Politics

Liz Cheney’s War on Terror

For her, Jan. 6 was a military battle—and her own party is aiding the enemy.

Cheney in a black mask talking to reporters outside
Rep. Liz Cheney at the Capitol on Oct. 21. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Twenty years ago, after 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney called for a war on terrorism. He blamed Iraq for the attack, wrongly, and pushed the United States into a disastrous occupation of that country. Cheney was determined to defend America, pursue its enemies, and punish Democrats who refused to go along. That fixation, combined with bad judgment, did a lot of damage.

On Jan. 6, America was struck again, but this time the attack came from within. It was orchestrated not by Islamic terrorists but by a Republican president, and congressional Republicans are trying to obstruct a House select committee investigation of the plot. So Dick Cheney’s daughter, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney—with the same resolve that drove her father to take on Saddam Hussein and congressional Democrats—is taking on her own party. She’s calling out Republican leaders for aiding the enemy.

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Cheney, who sits on the select committee, agrees with liberals that the Jan. 6 attack threatened democracy. But she also sees it as a military battle. In August, speaking at the Aspen Institute, she recalled walking through the Capitol after the attack and seeing “members of SWAT teams, members of the Capitol Police, in uniform, in riot gear, lying against the statues and against the walls.” She quoted a witness who told her, “I fought in Iraq. And I have never seen anything like the level of just violent hand-to-hand combat that we faced” at the Capitol. Last month, as the House debated a contempt-of-Congress resolution against Steve Bannon—who has defied a subpoena to testify before the select committee—Cheney quoted Bannon’s martial language just before the assault began: “We are coming in right over the target. This is the point of attack we have always wanted.”

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On Tuesday, speaking in New Hampshire, Cheney described Jan. 6 as the latest in a history of momentous battles. She recalled America’s victories over Nazism and Soviet communism, praised the U.S. armed forces, and lauded “the heroism of the passengers on Flight 93.” She also spoke of her great-great-grandfather, who had fought for the Union in the Civil War. In every generation, she observed, Americans had stood up “to defend our freedom.” The new heroes, she argued, were the “140 law enforcement officers who fought for hours and held the tunnel on the west front of the Capitol.”

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This perspective leads Cheney to regard her party’s collaboration with Donald Trump in a particularly grim and hawkish way. Republican leaders who conspire to thwart the Jan. 6 investigation aren’t just corrupt. They’re betraying national security. At the Aspen Institute, Cheney described multiple backstage maneuvers by Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, to sabotage any inquiry into the attack. In New Hampshire, she warned that Trump, in his ongoing campaign “to unravel the foundations of our constitutional republic,” was being “aided by political leaders” who, together with the former president, posed a “domestic threat.”

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In raising these alarms, Cheney is echoing her father’s administration. President George W. Bush framed the war on terror as a binary choice, telling foreign governments, “You are either with us or you are against us.” His running mate, Dick Cheney, used that us-or-them message to pummel Democrats for questioning the war in Iraq. On Tuesday, Cheney delivered the same message: “There is no middle ground.” But she was talking about the invasion of the U.S. Capitol, not the invasion of Iraq, and she was challenging her own party.

The insurrection, in her eyes, isn’t just a shameful moment in history. It’s still going on, and Republicans are abetting it. In New Hampshire, she explicitly rebuked “House Republican leaders” for inviting Trump to deliver the keynote speech at a GOP fundraising dinner the previous night. She noted that at the dinner, Trump “reportedly said once again that the insurrection was on Nov. 3, and that the events of Jan. 6, when a violent mob invaded the Capitol … were justified.” Cheney didn’t mince words about this treachery: “Political leaders who sit silent in the face of these false and dangerous claims are aiding a former president who is at war with the rule of law and the Constitution.”

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This week, Cheney and her colleagues on the select committee issued 16 more subpoenas in their investigation of the Jan. 6 plot. But her concern goes beyond the events of that day. At the Aspen Institute, she noted that Trump and his allies are trying to install puppets as local election officials. She cited a colleague, Rep. Jody Hice, who—at Trump’s instigation—is running to replace Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state who refused Trump’s demands to tamper with vote tallies. She also warned that legislators in some states are giving themselves more control over the adjudication of elections. In a close race, Trump or another usurper could seize power without firing a shot.

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Cheney doesn’t flinch from the C-word. At the Aspen Institute, she pointed out that Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had expressed “concern about a coup” by Trump. And at a House hearing on Sept. 29, when Republican lawmakers challenged Milley’s loyalty, Cheney praised him for “standing in the breach” on Jan. 6. She called her colleagues’ smears against the general “despicable” and condemned those who impugned his patriotism while “attempting to obstruct the investigation into that attack.”

Within the GOP, Cheney is losing her fight. She’s been booted out of the House Republican leadership, and Trump’s allies have targeted her for defeat in 2022. In a party of cowards, her hawkish case against Trump’s collaborators—that they’re harboring and protecting enemies of the United States—has fallen on deaf ears. But that doesn’t make her wrong. She wants to know why a party that claims to stand for national security is trying to cover up an attack on America. And the leaders of that party have no answer.

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