Meet Dick Cheney, the "What If" King

05/25/2011 11:50 am ET

I'll bet you know a "what-if" type of person. An individual who imagines the worst-case scenario for pretty much any undertaking in life.

After reading the profile of Vice-President Cheney in the newest "Vanity Fair," I am convinced he fits the "what-if" personality descriptor to the top of the scale. The article notes that he travels with a chem-bio protection suit. Yet unlike the "what-iffers" you and I know, this guy has been, and is, in a position to turn his what-if dreads into action and national policy.

I remember the days after 9/11, when, according to TIME magazine, doomsayers led by Cheney were convinced that "Al-Queda nukes" were already "in country." Easy to see how that assessment - backed by fellow "what-iffer" John Ashcroft, led to his frequent retreats to "undisclosed locations," as well as to the series of dire warnings in the days and weeks following 9/11. Vested with an attitude that Dick Cheney was an expert that could not be in error, President Bush willingly complied with every one of Cheney's what-if assumptions.

If you also remember back then, there were the orders to ground the crop-dusters, the fear that Saddam was going to send some planes over here to disperse anthrax over populated areas, and other assorted nail-biters of the time.

It is in that context that the NSA collection of our phone records was initiated.

As time went on, the same "what-if" line of thinking led to the invasion of Iraq. After all, what if those mobile weapons labs were cooking up stuff that could be smuggled in to the U.S. and put in a bomb or aerosol? And what about the Nigerian yellowcake?

And when those claims were debunked, members of Cheney's staff may well have been behind an effort to discredit those with accuracy on their side.

I know the counterargument. It's Cheney's job to perceive the unthinkable. But in preparation for the unthinkable, there's an art involved. An art that involves not letting them see you sweat. When a suicide bomber headed for LAX was apprehended at the Canadian border late in 1999, you didn't see Al Gore (vp at the time), wear a face that screamed a constant anxiety state.

I've encountered quite a few "what-if" people. The woman who, in the months after 9/11, said that "outer space" was the only safe place, because some fright-wing analyst on FOX News said Osama had nukes and he was going to smuggle 'em in and use them. Another neurotic type who used to quiver in fear of a truck bomb every time she approached the Golden Gate Bridge.

Those types of neuroses are best left to the private sector. But when you have a what-if-fer making foreign policy and scaring the BeJesus out of the American people and even getting some of them killed, that's another thing entirely.

Hmm, Dick Cheney-"Worrier Prince?"