Taking a painful punch for the home team, Paul Waldman has read Dick Cheney’s memoir, In My Time, so that you don’t have to:
There are some people Cheney doesn’t like: Democrats, terrorists, people who question him, for example. But no one comes in for more withering contempt than former Joint Chiefs Chair and Secretary of State Colin Powell. . . .
[Although he defends the Iraq war, Cheney] does acknowledge that some intelligence failures occurred. Take Powell’s 2003 presentation to the U.N. about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which was universally hailed at the time as having made the definitive case for war but was later revealed to have been little more than a string of falsehoods, fabrications, and fearmongering. Whose fault was that? Powell’s, of course:
Later, when it turned out that much of what Powell said about weapons of mass destruction was wrong, I think embarrassment caused him and those around him to lash out at others. [Scooter] Libby seemed to be a particular target of their ire. They excoriated the material that he and the National Security Staff had provided, while at the same time boasting that they had thrown it in the garbage. As it happened much of what they discarded focused on Saddam’s ties to terror and human rights violations, charges that would stand the test of time.
In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush said, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium [pause for dramatic effect] from Africa.” The story was bogus, as former Ambassador Joseph Wilson would later reveal. Cheney, however, believes that Bush’s attempt to fool Americans into believing Iraq had nuclear weapons was perfectly defensible because it was attributed to someone else:
Some on the president’s senior staff believed that if we issued an apology, the story would go away. I strongly opposed the idea. An apology would only fan the flames, and why apologize when the British had, in fact, reported that Iraq had sought a significant amount of uranium in Africa? The sixteen words were true.
Technicalities aside, everyone understood that the claim was bogus and couldn’t be defended. Everyone, that is, except Dick Cheney. This passage from the book has gotten some attention:
[Condoleezza] Rice realized sometime later that she had made a major mistake by issuing a public apology. She came into my office, sat down in the chair next to my desk, and tearfully admitted I had been right. Unfortunately, the damage had been done.
What hasn’t been well explained is that the “public apology” Cheney refers to here wasn’t actually an apology but Rice’s admission to reporters, when asked about the false claim about Nigerian yellowcake, that “we wouldn’t have put it in the speech if we had known what we know now.” Cheney believes that had they just all continued to insist that it was true, there would have been little or no “damage.”
Waldman’s review concludes:
When the Bush administration left office, one poll showed Cheney’s approval rating at a remarkable 13 percent, just slightly higher than the rating of foot fungus. Reading In My Time, it’s not hard to see why.