THE BLOG
08/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Liz Cheney: Wrong on National Security, Wrong About Our President

Today I read a Wall Street Journal opinion piece criticizing President Obama for "rewriting the Cold War." A friend sent it with FYI in the subject line and without looking at the author's name, sentences like "Global battle between tyranny and freedom" and "dragging people off to gulags" caught my attention. Words like "lies" and "walls and barbed wire and tanks and secret police" jumped off the page. Then I noticed who wrote it.

Is the Cheney family missing the irony gene? Wow. Liz may have been talking about the Soviet Union with these references, but you know who I thought of first? Yep. Her dad.

And to think, this Op-Ed was competing with coverage about her father's recently discovered secret CIA program. Torture, spying, detention and rendition, using the "War on Terror" as cover for their own failure as the people in charge on 9/11/01. Why not secret CIA programs? Just throw it on the pile of Bush/Cheney policies that damaged our reputation. Hurt our constitution. Made us less free.

Liz goes on to claim that our president is endangering us because he sees international relations as a two-way street -- that other nations and leaders have self-respect whether we agree with them or not -- and that they have their own point of view. Moreover, she posits that somehow Obama is in error because he puts forward a perspective about the end of the Cold War that deviates from the conservative's preferred "Me Tarzan, You Jane" version of events.

I know she's wrong because I was there. I lived in West Berlin in 1989, the year it all ended -- in an apartment on Quitzowstrasse a couple hundred yards from the Berlin Wall. I spent a lot of my time figuring out how to get into the East. When I went, I took over books for the underground libraries -- I would receive the order, buy them from street vendors in the West -- then figure out how to sneak them into East Berlin. There were only two ways to go in, Friedrichstrasse on the subway and Checkpoint Charlie (where the US soldiers always had a cold Coke to share at midnight). And I had to alternate, especially if I got put into the detention room where they'd take away all my stuff (Some Stasi file somewhere has at least two volumes of indecipherable and very bad translations of German poetry in my terrible handwriting). I happened into this task almost by accident after meeting some East German dissidents at a bus stop. I don't remember feeling ideological about their situation, just pissed off. So I took my first order.

Before Liz calls me a Commie-lover (which she insinuates against Obama in her article) please know that I thought all those Eastern regimes were rotten. I was young and a passive consumer of Ronald Reagan's American mythology. I just knew that I felt bad when I ate two of the cherries that I was taking to a friend in the East -- who never, ever got any fruit. Or felt strange that the only place you could get something good to eat (ice cream sundae) was the Palast Hotel near Alexanderplatz. I could sit in a shiny baroque dining room with Soviet Officers, a Mozart trio playing on the dais, each musician wearing a thousand yard stare. My East Berlin friends never went there. They were too busy finding a new place to squat (having been thrown off of the official housing list) or hiding from Stasi cameras or escaping inside their heads. See, the citizens of East Germany, like the citizens of Hungary, of Poland, of the Soviet Union weren't thinking about throw weights and arms control summits and nuclear annihilation all the time. They were stuck in a suspicious, depressing malaise created by leaders who suck. (The wonk word for sucky leaders is illegitimate.) The Berlin Wall staring at them every day was like a tombstone on their culture. Smashing their spirit. Meanwhile, a giant glowing Mercedes symbol loomed beyond the Wall in the sky in the West. Eastern households received western television, people like me came over and talked about change. The hypocrisy was stunning. I was once warned by an officer to not exchange dollars standing right in front of a big sign that said "American Express welcome here." In November 1989, they'd had enough. The citizens overthrew the regime.

Liz Cheney also charges that President Obama's arms control negotiations in Moscow make us weaker. This is a clear indication of someone who clearly missed the freight train of history -- the one that shattered all the windows -- over the past two decades.

I'm not saying that military power wasn't important during the Cold War. Indeed, it provided a vehicle for communication that likely prevented nuclear war. Academics like to say something might be necessary, but not sufficient. Well, that's the case with military power. President Obama has never suggested that we lessen the strength of our military. What he has done is redefine strength. And in today's world, power is best defined as the ability to influence change. Even more, it is the ability to influence the intentions of others. This wisdom threads through each of his speeches, including the ones in Moscow. This is why the strategic shift in Afghanistan is so notable. Today the military itself understands the need to shape perceptions, build confidence and protect lives across the board. Both "them" and "us" are vital players. The more people you hurt, the faster you lose. The zero-sum game has blown up.

To the opposite of Liz Cheney, our president is onto something vital because he understands that perspectives are different depending on where you sit. This perceptiveness is called Emotional Intelligence and has proven to be a constant ingredient in successful relationships. And he also understands that in today's world, authority is best achieved when it is acknowledged rather than imposed. President Obama's worldview is far more accurate than throwback Cold Warriors because he departs from a notion of history that is sequential (the arms race) to one that is simultaneous (culture and politics). But that is what globalization, connectedness, new media and communications technology have done for us -- even when a people doesn't have freedom, they still feel entitled to it. Once in the Soviet Union a young underground news writer joked to me, "You don't understand, you have earned the right to be ignored. That's huge!" It took me a long time to get it.

Liz Cheney's article makes no sense. Let's face it, the biggest failures in American national security policy have been our inability to anticipate the end of the Cold War and then our failure to predict 9/11. Dressing this bungling up as a criticism of our first modern-age president is stunningly absurd. It is another flailing attempt by the right wing to project authority on national security when all they really have left is angry tripe. Liz Cheney's words about the forces of freedom and defense of liberty ring hollow both for Americans and for the world. Its ideology dressed up with a stint at the State Department (under her father). Liz Cheney is Sarah Palin with a spell-checker.