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Live From An Undisclosed Location Near You
July 16, 2003
By Weldon Berger

Suppose for a moment that you're a fellow with three heart attacks under your belt and a burning desire to reorder the world. Would you be willing to bend a few rules to realize your vision before whatever time remaining on your meter expires?

Dick Cheney's name has been conspicuously absent during the orgy of fingerpointing that climaxed in CIA Director George Tenet's peculiar mea culpa regarding the Iraq-Africa-uranium reference in this year's State of the Union speech. Among the possible explanations for this are that 1) no one can find him to ask him about it, or 2) he had nothing to do with it, or 3) he's smarter than everyone else involved.

Given that the current flap was created by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (first named publicly here at Democratic Underground) with his New York Times revelation that his investigation into the Iraq-Niger allegations was prompted by Cheney's office, and given that the circular firing squad now surrounding the White House seems to be grazing everyone but Cheney, option three looks good.

A quick review: Cheney, along with Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby, is the prime architect of the sea change in U.S. foreign and defense policy that includes the doctrine of preventive war and the deliberate marginalization of international institutions such as the UN and, ultimately, NATO, in favor of extemporaneous temporary alliances constructed and dissolved around particular crises.

Wolfowitz and Libby were the principal authors of the 1992 Defense Policy Guidance , created for and heavily influenced by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, in which the principal points of our current policies were first delineated. The New York Times and Washington Post obtained drafts of the document - from which the most controversial passages were excised after howls of protest from Congress and various Bush I administration officials - and excerpted portions of it, including this one:

The central strategy of the Pentagon framework is to "establish and protect a new order" that accounts "sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership," while at the same time maintaining a military dominance capable of "deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role."
The new order would include
... "a unilateral U.S. defense guarantee" to Eastern Europe, "preferably in cooperation with other NATO states," and contemplates use of American military power to preempt or punish use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, "even in conflicts that otherwise do not directly engage U.S. interests."
Amazingly, Cheney managed to receive credit for moderating the document's tone after playing a major role in the original, more belligerent version.

Cheney left government with Bush I, but, in between heart attacks and running Halliburton, he kept his eye on the strategic ball. In 1998, along with Donald Rumsfeld and others, he co-founded the Project for a New American Century , a think tank and home for unemployed neconservatives such as Wolfowitz, Libby and other current Bush administration figures; a group that has long seen a friendly Iraq as the ideal platform from which to project American power in the Middle East. PNAC's flagship document is Rebuilding America's Defenses, a report issued in September of 2000 which echoes and elaborates upon the themes first introduced in the ill-fated 1992 Defense Policy Guidance draft.

Among the more widely quoted paragraphs in that document is this one, which drove conspiracy theorists into a frenzy:

Further, the process of transformation [in military and foreign policy affairs], even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor.
Adding fuel to the fire was this excerpt:
In the Persian Gulf region, the presence of American forces, along with British and French units, has become a semipermanent fact of life. Though the immediate mission of those forces is to enforce the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, they represent the long-term commitment of the United States and its major allies to a region of vital importance. Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.
This is all available at the PNAC website.

One of the things about Cheney upon which everyone who has spent any time with him agrees is that he's smart; really, really smart. Many people were surprised when he turned up as the personnel screener for George Bush during the 2000 campaign, and even more surprised when Bush chose him as his running mate. One is compelled to think that Cheney saw in the empty vessel that was Candidate Bush his last, golden opportunity to change the world, and he jumped at it. He packed the administration with PNAC alumni and other neoconservatives; he hired Don Rumsfeld, who shares his vision of a transformed military and a muscular, uninhibited foreign policy, as Secretary of Defense; he elevated Condoleezza Rice - as an academic a staunch advocate of toppling Hussein - to the post in which foreign policy and intelligence agencies intersect; and, of course, he placed himself within the inner circle of advisors to Bush.

During the runup to the war (from August 2002 forward) Cheney and Rice were the two administration figures most intent on portraying Iraq as a nuclear threat. It was Rice who came up with the memorable "mushroom cloud" line about the foolhardiness of waiting on the regime to consumate its nuclear program, and it was Cheney who, on the eve of the war, told Meet the Press host Tim Russert that "We believe he (Saddam) has in fact reconstituted nuclear weapons."

Of all the figures most publicly involved in promoting the war, it was Rice and Cheney who were most likely to know that the evidence of a reinvigorated Iraqi nuclear program was at best, sketchy: Cheney because of his role in sending Wilson to Niger and his frequent visits to the CIA during the past year, and Rice because of her position as coordinator of the various intelligence agencies. Exalted though that position is, Rice is unlikely to have made on her own the decision to push a spurious Iraqi nuclear threat. Yet we now know she did push it, at least with respect to the Iraq-Niger issue, because administration officials acknowledged over the July 12 weekend that Tenet had told Rice's deputy director as far back as October, 2002, of the agency's concerns about the allegation. Rice, however, during her own June 8 Meet the Press appearance, was still insisting that no one in the upper reaches of the White House had been aware of doubts about the allegations:

"The president quoted a British paper. We did not know at the time - no one knew at the time, in our circles - maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery."
Either she's lying or she's providing a startling insight into where the administration keeps George Tenet when they're not trotting him out to take one in the neck for the White House, or, more likely, both.

So who maneuvered Rice into this position? The only two people who could have done are Bush and Cheney, and of the two only Cheney, to whom the installation of a friendly regime in Iraq is a critical step in the transformation of the world into a more orderly and U.S.-centric place, was really in a position to do so.

The beauty of the situation is that for Cheney, there's no downside. He may well emerge from all this unscathed, and the worst that could happen is that he might lose Rice or be forced to resign himself, leaving behind an administration still packed with like-minded folks. In the extremely unlikely event that Bush were to be forced from office because of this or another scandal, well, Cheney would miss him a good deal less than he would miss Cheney.

Smart people have their limitations - Iraq has to this point not been the tidy triumph expected by the Rumpercheneywitz clan, which is probably the only reason anyone is paying attention to what I like to call "Hallucinogate" - and there's always the possibility that the combination of a poor economy and growing doubts about the Bush national security agenda will usher in another Democratic administration.

Even that prospect, though, can't be too daunting. Much of what the Bush administration has done can't be undone. We're in Iraq, and our only hope of escaping relatively unscathed is to lift it from its miserable present and leave it shinier than we found it. That will require years during which our military presence in the Middle East will be as sturdy as the neoconservatives think appropriate. Because of that and our other military commitments, the defense budget is destined to head steeply upward during the foreseeable future, another neoconservative goal.

So, for a guy running on borrowed time, Cheney has done himself quite proud. And if he had to bend or break a few rules along the way, I doubt he's losing any sleep over it. That's a job for the rest of us.


Weldon Berger is a freelance writer living and working in Hawaii, which is, he hopes, as far from Dick Cheney's undisclosed location as one can get while still residing in the United States. His home is guarded by multiple microwave ovens. He can be reached by email at: weldon.berger@ziplip.com

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