The Vice President is out of control. This is the essential message of several recent editorials and opinion pieces in the nation’s newspapers and political web sites.
James Carroll wrote in yesterday’s Boston Globe that it’s time to consider “just how damaging the long public career of Richard Cheney has been to the United States.”
After examining Cheney’s past career in which he enabled the rollback of essential antipoverty programs, tried to destroy detente, and always favored violence over diplomacy, Carroll progresses to what The Dick hath wrought as Veep:
With all of this as prelude, it seems as tragic as it was inevitable that Cheney was behind the wheel again when the next fork in the road appeared before the nation. When the World Trade Center towers were hit in New York, it was Cheney who told a shaken President Bush to flee. The true nature of their relationship (Cheney, not Bush, having shaped the national security team; Cheney, not Bush, having appointed himself as vice president) showed itself for a moment.
The 9/11 Commission found that, from the White House situation room, Cheney warned the president that a ”specific threat” had targeted Air Force One, prompting Bush to spend the day hiding in the bunker at Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska. There was no specific threat. In Bush’s absence, Cheney, implying an authorizing telephone call from the president, took command of the nation’s response to the crisis. There was no authorizing telephone call. The 9/11 Commission declined to make an issue of Cheney’s usurpation of powers, but the record shows it.
I realize it can be argued that it didn’t make a damn bit of difference what Junior did on 9/11, since Junior truly cannot watch TV and chew pretzels at the same time. But it’s the principle I’m talkin’ about. Carroll continues,
At world-shaping moments across a generation, Cheney reacted with an instinctive, This is war! He helped turn the War on Poverty into a war on the poor. He helped keep the Cold War going longer than it had to, and when it ended (because of initiatives taken by the other side), Cheney refused to believe it. To keep the US war machine up and running, he found a new justification just in time. With Gulf War I, Cheney ignited Osama bin Laden’s burning purpose. Responding to 9/11, Cheney fulfilled bin Laden’s purpose by joining him in the war-of-civilizations. Iraq, therefore (including the prewar deceit for which Scooter Libby takes the fall), is simply the last link in the chain of disaster which is the public career of Richard Cheney.
It has become a clichÃ© to say that Dick Cheney is the most powerful vice president in American history. Nonetheless, here is a prediction: When the historians really get digging into the paper entrails of the Bush administrationâ€”or possibly when Scooter Libby goes on trialâ€”those who have intoned that phrase will still be astonished at the extent to which the Office of Vice President Dick Cheney was the center of power inside the White Houseâ€”and at the grip it had on foreign and defense policy.
With a national security staff that numbered 14 last year (Al Gore usually had four or five), Cheney’s office has a finger in every pie. Several of the State Department’s top diplomats, including Eric Edelman, now undersecretary of defense for policy, and Victoria Nuland, now ambassador to NATO, are alums of Cheney’s office. According to David L. Phillips’ Losing Iraq: Inside the Postwar Reconstruction Fiasco, the dominant figure in some of the key interagency deliberations on postwar Iraq was not the State Department official who chaired them but Samantha Ravich, a Cheney aide who left the government and has since returned to OVP*. In addition, Cheney has remarkable influence over his onetime boss, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
For the next several centuries, historians will be writing about the dark duo of Rummy and Vice and how they destroyed America.
Kevin Drum writes,
As Benjamin points out, when you follow stuff like this back to its origin you invariably end up at the same place: Dick Cheney. Feith may have been the guy in charge of the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which produced much of the dodgy intelligence that made its way into public speeches from administration officials, but “Dick Cheney was CTEG’s patron.”
As a wise man said back in January 2003 regarding Cheney and his curiously enduring reputation for competence even in the face of mountains of contrary evidence, “his terrible judgment will, at some point, become impossible even for the Beltway crowd not to see.” Looking back, perhaps historians will say that November 2005 was when they finally saw it.
Kevin links to an old Washington Monthly article by Josh Marshall, “Vice Grip,” that’s a must read. Josh documents that throughout his long, public career, The Dick was nearly always wrong. And I don’t mean “wrong” in an ideological sense, but “wrong” in the way policies and events eventually played out. “[I]t’s usually a sure bet that if Cheney has lined up on one side, the opposite course will turn out to be the wiser,” Josh wrote.
After President Bush’s disastrous visit to Latin America, it’s unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run. An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can’t afford an American government this bad for that long. …
Yes, the Times really published that in their lead editorial. However, they’ve yet to fire Judy Miller.
…Second terms may be difficult, but the chief executive still has the power to shape what happens. Ronald Reagan managed to turn his messy second term around and deliver – in great part through his own powers of leadership – a historic series of agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev that led to the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet empire. Mr. Bush has never demonstrated the capacity for such a comeback. Nevertheless, every American has a stake in hoping that he can surprise us.
The place to begin is with Dick Cheney, the dark force behind many of the administration’s most disastrous policies, like the Iraq invasion and the stubborn resistance to energy conservation. Right now, the vice president is devoting himself to beating back Congressional legislation that would prohibit the torture of prisoners. This is truly a remarkable set of priorities: his former chief aide was indicted, Mr. Cheney’s back is against the wall, and he’s declared war on the Geneva Conventions.
Mr. Bush cannot fire Mr. Cheney, but he could do what other presidents have done to vice presidents: keep him too busy attending funerals and acting as the chairman of studies to do more harm. Mr. Bush would still have to turn his administration around, but it would at least send a signal to the nation and the world that he was in charge, and the next three years might not be as dreadful as they threaten to be right now.
In theory, I suppose a President with the backing of senior party leaders could in a behind-the-scenes way force a veep to resign, but let’s go on … So far, the Bush Administration has consisted of The Dick running foreign policy, Karl Rove running domestic policy, and Junior prancing about in his paramilitary costumes and playing the role of Dear Leader for the cameras. If Rove and The Dick go, the job of President of the United States would fall into George Bush’s lap. For the first time. Not a cheering thought. But possibly, if faced with doing the actual job he’s supposed to be doing, Junior would retreat to Crawford and spend the rest of his second term hiding under the bed. At least he’d be safely ineffectual.
Yet perhaps The Dick’s days of unfettered power are closing. Thomas DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News that the relationship between Dubya and The Dick is eroding:
Multiple sources close to Bush told the Daily News that while the vice president remains his boss’ valued political partner and counselor, his clout has lessened – primarily as a result of issues arising from the Iraq war.
“The relationship is not what it was,” a presidential counselor said. “There has been some distance for some time.” …
…Other sources familiar with Bush’s thinking say Cheney’s zealous advocacy for what has become a troubled Iraq policy has taken a toll – especially since Cheney’s predictions about how Iraq would play out have proven optimistic.
These sources also said Libby’s indictment was a wakeup call for White House aides who have long believed the Cheney national security operation has enjoyed too much of a free hand in administration policymaking.
“The vice president’s office will never be quite as independent from the White House as it has been,” said a key Bush associate. “That will end.
“Cheney never operated without a degree of [presidential] license, but there are people around who cannot believe some of the advice [Bush] has been given.”
My sense is that Bush has been sailing along not overtaxing his brain too much on foreign policy because he figured The Dick understood that stuff and knew what to do. But now even Junior is starting to notice that nothing has worked out as Dick promised. Iraq is a mess, the world is growing more and more dangerous, and pretty much everyone on the globe hates George W. Bush.
Last week on The Huffington Post, Nora Ephron discussed what she called Bush’s “rosebud moment.”
As you may recall, on May 11, 2005, a small plane made an unauthorized detour into the air space over the nation’s Capitol, setting off a red alert. The Secret Service evacuated Dick Cheney and rushed Laura Bush to a bunker in the White House. The President was not there. He was off riding his bicycle in Beltsville, Maryland, and the Secret Service didn’t notify him about the incident until it was over. At the time they claimed they didn’t want to disturb his bicycle ride. It’s my theory that this incident was one of the reasons for the rift between Bush and Cheney — a rift, I’m proud to say, that I was one of the first to point out (on the Huffington Post), on the basis of no information whatsoever, and which now turns out (according to this week’s Newsweek) to be absolutely true.
Ephron speculates that Bush is depressed, which is an idea I may address in a future post. But for now the point is that The Dick has an alarming tendency to assume power that isn’t rightfully his. And I think Bush is too much of a weenie to smack him down for it.
See also Dan Froomkin, “Cheney’s Dark Side Is Showing.”