In Washington D.C. last week, CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) held its annual convention attended by 11,000 people, most of whom were Tea Party members though thankfully not in costume. One of the highlights (or lowlights) was former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld receiving the “Defender of the Constitution” award. (Another was when Donald Trump spoke, although some of that might have been shock as these days Trump’s as huge as Raymond Burr.)

Rummy received the award from Dick Cheney who, as I recall, preferred water boarding over the Constitution. During Vietnam, Cheney avoided military service with five deferments but it was still surprising when some of the crowd booed and shouted, “Draft dodger,” and “war criminal.” Never rattled, even by the truth, Cheney shouted back, “Sit down and shut up.” Clearly, a very refined gathering.

It’s widely accepted that Rumsfeld prosecuted the Iraq War with way too few troops who were also dangerously ill-equipped. To date we’ve lost 4,436 GI’s in Iraq (last on Jan. 17) and had tens of thousands permanently injured, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who perished needlessly. For me the “Cheney-Rummy CPAC” show was a dark deja vu of 2000-06 when one party ran the presidency, both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court.

These days, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush don’t seem eager to set foot in Europe, especially not Spain, for fear of being tried for war crimes. When was the last time former members of a presidential administration were targets of international tribunals for human rights violations? Answer: never.

During CPAC, and even now, the big news was/is the Egyptian revolution. (That is, if you don’t count the new Justin Bieber movie.) Imagine, this reality, a Middle Eastern country seeks democracy and we didn’t have to invade. Instead of roadside bombs the protesters used Facebook. Maybe there’s hope.

Slightly less upbeat, Cheney noted what a valuable ally Hosni Mubarak had been for three decades, apparently overlooking the brutality and corruption. (Mubarak is reportedly worth $40 billion and considering that for 30 years we’ve given him $1.3 billion a year it sounds like “foreign aid,” went right into his pocket.)

Mubarak might have been a ruthless dictator, but to Cheney he was our dictator. It’s the cost of running an empire. And when you have military troops deployed in more than150 countries worldwide, as we do, you’re definitely running an empire. (Though lately, stealing a quote from former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda, “It’s not that g** damn easy!”)

The U.S. has had a long history of propping up dictators and later removing them. At this rate, the average dictator might not want to play footsie with us anymore. Take Manuel Noriega, the former strongman in Panama, who served 20 years in an American jail and is currently in a French hoosegow. (Somehow “French” and “hoosegow” don’t quite go together.)

During the Cold War, in return for being anti-Communist, we looked the other way at Noriega’s vast drug trafficking empire. That is until Bush Sr. invaded Panama and had Manuel arrested. “But I thought we were partners,” Noriega pleaded. (You’d think the handcuffs would have signaled the partnership had ended.)

We even helped put Saddam Hussein in power. Who can forget (though I’d like to) the infamous photo of a smiling Rummy shaking Saddam’s hand as if they were fraternity brothers. And this was after Hussein had gassed the Kurds. (We sold him the gas!)

Just prior to the Gulf War, Ambassador Joe Wilson, on orders from Poppy Bush, attempted to warn Saddam not to invade Kuwait. Reportedly Hussein was as puzzled as Noriega, as if to say, “But I thought we were partners.”

As for Mubarak, he has been conspicuously missing since his resignation. Rumors are that he’s deeply depressed, or in a coma and near death. (Or maybe he’s just counting his money?)

In the 1950s and 60s when we needed to get rid of a dictator, we did just that. For example, in 1963, the CIA backed the arrest and ultimate assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam. While they were at it, they whacked his brother, too.

We apparently backed so many coups and assassination attempts on foreign leaders (Lumumba of the Congo, Trujillo f the Dominican Republic, Schneider of Chile and Castro of Cuba) that in 1976 President Ford issued an executive order to ban U.S. sanctioned assassinations of foreign leaders. Thus, if the revolution in Egypt had been pre-1976, Mubarak might have been slightly more than just depressed.

But maybe Cheney’s right. To enhance our credibility with current and future despots, perhaps we ought to build a lavish retirement village, a Club Med for ex-dictators. While our local economy could use some of Mubarak’s $40 billion, I just hope it’s not in Santa Monica.

If he’s not in shock (Cavaliers 104, Lakers 99) Jack can be reached at Jnsmdp@aol.com.

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