While Democratic rivals battle for the presidential
nomination in a succession of grueling primary elections, Vice President Dick
Cheney appears to be fighting to secure his spot on the Republican ticket behind
President George W. Bush.
The vice president,
whose moderation and 35-year Washington experience reassured voters worried
about the callowness and inexperience of Bush during the 2000 campaign, is seen
more and more by Republican Party politicos as a drag on the president's reelection
chances in what is universally expected to be an extremely close race.
are simple: instead of the moderate voice of wisdom and caution that voters
thought they were getting in the vice president, ongoing disclosures about his
role in the drive to war in Iraq and other controversial administration plans
depict him as an extremist who constantly pushed for the most radical measures.
He is seen
as not just an extremist, but also a kind of "eminence grise" who
exercises undue influence over Bush to further a radical agenda, a notion that
was furthered by the publication of a recent book about former treasury secretary
Paul O'Neill, who described Cheney as creating a "kind of praetorian guard
around the president" that blocked out contrary views.
Cheney's association with Halliburton, the giant construction and oil company
he headed for much of the 1990s and that gobbled up billions of dollars in contracts
for Iraq's postwar reconstruction, is growing steadily as a major political
in Congress and on the campaign trial are already using Halliburton's rhythmic,
four-syllable name (Hal'-li-bur-ton, Hal'-li-bur-ton) as a mantra that neatly
taps into the public's growing concerns on Iraq and disgust with crony capitalism
and corporate greed all at the same time.
already surfacing two months ago that a discreet "dump-Cheney" movement
had been launched by intimate associates of Bush's father (former president
George H.W. Bush) – his national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and former
secretary of state James Baker, who now has a White House appointment as Bush
Jr.'s personal envoy to persuade official creditors to substantially reduce
Iraq's 110-billion-dollar foreign debt.
to their perception that Cheney's presence would harm Bush's reelection chances,
the two men, who battled frequently with the vice president when he was defense
secretary in the first Bush administration, have privately expressed great concern
over Cheney's unparalleled influence over the younger Bush and the damage that
has done to U.S. relations with longtime allies, particularly in Europe and
the Arab world.
rounds of press interviews earlier this month, as well as his trip this week
to Switzerland and Italy – only the second time the vice president has
traveled abroad in three years – should be seen in this context.
he knows that he's in trouble," one prominent Republican activist, who
thinks Cheney should be dropped, told IPS this week.
think there's any other way to explain why he would sit for a puerile interview
for the (Washington Post's) 'Style' section. You know he despises that
sort of thing."
and sudden and abundant press availability was
noted in Tuesday's New York Times, which described his behavior as
"a calculated election-year makeover to temper his hard-line image at home
But what was
remarkable is that he might only have confirmed the growing impression that
he remains a zealot, a notion that was especially pronounced in an
interview he gave National Public Radio (NPR) last week.
only insisted that major stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) might
still be found in Iraq, he also asserted that two semitrailer trucks found in
that country during last year's U.S.-led war constituted "conclusive evidence"
of WMD programs.
were almost instantly refuted by none other than the administration's outgoing
chief weapons inspector, David Kay.
In a series
of statements published after Cheney's NPR broadcast, Kay said he had concluded
the WMD stockpiles were destroyed in the early 1990s, and that the two trailers
were intended to produce hydrogen for weather balloons or possibly rocket fuel,
but had nothing to do with WMD.
In the same
NPR interview Cheney also insisted there was "overwhelming evidence"
of an "established relationship" between former Iraqi president Saddam
Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist group, citing as one clue Hussein's alleged
harboring of a suspect in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New
But the notion
of such an "established relationship" in any operational sense has
now been virtually totally discarded by the intelligence community, and Bush
and other senior officials have largely dropped the issue.
the FBI and other intelligence agencies that investigated the 1993 bombing and
the subsequent residence in Iraq of Abdul Rahman Yasin, a low-level suspect,
found no evidence that Baghdad was actively protecting him or that he was linked
to Iraqi intelligence in any way.
In a second
interview, Cheney told USA Today he was not worried about his image as
the administration's Machiavelli, skilled in the quiet arts of persuading his
"Prince" to pursue questionable policies, adding, surprisingly unselfconsciously,
"Am I the evil genius in the corner that nobody ever sees come out of his
hole? It's a nice way to operate, actually."
Cheney likes it or not, he is increasingly seen that way, by Democrats, by Republican
internationalists like Baker and Scowcroft, and, perhaps most significantly
for purposes of Bush's reelection prospects, by a growing number of traditionally
Republican right-wingers and libertarians worried about the impact of the exploding
costs of the "war on terror" on the country's fiscal health, individual
liberties and armed forces.
blame Cheney for being the administration's key backer and enabler of the neo-conservative
vision of a never-ending war against radical Islam, which they believe will
only accelerate current trends.
Cheney turns out to be a true radical – not a moderate Republican,"
noted Georgie Anne Geyer, a nationally syndicated columnist, who compared the
vice president to Cardinal Richelieu of 17th-century France in a cover article
for this week's edition of American Conservative magazine.
there is little mystery about what he has actually done, there remains the mystery
of how a man from Wyoming should be the epicenter of a scheme so strange, so
Machiavellian, so profoundly disaggregated from the American context,"
no one should expect Dick Cheney and his group (of neo-conservatives) to change.
They will not."
In a case
of particularly bad timing, Cheney's image as a manipulative schemer was furthered
again this week, just as he was trying to reassure Europeans about his moderation
and commitment to multilateralism.
new book on Tony Blair, author and Financial Times correspondent
Philip Stephens depicts Cheney as the surprise guest at key meetings between
Bush and the British prime minister. He quotes one Blair aide complaining that
Cheney "waged a guerrilla war" against London's efforts to seek United
Nations approval before the war.
The book concludes
that Cheney constantly "sought to undermine the prime minister privately,"
and quotes him telling another senior official more than six months before the
war, "once we have victory in Baghdad, all the critics will look like fools."
Hussein's capture, that "victory" still looks rather tenuous, and
with recent polls showing Cheney's favorability rating at less than one-half
of Bush's – a mere 20 percent and falling – so might the vice-president's
claim to the number two spot on the Republican ticket.
(Inter Press Service)