Mo Dowd’s on a roll today–

The shocking thing about the trellis of revelations showing Dick Cheney, the self-styled Mr. Strong America, as the central figure in dark conspiracies to juice up a case for war and demonize those who tried to tell the public the truth is how unshocking it all is.

It’s exactly what we thought was going on, but we never thought we’d actually hear the lurid details: Cheney and Rummy, the two old compadres from the Nixon and Ford days, in a cabal running the country and the world into the ground, driven by their poisonous obsession with Iraq, while Junior is out of the loop, playing in the gym or on his mountain bike.

Mr. Cheney has been so well protected by his Praetorian guard all these years that it’s been hard for the public to see his dastardly deeds and petty schemes. But now, because of Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation and candid talk from Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Wilkerson, he’s been flushed out as the heart of darkness: all sulfurous strands lead back to the man W. aptly nicknamed Vice.

La Dowd sites the Tenet to The Dick to Scooter connection, then continues:

The Bush hawks presented themselves as protectors and exporters of American values. But they were so feverish about projecting the alternate reality they had constructed to link Saddam and Al Qaeda Рand fulfilling their id̩e fixe about invading Iraq Рthey perverted American values.

Whether or not it turns out to be illegal, outing a C.I.A. agent – undercover or not – simply to undermine her husband’s story is Rove-ishly sleazy. This no-leak administration was perfectly willing to leak to hurt anyone who got in its way.

In the Bush Administration, all dark roads lead to The Dick. In Salon, Jim Lobe writes that Cheney was at the center of the administration’s propaganda and intelligence-fixing efforts leading up to the Iraq War. Cheney, Lobe says, “started beating the nuclear drum with vigor significantly earlier than most remember; indeed at a time that was particularly curious given its proximity to the famous mission former Ambassador Joseph Wilson took on behalf of the CIA.”

Cheney’s drum-beating about Saddam Hussein’s alleged nuclear capabilities began

… just after his return from a tour of Arab capitals where he had tried in vain to gin up local support for military action against Iraq. Indeed, the specific date on which his campaign was launched was March 24, 2002, when, on return from the Middle East, he appeared on three major Sunday public-affairs television programs bearing similar messages on each. On CNN’s “Late Edition,” he offered the following comment on Saddam:

“This is a man of great evil, as the President said. And he is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he said:

“[T]here’s good reason to believe that he continues to aggressively pursue the development of a nuclear weapon. Now will he have one in a year, five years? I can’t be that precise.”

And on CBS’s “Face the Nation”:

“The notion of a Saddam Hussein with his great oil wealth, with his inventory that he already has of biological and chemical weapons, that he might actually acquire a nuclear weapon is, I think, a frightening proposition for anybody who thinks about it. And part of my task out there was to go out and begin the dialogue with our friends to make sure they were thinking about it.”

Lobe writes that in March 2002 there were only two pieces of evidence of Saddam’s nuclear capabilities known to be available. One was a “defector” offered by Ahmed Chalabi who delivered testimony seized upon eagerly by the Cheney cabal, and reported in the New York Times by Judy Miller in December 2001, even though both the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency thought the testimony was a fabrication. And the other piece was …

The infamous forged Niger yellowcake documents that, at some point in December, 2001 or January, 2002 somehow appeared on Cheney’s desk, supposedly through the Defense Intelligence Agency or the CIA, though accounts differ on the precise route it took from Italian military intelligence (SISMI) to the Vice President’s office. It was these and related documents that spurred Cheney to ask for additional information, a request that would eventually result in Wilson’s trip to Niger in late February, which, of course, set the Plame case in motion. Wilson’s conclusion — that there was nothing to the story — would echo the conclusions of both U.S. ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick and Marine Gen. Carlton W. Fulford Jr., then-deputy commander of the U.S. European Command who was also sent to Niger in February. A couple of days after his return to Washington, Wilson would be debriefed by the CIA.

How far up their respective chains of command Wilson’s and Fulford’s reports made it remains a significant mystery to this day. Cheney’s office, which reportedly had reminded the CIA of the Vice President’s interest in the agency’s follow-up efforts even while Wilson was in Niger, claims never to have heard about either report. We do know that Fulford’s report made it up to Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers whose spokesman, however, told the Washington Post in July 2003, shortly after Wilson went public on the New York Times op-ed page, that the general had “no recollection” of it and so no idea whether it continued on to the White House or Cheney’s office.

If you can get around Salon‘s subscription firewall I recommend the Jim Lobe article, as it contains a good account of how the neocons, the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal, and other players like Judy Miller worked together to wave the nuclear shirt in support of an invasion of Iraq. But now I want to go on to Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly, who recently wrote a series of posts on the forged Niger yellowcake documents. See, for example, this and this. A story emerges that the documents were put together by some part of the Italian government to curry favor with the White House and push for war with Iraq. Via Kevin, we learn from Laura Rozen at TAP,

In an explosive series of articles appearing this week in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, investigative reporters Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d’Avanzo report that Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy’s military intelligence service, known as Sismi, brought the Niger yellowcake story directly to the White House after his insistent overtures had been rejected by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2001 and 2002.

….Today’s exclusive report in La Repubblica reveals that Pollari met secretly in Washington on September 9, 2002, with then–Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Their secret meeting came at a critical moment in the White House campaign to convince Congress and the American public that war in Iraq was necessary to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons. National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones confirmed the meeting to the Prospect on Tuesday.

Kevin comments,

La Repubblica‘s story suggests that the Italians pushed hard on the documents because they were eager to impress the Americans with their loyalty to the war cause. When the CIA and the State Department didn’t bite, they went straight to the White House. Read Laura’s entire piece for all the details.

And the forged documents made their way to Cheney’s desk in December 2001 or January 2002. The Big Dick took it from there.

In spite of the pressure he is under at the moment, the Dickster is still busy shaping American policy. This is from today’s New York Times:

Amid all the natural and political disasters it faces, the White House is certainly tireless in its effort to legalize torture. This week, Vice President Dick Cheney proposed a novel solution for the moral and legal problems raised by the use of American soldiers to abuse prisoners and the practice of turning captives over to governments willing to act as proxies in doing the torturing. Mr. Cheney wants to make it legal for the Central Intelligence Agency to do this wet work.

Mr. Cheney’s proposal was made in secret to Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who won the votes of 89 other senators this month to require the civilized treatment of prisoners at camps run by America’s military and intelligence agencies. Mr. McCain’s legislation, an amendment to the Defense Department budget bill, would ban the “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment of prisoners. In other words, it would impose age-old standards of democracy and decency on the new prisons.

President Bush’s threat to veto the entire military budget over this issue was bizarre enough by itself, considering that the amendment has the support of more than two dozen former military leaders, including Colin Powell. They know that torture doesn’t produce reliable intelligence and endangers Americans’ lives.

But Mr. Cheney’s proposal was even more ludicrous. It would give the president the power to allow government agencies outside the Defense Department (the administration has in mind the C.I.A.) to mistreat and torture prisoners as long as that behavior was part of “counterterrorism operations conducted abroad” and they were not American citizens. That would neatly legalize the illegal prisons the C.I.A. is said to be operating around the world and obviate the need for the torture outsourcing known as extraordinary rendition. It also raises disturbing questions about Iraq, which the Bush administration has falsely labeled a counterterrorism operation.

The obvious question is: What is wrong with these people?

The answer, IMO, appears in an article Josh Marshall wrote for Washington Monthly in September 2002, titled “Confidence Men.”

Dick Cheney was the signature figure [of the Bush Administration]: a former White House chief of staff, congressman, and wartime defense secretary, whose vaunted government savvy had been validated in the private sector as CEO of the energy giant Halliburton. Like the administration, Cheney was right-wing, but in a way that was at once daunting and oddly reassuring. You may not have liked what he was doing. But you had little doubt that he knew what he was doing.

Today, that record doesn’t look nearly so impressive. We now know that as CEO, Cheney got snookered into a disastrous merger that has since sent Halliburton’s stock price plummeting, while signing off on dubious balance sheets that have sparked a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation. His mastery of the Beltway is similarly in question. Last year’s Cheney-led energy task force produced an all-drilling-no-conservation energy bill that went nowhere. The task force’s real legacy was to mire the administration in a thicket of congressional investigations and private lawsuits, all springing from Cheney’s insistence on Nixonian secrecy. His major foreign policy gambit–last spring’s shuttle-diplomacy mission to the Middle East to secure support for an invasion of Iraq–was a debacle. The tough-talking VP went to the region to line up the Arab states behind the United States against Saddam; days after Cheney’s return they were lining up behind Saddam against the United States. Less well known, but no less embarrassing, was Cheney’s leadership of the pre-9/11 anti-terrorism task force. In spring 2001, rather than back congressional efforts to implement the findings of the Hart-Rudman commission, Cheney opted to spearhead his own group, to put the administration’s stamp on whatever reforms occurred. But the task force did almost nothing for four months until terrorists struck on September 11. More recently, it was Cheney who advised Bush not to include any serious corporate reforms in his July speech on Wall Street, the one that sent markets plunging. While no one bats a thousand in politics, it’s actually difficult to think of one thing the vice president has been responsible for that has not ended in muddle or disaster. Yet his reputation for competence has survived.

Josh goes on to exlain how the Bushies emanate an aura of competence in spite of the fact that it’s a wonder they can keep their shoes tied. Much of that aura was destroyed only recently by Hurricane Katrina. And for all his repuation for smarts, Cheney’s history reveals plenty of massive blunders and misjudgments. And, unfortunately, he is a big enough fool not to have noticed his own shortcomings. Given near unlimited power, he’s been able to do a lot of damage.

Maybe it’s all about to catch up to him. Let’s hope.

Update: See also “The Cheney Factor” by Dan Froomkin.

Update update: See “Treasongate: The Real Significance of the Niger Uranium Forgery Stories in La Repubblica” by eriposte at The Left Coaster.

Cross-posted on The American Street.

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