“Withdrawals are like salted peanuts. Once you start, you can’t stop.” These are the words of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Vice President Richard Cheney about withdrawal of the American military from Iraq. They summarize the guiding methodology and qualities found in Cheney’s memoir, In My Time, a book that minces no words when it engages in a full-throated defense of all of his advocated policies. This book is less about a life than about an ideology and spends the bulk of its pages defending the most controversial decisions of the Bush administration and the dangers of compromising.
Much of the content is devoted to national security and foreign policy, the dominant areas of Cheney’s vice presidency. There’s comparatively very little here about major domestic issues, such as No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D and the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.
There are also little to no apologies here. Cheney never really admits any political mistakes, even defending his admittedly incorrect sources during the Iraq weapons inspections. He also defends the record of many of his friends and colleagues, such as George Bush, George Tenet and Donald Rumsfeld. He is particularly unwavering in his faith in Rumsfeld, both for the man and his policies, even refusing to let him resign on two occasions. Even a figure like Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah is described as a “plainspoken, honest man of deep faith.”
The most interesting reads though are his criticisms and characterizations. Cheney describes John McCain as an implacable, angry man. Condoleeza Rice is portrayed as an incapable woman who cracks under pressure and rushes into Cheney’s office with tears streaming down her face just to tell him he was right. Cheney spends most chapters discussing the importance of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Politics aside, these sections actually make for interesting reading due to Cheney’s first-hand experience on national security issues. What’s most interesting, however, is his tacit criticism of President Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy. While he never mentions the man by name, he does criticize the lack of aggression and moral willingness to intervene throughout the 1980’s. Even though he won’t do it directly, it’s surprising to see him criticize a major policy aspect of a conservative icon.
When discussing various, controversial aspects of the War on Terror, such as the Patriot Act, Cheney plays lawyer and goes into the various nuances and legal wording that warranted the said actions.
Measures, such as Guantanamo Bay, military commissions and enhanced interrogation, are all defended as legal and necessary. Guantanamo Bay is even described as one of the nicest, most humane facilities ever to house prisoners. Some of these discussions are redirected as criticisms against the current President, emphasizing that their removal has made America less safe. Despite having no legal training, Cheney even discusses his interpretations of the United States Constitution and the Geneva Conventions.
There are little boilerplate barbs fired around various conservative talking points throughout the book. An early section about his doctoral research contains a brief, cutting remark about the pretensions of academia when Cheney’s advisors discourage him from political campaigning. On the campaign trail, Cheney also devotes time to critiquing the mainstream media. Regarding the hunting accident in which he accidentally shot his friend in the face, he wrote “The last thing on my mind was whether I was irritating the New York Times”.
From a stylistic perspective, the book follows a sharp, quick syntax. There are often many successive, direct sentences that drive exposition and rarely embellish. Apart from very dry sarcasm, there’s little of the humor or self-deprecation found in most memoirs, such as his President’s book.
The earlier sections deal more with Cheney’s reflections on his upbringing and roots. Unless a septuagenarian’s musings on the wonders of living in Wyoming and of his father’s work in soil conservation titillate your mind, this section is better off skipped.
Everything about this book comes off as something from the defendant’s stand. Like most political memoirs, this book preaches to the choir and fails to bring more to the flock. Its strength and intrigue lies more in what it says about the mind of the man who wrote it. This is not a memoir, but a psychological portrait of a controversial figure.