Cato’s Usual Casuistry on Matters of War and Peace

Cato Institute’s Tim Lynch addresses “Cheney’s Worldview.” Lynch’s comments reflect Cato’s worldview on foreign and defense policy, as I have come to know and disrespect it.

Lynch quotes the following passage from former VP Cheney’s recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute:

If fine speech-making, appeals to reason, or pleas for compassion had the power to move [al-Qaeda], the terrorists would long ago have abandoned the field.  And when they see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, or whether foreign terrorists have constitutional rights, they don’t stand back in awe of our legal system and wonder whether they had misjudged us all along.  Instead the terrorists see just what they were hoping for — our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted.  In short, they see weakness and opportunity.

Lynch distorts twists Cheney’s words to suggest that Cheney is against open debate about such issues. Cheney, of course, means no such thing. He is against the evident outcome of that open debate, namely, a de facto presidential apology to the enemy (in the decision to close Guantanamo) and court decisions overruling the commander-in-chief’s constitutional execution of his duties.

It would be evident to anyone but a professional nay-sayer on matters of foreign and defense policy that the lack of resolve demonstrated by such decisions is harmful to our defense. The fact that you have a right to hold a stupid position — and to have it ratified by a pusillanimous president or an overreaching court — doesn’t make your position correct. That would be equivalent to saying “might makes right” — hardly a position one associates with Cato.

Lynch continues:

If the CIA told Cheney that it intercepted a message and learned that bin Laden wanted some of his men to climb Mount Everest as a propaganda ploy to somehow show the world that they can lord over the globe, one gets the feeling that  Cheney wouldn’t shrug at the report. Since that is what bin Laden hopes to achieve, the enemy objective must be thwarted! Quick, dispatch American GIs to the top of Everest and establish a post. Stay on the lookout for al-Qaeda and stop them no matter what!

One gets the feeling that Lynch is in the habit of contriving stupid things to attribute to those with whom he differs on policy issues.

Lynch then asks, “what about the costly nation-building exercise (pdf) in Iraq?  How long is that going to last?” I suspect that a day more than zero days would have been too long for Lynch, who (based on his approach to issues of war and peace) might well think that the U.S. should have stayed out of World War II.

There’s more:

In another passage, Cheney bristles at the notion that his “unpleasant” interrogation practices have been a recruitment tool for the enemy.  Cheney claims this theory ignores the fact that 9/11 happened before the torture memos were ever drafted and approved.  He observes that the terrorists have never “lacked for grievances against the United States.”  They’re evil, Cheney says, now let’s talk about something else.  The gist of Cheney’s argument — that no post 9/11 policy can ever be counterproductive — makes no sense.

The gist of Cheney’s argument is that our enemies don’t especially care what we do to them. They are fanatics, and are not to be deterred. That’s why they must be tracked down and killed — much too subtle an idea for Lynch and his ilk.


Cheney’s controversial legacy will be debated for a long time.  And he’s smart enough to know that he may have very few defenders down the road, so he is wasting no time at all in making his own case.  The problem is that his case is weak and plenty of people can see it.

In the far more likely alternative, Cheney is trying to keep Obama and his fellow “post-Americans” from emulating Neville Chamberlain — who seems to be Cato’s role model on matters of war and peace.