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 Dick Cheney.
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 happened:
[The Saudis] went down the items. Sometimes the President nodded, as though something sounded reasonable, but he offered 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 Saudi 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. We’re an 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 well:
[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 first.