01-30-2009 06:41 PM - editado 01-30-2009 06:41 PM
Richard Cheney is widely considered one of the most powerful vice presidents in U.S. history, having played an instrumental role in everything from expanding presidential war powers to pushing an aggressive war on terror that has included overturning unfriendly Mideast regimes and indefinitely detaining without charge terrorism suspects. Closely aligned with the neoconservative political faction, Cheney, along with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, supported advocacy efforts to invade Iraq long before the 9/11 terror attacks occurred. After 9/11, the vice president and his coterie of neoconservative advisers (sometimes termed a "cabal" by his critics) helped implement an aggressive war on terror that had as a centerpiece ousting Saddam Hussein from power. (For more on Cheney's staff members, see "All the Vice President's Men," Right Web News, January 26, 2007.) Despite the spiraling violence in both Iraq and Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasions, during President George W. Bush's second term Cheney became the point person in an increasingly divided administration for expanding the range of U.S. targets in the war on terror to include Iran and potentially Syria. His efforts, however, have been hampered by the large number of departures of like-minded hardliners from the administration (see "The Departed, A Special Section," Right Web News, May 11, 2007) and the growing influence of a realist-minded State Department under Condoleezza Rice.
One of the hallmarks of Cheney's tenure as vice president has been secrecy. He has continually fought to keep his office records from official scrutiny and fended off a number challenges to get records from his meetings publicly released. The most famous example of this was the records of his meetings with energy industry executives that were aimed at helping formulate the Bush administration's energy policies, which became the focus of a drawn-out lawsuit spearheaded by the conservative group Judicial Watch (see Judicial Watch press release, May 10, 2005). Summarizing this aspect of Cheney's tenure, the Washington Post opined: "Across the board, the vice president's office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar, and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that 'the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch,' and is therefore exempt from rules governing either" (June 24, 2007).
Cheney, a former fellow of the influential American Enterprise Institute (AEI), has also stridently fought off attempts to report on his office's classification activities, despite an executive order from Bush requiring every agency "within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information" to do so (Chicago Tribune blog, May 26, 2006). Commenting on Cheney's refusal to comply with the order, Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said: "It undermines oversight of the classification system and reveals a disdain for presidential authority. It's part of a larger picture of disrespect that this vice president has shown for the norms of oversight and accountability" (Chicago Tribune, May 26, 2006).
In late June 2007, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) disclosed that in response to repeated requests for compliance by the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which is charged with reviewing agency classification activities, Cheney and his staff, led by his chief of staff David Addington, proposed abolishing the ISOO. Waxman, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote in a letter to Cheney that the proposal to abolish the ISOO "could be construed as retaliation" (Waxman letter to Cheney, June 21, 2007). Regarding Cheney's actions, Waxman told the New York Times (June 22, 2007), "I know that the vice president wants to operate with unprecedented secrecy. But this is absurd. The [executive order] is designed to keep classified information safe. His argument is really that he's not part of the executive branch, so he doesn't have to comply."
Cheney's governmental obfuscations are broad-ranging. He has repeatedly contradicted other officials about issues in the Middle East and consistently made misleading allegations both before and after the invasion of Iraq regarding that country's weapons arsenal and connections to terrorist groups. Two days before the United States invaded Iraq, for example, the vice president lambasted comments made by International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, who had stated that there was "no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program [in Iraq]." In response, Cheney repeated the discredited notion that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons: "We know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong" (Meet the Press, March 16, 2003).
Some observers saw Cheney as playing a key role in pushing allegations that emerged in mid-2007 claiming that Iran is responsible for arming groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the fact that military officers in the field have expressed deep skepticism about the charges. Asked about the allegations—which were also aired by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns—Dan McNeill, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, said: "What we've found so far hasn't been militarily significant on the battlefield." McNeill also said that more likely sources for the arms are drug traffickers, black market dealers, or al-Qaida groups (Inter Press Service, June 20, 2007).
For many, that Cheney, who was defense secretary under the senior George Bush and chief of staff to Gerald Ford, became the central player in the drive to the Iraq War signified a remarkable about-face. During the 1991 Gulf War, Cheney was eager to get out of Iraq and not press the fight after Hussein had been driven out of Kuwait. As Henry Rowen, who was assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs at the time, told James Mann: "As the war was coming to an end, I went to Cheney and said, 'You know, we could change the government and put in a democracy.' The answer he gave was that the Saudis wouldn't like it" (Mann, Rise of the Vulcans, p. 192).
Commenting on Cheney's transformation into a leading advocate for an Iraq War, Brent Scowcroft, a close friend of Cheney's and the national security adviser to George H.W. Bush, said: "The real anomaly in the administration is Cheney. I consider Cheney a good friend—I've known him for 30 years. But beep Cheney I don't know anymore. ... I don't think beep Cheney is a neocon, but allied to the core of neocons is that bunch who thought we made a mistake in the first Gulf War, that we should have finished the job. There was another bunch who were traumatized by 9/11, and who thought, 'The world's going to hell and we've got to show we're not going to take this, and we've got to respond, and Afghanistan is okay, but it's not sufficient'" (New Yorker, October 24, 2005).
Regardless of whether Cheney is a "neocon," he is intimately associated with the neoconservative foreign policy agenda, notably including his efforts to push policies that are one-sidedly in favor of Israel. For example, in the wake of the Israeli attacks in southern Lebanon in the summer of 2006, allegations emerged that Cheney and his administration allies were involved in supporting Israeli bombing plans. According to an unnamed U.S. government consultant "with close ties to Israel" interviewed by Seymour Hersh, Israel had put together bombing plans long before Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, which set off the conflict. As they developed their plans early in summer 2006, said the consultant, Israeli officials went to Washington "to get a green light for the bombing operation and to find out how much the United States would bear. ... Israel began with Cheney. It wanted to be sure that it had his support and the support of his office and the Middle East desk of the National Security Council." A second unnamed official, a former intelligence officer, claimed, "We told Israel, 'Look, if you guys have to go, we're behind you all the way. But we think it should be sooner rather than later—the longer you wait, the less time we have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office'" (New Yorker, August 21, 2006).
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