A Review of "The Dark Side"
"The Dark Side" on PBS last night, had one interesting point for me; one new way of looking at these last few years. I always wondered why we didn't prosecute the war in Afghanistan more vigorously. I always theorized that we didn't send troops up Tora Bora, and we didn't block Osama's retreat because we still weren't used to the idea of hundreds of soldiers getting killed - even if it was to avenge 9/11. The show last night made a strong case that Cheney and Rumsfeld didn't fully commit to this war, because it was not theirs. Afghanistan had been assigned to George Tenet and the CIA, and Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted to be in charge of the War on Terror. Why? Because they want to be in charge period. Osama could be alive today, because of a Washington power struggle.
Dick Cheney is one of the great warriors in American History. Oh, he doesn't set foot on any real battlefield where people bleed and die. No, Cheney could never drag his pudgy body through anything physical - decades of Washington cocktail parties and hors d'oeuvres have left him soft and flabby, and prone to heart attacks. Instead, Cheney's wars are fought in the corridors of power. They're fought at meetings and private talks with those also in command. In Cheney's world there are only three lists: Those people he already controls, those people he'd like to control, and his allies for doing it. For the past 3 decades his main ally has been Donald Rumsfeld - another ruthless power-grabbing Washington infighter. Both had used their abilities to project a tough guy personality and rise to the top of the Washington, D.C. food chain. It was not the heroic charge of a true warrior driven by the belief in something. No, these people operate with the artful aside and the intense conversation. They're driven by an overwhelming desire to call the shots. These are the powerful beasts of Washington - they might nibble on a million hors d'oeuvres, but power is what they eat. It's the standard stuff of palace intrigue. Around every leader are the schemers who could never rise by themselves. They're just a little too unappealing - so they ingratiate themselves with those at the top and usurp their authority even as they talk humbly of not wanting to be #1. They didn't invent the game - they're just really good at playing it. And Cheney is one of the best. For example, Cheney used to work for Rumsfeld - now it's the other way around. Asked to find a Vice President, Cheney came up with his favorite person - himself. So there he was back in office in 2001, with a President he could manipulate. He was finally poised to take control of the federal government. He was ready to run Washington.
The problem with Afghanistan was that President Bush assigned the CIA to go in first and have the Pentagon support them. George Tenet was in charge and Cheney had to defeat him. "The Dark Side" chronicles how that took place. The CIA was in Afghanistan a month before military assets even arrived. When the CIA wanted to take out Osama and cut off his retreat, the Pentagon dragged its feet. Cheney and Rumsfeld were focused on a War with Iraq. That's what they wanted and one of the reasons was that it would be theirs. They would run it.
The manipulation of the intelligence stuff was not new to me. I've already seen "Uncovered: The Story of the Iraq War" so I knew how damning that was. "Uncovered" did have one additional bit of information. In one of Bush's speeches he listed all the chemical stockpiles known from the first Gulf War and then repeated that they were unaccounted for. "Uncovered" pointed out that some of those chemical weapons only had a shelf life of a couple of months, and couldn't be around nearly ten years later, but that was the only other detail I wish "The Dark Side" had included. That proved an intent to deceive. The tubes and the mobile labs - the debunking of that sort of stuff has been available for years.
I loved the description of the presentation to President Bush where he asks is that all there is? That showed early on that he wasn't duped - even he knew the case for a war with Iraq was thin at best. He also realized he'd have to trump it up, which he was all too willing to do. That played into his natural calling as a cheerleader. Then when the truth came out, George Tenet and the CIA took the fall, and Cheney won his latest power struggle in Washington. It's amazing really. All those people killed on 9/11 and Cheney and Rumsfeld didn't go after Osama for a simple reason: They weren't put in charge of Afghanistan. After all these years, I have to hand it to those guys. I didn't think they could possibly find a new way to disappoint me.