Dick "Dick" Cheney, the defining political figure of 21st century America, is publishing a book next week called Heart: An American Medical Odyssey, about his own health problems. Cheney had the first of his five heart attacks in 1978. What if he had not survived?

Cheney is experiencing somewhat of a post-White House renaissance. In addition to his stoutly unapologetic performance in a Showtime documentary about his life, he has plans to go on 60 Minutes, the Today show, and Dr. Oz to discuss his new heart book, according to the New York Times. Last week, he was the subject of a hilarious roast in DC, where he got together with all of his Bush administration pals to joke about torture.

By 1978, Cheney had already worked in the White House as Chief of Staff, managed Gerald Ford's presidential campaign, and formed his early alliance with Donald Rumsfeld. He was running for a Wyoming Congressional seat that year when he had his first heart attack. He survived, and went on to do all of the glorious things with which many unfortunate residents of Planet Earth are familiar.

But what if Dick Cheney had died there on the floor in 1978? A promising young political leader, taken away all too young? He would not have gotten elected to Congress and spent the next ten years there. He would not have become Secretary of Defense in 1989. He would not have overseen the first Gulf War, nor the US invasion of Panama. He would not have spent five years as CEO of Halliburton. He would not have signed on as George W. Bush's vice president in 2000. He would not have been alive to see the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. And he would not have been in the White House to take a lead role in shaping America's response to those attacks, including the invasion of Iraq, the torture of terror suspects, and the global "War on Terror" that continues to this day.

Many of these historical events, of course, would have happened whether Cheney was around or not. But the Iraq War? Perhaps not. It's hard to imagine that George W. Bush himself would have formulated the plan to attack a nation wholly uninvolved in the 9/11 attacks, under false pretenses, without the strong assistance of a group of intellectual neocons led (and empowered) by Dick Cheney. And it's hard to imagine that the post-9/11 push to vastly increase the power of the presidency itself—making the president less accountable to Congress, the courts, and the public—would have occurred without Cheney's urging. It was his pet cause, after all.

So let's say that—conservatively speaking—approximately 300,000 people killed in the Iraq War would be alive today, had Dick Cheney passed away after his first heart attack in 1978.

He didn't though. His book comes out on Tuesday.

[Photo: Getty]