Cheney: ‘The More Ruthless the Better’

The World According to Dick Cheney

a film directed by R.J. Cutler and Greg Finton

If you want to be loved, you know, go be a movie star.
—Dick Cheney, in The World According to Dick Cheney


I came upon the half-destroyed truck atop a highway overpass outside Fallujah, the cab all shot to hell, the trailer bloodstained and askew, propped at a crazy angle on its blown tires. On the highway below a great black burn scarred the concrete and over it a rust-red slash, the soot and blood marking the spot where, earlier that day in October 2003, the insurgents had used a cheap remote control to ignite barrels of concealed explosives just as the US armored patrol rumbled by, killing one paratrooper, wounding several. Insurgents, hidden in houses nearby, followed with bursts from their AK-47s.

Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney; drawing by James Ferguson

The Americans promptly dismounted and with their M-16s and M-14s began “hosing” everything they could see, starting with the truck passing on the highway above—eviscerating the unfortunate driver—and then poured fire into the houses.

How many Iraqis had they killed and wounded? The more the better, as far as insurgent leaders were concerned. “The point,” the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne told me the next day, “is to get the Americans to fire back and hopefully they’ll get some Iraqi casualties out of that and they can publicize that.” By week’s end family and close friends of those killed and wounded would join the insurgents, for honor demanded they kill Americans to wipe away family shame.

American firepower plus Iraqi deaths equals more insurgents: an axiom in the strategy of provocation. Provoke your enemy to kill civilians and thereby call to battle the sleeping population. You have no army? Use the occupier’s to help raise one of your own. In Iraq insurgents used that strategy to grow and prosper, recognizing the characteristic American quickness to react with overwhelming firepower as their best friend. Across continents, al-Qaeda used it as well. Blow up towers in New York, creating an indelible recruiting poster for the worldwide cause while provoking self-defeating responses. Lure the Americans into Afghanistan, where they’ll sink into the quagmire that trapped their superpower rival twenty years before.

Such was Osama bin Laden’s strategy. Who dreamed that the Americans would prove so cooperative by also invading Iraq? Like a celestial slot machine daily pouring forth its golden bounty, the September 11 attacks had produced a wonderfully telegenic invasion of a major Muslim country. To an attack by a small group that called for a worldwide uprising of Muslims to throw off American oppression, the United States had responded by sending 150,000 armed Americans to oppress a Muslim country. The tiny fringe movement could point to the television screens as American tanks rumbled down the streets of an Arab capital, as American soldiers rousted Muslims from their beds, threw them to the ground, placed unclean boots on their backs—as they stripped them and tortured them at Abu…

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