So there we were last week hanging out on the banks of
the pristine Eagle River, just north of Juneau, awed by the bald eagles
right over our heads, feeling the clean Alaskan wind on our faces,
looking out at the snow-capped mountains beyond -- and I'm thinking of
Even on vacation, the dark shadow of this guy intrudes. This time,
amidst all the gorgeous natural surroundings, I was thinking of Cheney's
mysterious Energy Task Force in mid-2001 -- the oil and gas and coal
moguls who set the Administration's environmental (and very likely some
of the war) policies that have turned out to be so ruinous to the air
and water and a wide variety of species, including humans.
But Cheney is at the heart of most of the disastrous decisions that have
substituted for well-thought-out policy over the past six years, so I
would have been led back to him no matter what I was thinking about.
The Iraq War disaster? Cheney. Scooter Libby's perjury/obstruction of
justice to protect his boss? Cheney. Corporate domination of energy and
environmental policy? Cheney. The authorization of torture as state
policy? Cheney. A near-dictatorial Chief Executive? Cheney. Etc. Etc.
Of course, I was also reading a book about the Administration that
fingers Cheney as the eminence grise, the puppetmaster behind the
White House curtain. In the wake of Cheney's recent declaration that he
is not part of the Executive Branch, thus beholden to nobody, I dipped
again into "The One Percent Doctrine," by the Pulitzer Prize-winning
reporter Ron Suskind. The book, based on interviews with more than 100
officials inside the government, is an eye-opening history of the
Administration's so-called "war on terror" as seen from the inside, and
it's Cheney, of course, who is the locus of the whole shebang.
KEEPING INFO FROM AN INCURIOUS BUSH
By 2006, when Suskind's book was published, it had long been apparent
that Dim Son was off on the White House sidelines most of the time while
Cheney essentially ran the place, especially foreign and military
policy. On occasion, Cheney would even tell Bush what he was doing.
But often he wouldn't, even when vitally important matters were at
stake. Such as when Saudi Arabia's all-powerful Prince Abdullah came to
Crawford to meet with Bush; this meeting was a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity to reach an agreement that would have long-lasting
consequences for the region, for the Iraq War, for the Saudi-U.S.
relationship, for Israel-Palestine. Here's how Suskind describes what
"[The Saudis] went down the items. Sometimes the
President nodded, as though something sounded reasonable, but he
offerred little response.
"And, after almost an hour of this, the Saudis, looking a bit
perplexed, got up to go. It was as though Bush had never read the
packet they sent over to the White House in preparation for this
meeting: a terse, lean document, just a few pages, listing the
Saudis' demands and an array of options that the President might
consider. After the meeting, a few attendees on the American team
wondered why the President seemed to have no idea what the Saudis
were after, and why he didn't bother to answer their concerns or get
any concessions from them, either, on the 'war on terror.' There was
not a more important conversation in the 'war on terror' than a
sit-down with Saudia Arabia. Several of the attendees checked into
what had happened.
"The Saudi packet, they found, had been diverted to Dick Cheney's
office. The President never got it, never read it. In what may
have been the most important, and contentious, foreign policy
meeting of his presidency, George W. Bush was unaware of what the
Saudis hoped to achieve in traveling to Crawford."
OILING THE TRACKS TO WAR
Or here's an even more egregious example, because it greased the tracks
leading directly to the disastrous Iraq invasion and occupation. The CIA
was tasked at the last minute in 2003 to come up with a National
Intelligence Estimate (NIE) laying out the evidence for going to war.
Suskind writes about the 90-page document and what parts Bush was
permitted to read:
"Cheney, as far back as the Ford presidency, had
experimented with the concept of keeping certain issues away from
the chief executive. ... Cheney's view, according to officeholders
from several Republican administrations, is that presidents, in
essence, needed a failsafe if they were publically challenged with
an importunate disclosure about the activities of the U.S.
government. They needed to be able to say they had no knowledge of
the incident, and not be caught in a lie.
"...With this new George W. Bush presidency, however, Cheney was
able to shape his protective strategy in a particularly proactive
way. Keeping certain knowledge from Bush -- much of it shrouded, as
well, by classification -- meant that the President, whose each word
circles the globe, could advance various strategies by saying
whatever was needed. He could essentially be 'deniable' about his
own statements. ... Under this strategic model, reading the entire
NIE would be problematic for Bush: it could hem in the President's
rhetoric, a key weapon in the march to war. He would know too much.
If somehow the contents of the NIE were revealed, the White House
could say that the report was too cumbersome and that Bush had only
read the one-page NIE summary."
But the brief NIE summary provided to Bush did not
contain the host of caveats and demurrers and doubts about whether Iraq
had WMD or whether Saddam had tried to buy "yellowcake" uranium in
Africa or whether Mohammed Atta had really met with Iraqis in Prague. In
short, Cheney, who had been gung-ho for years about attacking Iraq, kept
Bush in the dark about the various intelligence agencies' doubts about
the reasons for going to war.
However, Suskind makes clear that Bush -- perhaps the most incurious and
intellectually vacuous president in recent American history -- chose
to not know too much; he was content to follow Cheney's lead. If Bush
were to be fully informed -- in other words, if realistic facts were to
be presented to him -- such "information might undercut the confidence
he has in certain sweeping convictions." How delicately put.
THE DISASTROUS "ONE PERCENT" DOCTRINE"
Cheney is equally devious and tenacious when it comes to
domestic policy, with his fingers in all the power pies, usually through
his then-chief of staff (and now convicted felon) Scooter Libby, another
dedicated neo-conservative who loves pulling strings behind the scenes.
Cheney long has been a true believer in unrestricted executive power.
Even more so during the current reign of Bush the Younger, since Cheney
is the one who effectively exercises the decision-making and
action-prerogatives of the Chief Executive, especially in foreign and
military matters. (And yet he has the gall to tell the American people
he's not part of the Executive Branch!)
It was Cheney's "one percent doctrine" that underlay virtually every
option taken in the U.S., and outside as well, in the "war on terror."
Cheney's philosophy in that doctrine rested on his belief, that "a one
percent chance of catastrophe must be treated 'as a certainty' where
firm evidence, of either intent or capability, is too high a threshold;
where the doctrine is, in essence, prevention based on suspicion."
Since there always is some slight chance of catastrophe in any
undertaking, Cheney's doctrine -- which has become the ruling prism
through which all Administration action is viewed -- effectively
translates to autocratic rule. That doctrine guarantees that the
all-powerful Executive Branch can do whatever it wants, whenever it
wants, under the one-percent "war on terror" umbrella, turning the
Constitution into a "quaint," useless document. Those who oppose Cheney
and his doctrine are, ipso facto, supporters of the catastrophe trying
to be averted -- traitors at worst, dupes at best.
THE "REALITY-BASED COMMUNITY"
No wonder Democrats and others have such trouble finding an opening to
effectively attack Cheney and Bush. Those guys have created a
tautological, self-justifying circular philosophy that operates off
their own sense of justified action.
Thus, we get the notorious assertion by a White House official to
Suskind: "The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the
reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that
solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' ...
'That's not the way the world really works anymore.
empire now, and when we act we create our own reality'."
When Cheney says that there's a one percent chance of
catastrophe that needs to be treated "as a certainty, not in our
analysis or the preponderance of evidence but in our response," Suskind
writes, he "officially separates analysis from action, allows for an
evidence-free model to move forward, and says suspicion may be all we
have to use the awesome powers of the United States."
"This defines events, episodes, incidents all the
way to now, moving forward from that point -- Iraq, Afghanistan, the
global war on terror. What's fascinating about it is that people
have different names for it inside of the upper reaches of the
government -- the 1% rule, the Cheney doctrine -- but it allowed the
United States to essentially operate in an evidence-free realm,
using the extraordinary forces at our disposal. And we all know the
countless outcomes of that, which the U.S. now is embarrassed by."
ABSENCE OF POLICY APPARATUS
There has been no effective Congressional oversight of the highly
secretive Executive Branch, nor has there been any effective
counterbalancing going on inside the White House when it comes to the
creation and evaluation of policy.
Normally an administration has two active arms: operations and policy.
One group debates and comes up with the policy, the operational guys
execute the policy. But, from day one of the Bush Administration, there
was virtually no White House policy apparatus to speak of. Operations
were most often ad hoc, flowing from the tightest circles around Cheney
and Rove and Rumsfeld, but especially from Cheney. (The State Department
did have a bone fide policy apparatus, but Rumsfeld and Cheney ignored
Secretary Powell and State whenever possible.)
Insiders have complained previously of this absence of a policy
component at the White House, especially with regard to
domestic matters, but in Suskind's book, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage
verified that the same problems hampered foreign and military policy as
"[Bush] met America's foreign challenges with
decisiveness born of a brand of preternatural, faith-based,
self-generated certainty. The policy process never changed much.
Issues argued, often vociferously, at the level of deputies and
principals rarely seemed to go upstream in their fullest form to the
President's desk; and, if they did, it was often after Bush seemed
to have already made up his mind based on what was so often cited as
his 'instinct' or 'gut.' Later, after Armitage and Powell left
office, Armitage -- in his blunt manner -- put it succinctly: 'There
was never any policy process to break, by Condi or anyone else.
There was never one from the start. Bush didn't want one, for
whatever reasons. One was never started'."
CHENEY NEEDS TO BE IMPEACHED
Since Cheney has carried out most of his high crimes and misdemeanors in
deep secret, way back behind the public curtain, and since most of his
decisions have resulted in disaster abroad and a kind of police-state
rule at home-- thus endangering the national-security of the U.S. and
mangling the Constitution -- it seems clear that he cannot be permitted
to continue exercising his vast, destructive policies for the next year
and a half.
The House should begin impeachment hearings ASAP to put Cheney's
nefarious activities under the microscope of public exposure, and get
that guy away from the levers of power. More than half of Americans,
according to a new poll,
favor impeaching Cheney.
Ideally, of course, it should be both Bush and Cheney at the same time
testifying before the House impeachment panel, but if that can't happen,
let's at least get the ball rolling by impeaching President Cheney
Copyright 2007 by Bernard Weiner