Cheney’s target: Bush
Posted: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 7:01 pm
By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Dick Cheney reminds us in his newly released memoir, “In My Time,” what a skillful inside player he was in the White House. He got his way most of the time and clearly relishes his image as the second in command who ran the show, beginning with his detailed account of 9/11 when he issued commands from a bunker beneath the White House as President Bush read to school children in Florida.
While making the rounds of the top news shows to promote his book, he recalled a meeting he participated in after the ‘08 election to provide advice to incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. The attendees were all former White House chiefs of staff, a job Cheney had held in the Ford administration when he was only 32 years old. Emanuel went around the table asking each of his predecessors for their single most important piece of advice. “Whatever you do, make sure you’ve got the vice president under control,” Cheney said, noting in his book “it was one of my better lines.”
Cheney doesn’t mince words defending the controversial policies he advocated. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and Al Qaeda did not have a presence in the country.
Those were the two main reasons for going to war, and they turned out to be bogus. Yet Cheney still defends the 2003 invasion, and would do it all over again “in a heartbeat,” as he likes to say.
This is the third self-serving memoir to emerge from the Bush administration. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush have weighed in with their accounts, and now we have Cheney, who takes aim at those who disagreed with him. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell bears the brunt of Cheney’s ire, in part perhaps because Powell emerged from the Bush administration with his good name and reputation largely intact while Cheney gets faulted for leading Bush astray.
Cheney claims Powell never shared his misgivings about the Iraq war with other administration officials, and used them instead to burnish his credentials with the media. Powell dismissed the criticism as “cheap shots.”
But it’s not Powell, or Cheney, who look bad in the former vice-president’s account. It’s Bush who fares the worst. Cheney’s portrait of Bush describes a leader who is mostly content to leave the heavy lifting up to others. He intervenes only when he is pushed too far, notably by Cheney in two notable instances. The first was when Cheney tried to get Attorney General Ashcroft’s signature to extend a potentially illegal surveillance program of U.S. citizens. Ashcroft was in the hospital gravely ill with pancreatitis, and when Bush belatedly learned what Cheney was attempting, he sided with the Justice Department over Cheney in refusing the authorization.
The second was when Bush refused to pardon Scooter Libby, who as a high-ranking White House aide had taken the fall for Cheney in the scandal that centered on the administration’s role in uncovering the covert identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Cheney in his memoir gives Bush credit for a number of courageous decisions, noting that he wished the former president had showed commensurate courage in absolving Libby. Bush refused to comply with Cheney’s request, and Cheney has not forgiven him.
With these two exceptions, the portrait of Bush is of a man who advises more than he leads, and who acts as an overseer in an administration filled with warring factions.
The controversies point up the weakness of the president and the truth of the image that Cheney did so much to create, a vice president who imposed his hard-line agenda on a mostly willing president, and an increasingly skeptical public.
Published in The Messenger 9.6.11
DOUGLAS COHN, ELEANOR CLIFT