You Don't Know Dick

It's surprising that it took so long for Dick Cheney to be seen as the shadowy, macabre figure he has revealed himself to be -- a tout of torture, a prophet of preemptive war, and a sorcerer of secrecy (not to mention a wholly self-owned branch of the U.S. government).

Before and after the 2000 election, when Cheney led the vice presidential search -- and picked himself -- the mainstream media equated his quiet manner and mellifluous voice with a moderate personal nature that happened to embrace orthodox conservatism. This proves they didn't know dick about Cheney.

I did. Still do.

My epiphany occurred on a May morning in 1987, when Cheney and I found ourselves together in Red Square.

It was a heady era. We had accompanied then-House Speaker Jim Wright and other legislators to Moscow to meet Mikhail Gorbachev, the intriguing new Kremlin leader who offered hope for a thaw in, if not the end to, the Cold War. Even British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the archconservative "Iron Lady," had announced after meeting the charismatic Gorbachev, "We can do business together."

On our second morning in Moscow, my friend, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), and I rose early to jog before the start of a long day of meetings. What could be more indicative of the new US-Soviet era than two U.S. congressmen trotting through Red Square, past Lenin's Tomb and the Kremlin, without clearance from a party apparatchik?

As we circled in front of St. Basil's Cathedral for our return, a spectral figure emerged in the distant mist. If someone had said the hunched man in the overcoat was Karla, the ethereal cold-blooded Soviet spymaster in John Le Carré's novels, you wouldn't have gotten an argument from me.

It turned out to be not Karla but Cheney, the second-highest ranking Republican in the U.S. House, the senior Republican on the trip, George Bush Sr.'s soon-to-be secretary of defense -- and, ultimately, the real-life American version of the funereal Karla.

Steam rising from our sweat suits, Dicks and I were anxious to share our exuberant moment with Cheney. "Imagine, Dick!" Norm exclaimed. "Here we are, standing in the middle of Red Square. What does it make you think?"

Cheney gave a thin smile and replied, "Just that I'm standing on Ground Zero."

I knew Cheney for ten years as a fellow congressman and for four years when he was defense secretary and I, a member the House Defense Appropriations Committee.

When people ask me to describe Cheney, I say, "morbid."

This is a man who believes in war (despite -- perhaps because -- he's never been in one), feels no moral qualms about making the U.S. an attack-first nation, and subscribed to the nuclear doctrine perfected by Reagan's defense secretary, Casper Weinberger: "1) to fight a protracted nuclear war; 2) to fight it on a global basis and, 3) to prevail" [emphases added].

Today the war believer -- immersed in almost every Bush White House initiative, major and minor -- is leading a highly veiled reorganization of U.S. military priorities, downgrading al Qaeda and upgrading nuclear-minded Iran.

Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Seymour Hersh reports that the policy "redirection" rests on the calculation that Iran is, or will become, the more potent enemy of the two. It is also based on the possibility that Tehran will fill the power vacuum created by the near total collapse of Iraqi society -- and that Iraq's predominate Shiite population will align itself with Tehran in building a de facto Greater Shiite Iran. (This is exactly the outcome of the US invasion that many independent analysts predicted, to Cheney's scorn.)

Influenced by the vice president, Hersh reports, the Bush Administration has infiltrated U.S. Special Forces into Iran to gather intelligence on bombing targets for the four aircraft carrier strike groups poised in the Mediterranean Sea.

I don't know if Cheney has stood in the Grand Bazaar in central Tehran.

But I know Dick, and I'm sure he has thought of his own name for it..