'In My Time': Dick Cheney's Unapologetic Memoir

Call it spin, score settling or setting the record straight: Former Vice President Dick Cheney's new memoir of his extraordinary political career is out next week. Robert Siegel talks with Charlie Savage of the New York Times. Savage got an early copy of the book, entitled In My Time.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Former Vice President Dick Cheney's memoir, "In My Time," has not been published yet. It comes out next week. But some journalists have gotten their hands on it and have been combing through it.

Reporter Charlie Savage, of the New York Times, has made it through the book. He's written one story in the paper about it. Cheney says he wanted the U.S. to bomb a Syrian nuclear plant in June 2007. A few months later, the Israelis bombed it.

And Charlie Savage joins us right now. Hi, welcome to the program.

CHARLIE SAVAGE: Hi, thanks for having me on.

SIEGEL: Is that still the biggest single nugget of information you found, now that you've made it to the end?

SAVAGE: Well, the whole book is full of nuggets, and it's kind of hard to say what's the single, biggest one of them. In one sense, none of them are big. There's not a huge revelation here. Rather, like a lot of Washington memoirs, I would say this is - it's full of small, new details, new texture, new spin on known events.

And so that if you're very interested in the history of these events - whether they are recent, like from the Bush administration, or all the way back to the Watergate era and the Ford administration, when he was White House chief of staff - it adds sort of greater color and understanding of important events in American history.

So the fact that the Israelis wanted us to bomb the suspected nuclear reactor in '07, and we didn't but then they did, we knew all of that. The fact that Cheney was the only one inside Bush's Cabinet who thought that was a good idea and strongly urged it, and everyone else thought he was wrong - which is why the president didn't do it - that part of how isolated he was in thinking that we should bomb it, that part was new.

SIEGEL: Generally, how would you describe the tone and - as Cheney puts it - the point or the perspective of this memoir?

SAVAGE: Well, it is a - accounting of his life, and he has an extraordinarily long public career. And so he had a sort of panoramic view of a couple generations of American history from Washington. And he recounts a lot of the important events as he saw them. So like a lot of Washington memoirs, he was right about everything. People who disagreed with him were fools, and people who agreed with him were wise and brave. That's true of just about any Washington memoir you're going to read. It's true of this one, too.

He's not repentant about anything, admits no errors. But because he was so involved in so much for so long, I would say - as a connoisseur of Washington memoirs - at least this is much better than most of them. It's more interesting than most. Certainly, it's better than Bush's.

SIEGEL: I gather, among the things he's not apologetic about are the weapons of mass destruction that supposedly were in Iraq, the Valerie Plame story. I also understand that he's at pains to insist that he was not really running the show in the White House. But is it true that his place in the pecking order of intelligence briefings might suggest that he was at least co-equal with the president when it came to that?

SAVAGE: Well, he got the same briefing the president got, but he also got extra questions and appendixes answered and so forth, and he got this all before the president. And sometimes, he would add stuff to the president's briefing from his own sort of extra stuff that he thought the president should see.

When you said he's not sorry about the failure to find WMD in Iraq - I mean, the more nuanced way of putting it is, he says that the bad information they received about WMD stockpiles in Iraq was all the CIA's fault, not his own doing, and that nevertheless, notwithstanding the fact that there were no such stockpiles, the decision to go into Iraq was the right one made for the right reasons. And, you know, he has no apologies about that aspect of things.

SIEGEL: How big a book is this, by the way?

SAVAGE: It's about 400 pages.

SIEGEL: Oh, that's not that big for the genre that you're describing.

SAVAGE: It's certainly no Henry Kissinger, multivolume study.

SIEGEL: Well, Charlie Savage, thanks a lot for talking with us.

SAVAGE: Oh, thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: Charlie Savage of the New York Times, who has read through Dick Cheney's memoir, "In My Time." The book is published next Tuesday.

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