by Paul Schreyer
“If a mandarinate ruled America, the recruiting committee on September 11 would have had to find someone like Cheney.”
Washington Post author Barton Gellman in his book “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency”
But whatever point of view is chosen, Dick Cheney is a central figure. “Principle is okay up to a certain point”, he once said, “but principle doesn´t do any good if you lose the nomination”. He´s surely an elusive character. Not less than Donald Rumsfeld, his close companion. Both of their lifes are inseperably bound with a dark side of recent American history. The core of the following story was originally told by the authors James Mann and Peter Dale Scott whose thorough research is deeply appreciated. Yet a lot of background information was added. Thus a bigger picture slowly took shape, showing a plan and its actors …
Cheney and Rumsfeld were an old team. Major parts of their careers they had spent together. Both had no privileged family background. Cheney´s father worked as an employee for the department of agriculture, Rumsfeld´s father had a job in a real estate company. The families´ living conditions were modest. Both sons could go to university only with the backing of scholarships.
Rumsfeld, born 1932, chose political science. He was a rather small and sturdy person, but with energetic charisma. While at university he engaged in sport and was known as a succesful ringer. Later Rumsfeld went to the Navy to become a pilot. The Navy hat paid a part of his scholarship. At the end of the 1950s he eventually started his career in politics as assistant of a congressman. Meanwhile father of a young family, and following a short intermezzo at an investment bank, Rumsfeld himself ran for Congress, at the age of 29 only.
The prospects in his Chicago home district were unfavorable. He was inexperienced and almost without any voter base, compared to the other candidates. But the dynamic and ambitious Rumsfeld impressed some of Chicago´s business leaders, such as the boss of pharma heavyweight Searle. They paid for his campaign. With this economic power in his back also one of Chicago´s newspapers supported him. Rumsfeld won the election in 1962 and went to Washington as a republican representative.
At the beginning of the 1960s he visited lectures at the University of Chicago, where Milton Friedman was teaching, one of the most influential economists of his time. Friedman was one of the founding fathers of neoliberalism. He called for less influence of the state and praised the self regulation of the markets. In 1962 his bestseller Capitalism and Freedom was published. Rumsfeld was impressed by these thoughts. In a speech honoring Friedman 40 years later he remembered: “Government, he has told us, has three primary functions: It should provide for the military defense of the nation. It should enforce contracts between individuals. And it should protect citizens against crimes against themselves or their property.” (1) This self-imposed restriction of politics was also the core of Rumsfeld´s belief while he served in Congress in the 1960s.
An apprentice in politics
Cheney, 9 years younger than Rumsfeld, meanwhile studied political science as well. First at Yale, where he left soon because of poor grades, then at a less prestigious university in the Midwest. Contrary to the forceful Rumsfeld he appeared rather defensive, quiet and cautious. His imminent recruiting to the Vietnam war he avoided by getting deferred from military service because of his study at the university and the pregnancy of his wife, until he couldn´t be recruited because of his age in 1967.
At the age of 27 Cheney was looking for a job in Washington. He applied for an internship at Rumsfeld´s office. But Rumsfeld rejected him. The failed interview was embarrassing for Cheney who in later times liked to tell the story of this flop as an anecdote. But soon both men found together.
Under president Nixon, Rumsfeld had switched in 1969 from Congress to government. First he ran the Office of Economic Opportunity. There he administered federal social programs – not exactly one of his major concerns, but still one step forward in career. Rumsfeld was looking for new staffers to pass on work. By recommendation of a befriended representative he employed Cheney as his assistant. Cheney was a diligent worker and quickly made himself indispensable. Whoever wanted something from Rumsfeld, learned soon to try it via Cheney.
Rumsfeld´s career developed. People started becoming aware of him nationwide. He looked good, was energetic and had a catching smile. His intelligence was outstanding. But he also liked to exaggerate and escalate conflicts and often was unnecessarily blunt to others. Soon he became president Nixon´s advisor (who would praise him as a “ruthless little bastard”). Three years later he went to europe becoming NATO´s ambassador there – escaping from Washington shortly before the Watergate affair would kill the careers of many of Nixon´s advisors.