NOTE TO VP CHENEY on 9/11: What "Thinking the Unthinkable" Really Looks Like

Vice President Cheney has come out of the shadows to defend his role as hardliner-in-chief in the so-called "war on terror."

AP's Tom Raum reports in his article:

"Part of my job is to think about the unthinkable, to focus upon what in fact the terrorists may have in store for us," Cheney told NBC's "Meet the Press" when asked about his "dark side."

Cheney didn't think the unthinkable -- he did the predictable. He sorted out who he thought were the good guys and the bad guys -- lumped the bad guys together in ways they should not have been -- and focused American military power recklessly at the wrong targets connected to 9/11, thus puncturing America's mystique in the world and exposing before our allies and our foes both our military and financial limits.

Sensing American weakness, our allies are counting on America less and our foes are advancing their agendas. That is what Cheney's predictable behavior and lack of strategy has done to undermine American interests and our basic security.

The "Unthinkable" (and the smarter strategy) would have been Cheney crafting a grand bargain with Iran after the Iranians had helped the U.S. temporarily stabilize post-Taliban Afghanistan.

The "Unthinkable" would have been maintaining and exploiting America's well-developed thug management system of influencing the behavior of the world's thugs with both carrots and sticks. After release of the recent Senate report indicating no tangible connection between Saddam and al Qaeda -- in fact finding that Saddam was concerned about and opposed al Qaeda -- the "unthinkable" thing to do would have been to ally with Saddam (temporarily) in eliminating both the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

While dictators are deplorable, America does not have the will or resources to topple all of them in one large effort -- no matter the dreams of the Project for a New American Century -- and must make hard choices. The fact that dictators are usually not bent on self-destruction but are rather shrewdly calculating self-dealers gives America an edge in manipulating them through their own rationality. To some degree, America's invasion of Iraq has undermined this thug-oriented calculus and now made it harder for us to compellingly influence other global thugs.

Thinking the "Unthinkable" would have been sidelining Ahmed Chalabi when we learned what a conniving, duplicitous rip-off artist he was and instead considering alternatives for regime change in Iraq short of invasion and occupation. One of these plans was a British-hatched effort to support the former Baathist Iyad Allawi -- himself someone who has played all sides off the other but still someone who could have secured the support of many leading generals in Iraq and potentially led a coup against Saddam -- decapitating the leadership and then installing a brand of leadership that would have walked Iraq away from fascism while not disbanding the military and re-educating and re-branding as acceptable the least ideological and most competent people in Iraq's national and regional bureaucracies.

This last option has clear problems -- moral clarity being only one -- but that kind of thinking is what Cheney should be told is "thinking the unthinkable."

If only Cheney had spent more time on the "unthinkable" -- and putting his zealotry behind thinking through every option, every possibility, every complex strategic cost and opportunity -- America would not be on the brink of a fundamental loss in international stature and military capacity.

Someone please get Cheney on the line. The Vice President definitely needs to take some courses on "thinking the unthinkable."

-- Steve Clemons is Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note.

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