would follow his lead, if he gave it to them. In his memoir, he singles out the V-22 Osprey, the Marine Corps' quixotic helicopter-airplane hybrid, as something he targeted for elimination as a way of giving Congress something to fight with him about. But when he saw the Pentagon's huge organizational chart, he put it away and never looked at it again, calculating that attempting any reorganization was a bridge too far. Rumsfeld, by contrast, produced an endless stream of "snowflakes," little querying notes that often just tired out subordinates.

All in all, as a defense secretary, Dick Cheney seems to have been much more like Robert Gates than he was like his friend Donald Rumsfeld.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the author of Foreign Policy's Best Defense blog.

First and foremost, a political warrior
By Jake Bernstein

For the moment, Dick Cheney's policies may seem to be in decline within the GOP, as Tea Party Republicans have largely rejected his costly military adventurism and intrusive government surveillance. But make no mistake: Today's GOP is still very much Dick Cheney's. The brutal, take-no-prisoners political tactics now in routine use by the party may be Cheney's most enduring legacy.

Cheney's method -- politics is war by other means -- is one he acquired early. As the youngest chief of staff in White House history, under President Gerald Ford, Cheney learned how to manipulate the levers of federal power from a master. Donald Rumsfeld, the previous chief of staff, taught his protégé how to influence policy in multiple ways, from the no-fingerprints leak to the late insertion in a presidential address.

Cheney was too young and the Ford administration too short-lived for him to be able to do much with this knowledge. Nor was he able to make full use of it in his next few jobs. He moved on to Congress, where he was known for his fierce anti-communism and uncompromising positions. As House minority whip, Cheney quietly supported the rise of Newt Gingrich and his Young Turks, but he left to become defense secretary in George H.W. Bush's administration before he could take advantage of their conquest. Even at that high level, he was thwarted by old administration hands who kept him from exercising his full talents. It was not until George W. Bush's administration that Cheney was able to put all his political skills to work, becoming the most influential vice president ever.

There, Cheney's knowledge, intelligence, guile, and ruthlessness were given full rein. Most of the checks in the system proved ineffective against his talents. Congressional overseers, Justice Department officials, Environmental Protection Agency scientists, and Pentagon procurement officers all found themselves rolled by Cheney and his staff at one point or another. In the march to the Iraqi war, the vice president played the press like a fiddle. Those who dared defy him were demonized or subverted. Just ask Joe Wilson or John McCain.

Today, Cheney's style of uncompromising positions and bullying tactics has become the accepted mode of governance among Republicans. And, by arms-race logic, it will eventually be the same for Democrats as well.

Cheney's prideful new memoir exults in his accomplishments without a hint of regret or too many details about how he achieved them. What shines through is the philosophy of a man who clearly believes that the exercise of power creates its own reality, that the appearance of strength becomes strength itself. A bomb doesn't just destroy a target; it sends a message. Unfetter the markets and the economy performs. Tax cuts always lead to growth, not deficits. Cheney's faith in his ability to dictate reality is unsurprising from a man whose very existence -- after five heart attacks -- can be considered an act of will.

For almost six years, the vice president moved from victory to victory before the only person who could stop him -- George W. Bush -- grew disenchanted with the results. Cheney's inability to acknowledge in his memoir the disasters his policies caused, from a ballooning deficit to the Iraq fiasco, underscores that at least for him, there were no consequences for his hubris. It's an unfortunate message for an ascendant GOP enamored with the former vice president's hard-line approach to the exercise of political power.

Jake Bernstein is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. In 2006, he co-wrote Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the America Presidency, with Lou Dubose.

No secret-sharer he
By Anne Weismann

In the lead-up to the Aug. 30 release of his book, Dick Cheney promised that heads in Washington would "explode" on account of its contents. So far Washingtonians' heads remain intact. But Cheney's book does remind us of its author's desire to control the story line of his vice presidency, and of a critical aspect of how he did so: secrecy.

For many, George W. Bush's presidency represents a watermark in secrecy. Americans were denied access to anything the Bush administration feared would raise questions about its legitimacy or tarnish its legacy. Toward that end, millions of emails mysteriously went missing from White House servers during critical times in the administration. And litigation by my organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), and the National Security Archive revealed the Bush White House knew of the missing email problem, yet refused to act.

Cheney, for his part, advanced a novel and radical interpretation of his status as vice president, suggesting he was beyond the reach of many laws, including those designed to ensure preservation of the president's and vice president's papers. CREW's lawsuit on that front, while ultimately unsuccessful, established the helpful precedent that in such cases, even a vice president is not immune from legal action. The court denied us the ultimate relief we sought, but allowed the lawsuit to continue through discovery targeting the vice president's record-keeping practices. And of course the secrecy in the Bush administration was jump-started by the Cheney-led energy task force, whose inner workings remain a mystery to this day.

Cheney's new book suggests the vice president has not changed his stripes. He reveals little new information, instead resurrecting old canards; the true extent of his power and influence over the Bush administration remain as secret as ever. By all accounts, his memoir does little to fill in the gaping hole in the historical record. And with historians denied access to records that would also fill that hole, Cheney's legacy of secrecy remains intact.

Anne Weismann is chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

A memoir full of mysteries
By Robert Dallek

Dick Cheney's memoir will be essential reading for any future historian reconstructing and assessing George W. Bush's presidential term. The fact that he has been described as one of the most, if not the most, influential vice presidents in U.S. history makes any information about the man and his part in the foreign-policy decisions that were so central to the Bush administration a compelling attraction to future biographers and historians. Of course, as with all recollections by high officials, historians will never take Cheney's reconstruction of events or his explanation and defense of administration actions as gospel. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is already disputing some of what Cheney has to say as nothing more than "cheap shots," and we can be sure that others close to Bush, and possibly Bush himself, will offer correctives and alternate interpretations.

In fact, the memoir may be more interesting for what it reminds us about the mysteries that are still remaining when it comes to the Bush years -- and Cheney's role in particular. For these blank spots, historians can only wait for the opening of the archives to gain fuller information. Scholars will have a number of questions about Cheney's performance. First, was he as influential as contemporary reports made him seem? Was Bush as much under his spell as many journalists reported at the time? And if so, what sort of model should Cheney be for future presidents and vice presidents, a negative one or a positive one? In other words, was he a constructive force or simply an architect of controversial policies at home and abroad that opened Bush's presidency to so much criticism? And because Bush is currently seen as one of the poorer presidents in the country's history, how much blame should fall on Cheney? Why did Cheney seem to become so much more doctrinaire as vice president than he had been during his earlier time in government as President Gerald Ford's chief of staff and George H.W. Bush's defense secretary? Was it 9/11 that made the difference? Was he correct about the harsh treatment of terrorism suspects? How responsible was he for Abu Ghraib? What was his role in the outing of Valerie Plame? Did Lewis Libby take the fall for Cheney?

As historians gain access to the Bush administration's records, they will have more questions about Cheney as vice president, and no doubt they will also be frustrated by some questions for which we will never get satisfactory answers. But for now, the release of the memoir marks simply a further accumulation of mysteries.

Presidential historian Robert Dallek is author, most recently, of The Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945-1953.

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