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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Quiet Incompetents

Dead Eye Dick and his crew

Vice Squad
They terrorize other government officials, and they’re so secretive that their names aren’t even revealed to a harmless federal employee directory. And they’ve helped ruin the country. Meet Dick Cheney’s staff.

By Robert Dreyfuss
Issue Date: 05.04.06

Bad heart, errant shotgun, and Halliburton stock options in tow, Dick Cheney has ruled the White House roost for the past five years, amassing enough power to give rise to the joke that George W. Bush is “a heartbeat away from the presidency.”

Yet, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of words have been written on Cheney’s role in the Bush administration, most of what’s been written fails to explain how the vice president wields his extraordinary authority. Notoriously opaque, the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is very difficult for journalists to penetrate. But a Prospect investigation shows that the key to Cheney’s influence lies with the corps of hard-line acolytes he assembled in 2001. They serve not only as his eyes and ears, monitoring a federal bureaucracy that resists many of Cheney’s pet initiatives, but sometimes serve as his fists, too, when the man from Wyoming feels that the passive-aggressive bureaucrats need bullying. Like disciplined Bolsheviks slicing through a fractious opposition, Cheney’s team operates with a single-minded, ideological focus on the exercise of American military power, a belief in the untrammeled power of the presidency, and a fierce penchant for secrecy.

Since 2001, reporters and columnists have tended to refer to Cheney’s office obliquely, if at all. Rather than explicitly discuss the neoconservative cabal that has assumed control of important parts of U.S. policy since September 11, they couple references to “the civilians at the Pentagon” with “officials in the vice president’s office” when referring to administration hard-liners. But rarely do the mainstream media provide much detail to explain who those people are, what they’ve done, and how they operate.

At the high-water mark of neoconservative power, when coalition forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, the vice president’s office was the command center for a web of like-minded officials in the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and other agencies, often described by former officials as “Dick Cheney’s spies.” Now, thanks to a misguided war and a bungled occupation, along with a string of foreign-policy failures that have alienated U.S. allies and triggered a wave of anti-American feeling around the globe, the numbers and influence of those Cheneyites outside the office have receded. No longer quite so commanding, the office seems more like a bunker for neoconservatives and their fellow travelers in the administration. Yet if only because of Dick Cheney’s Rasputin-like hold over the president, his office remains a formidable power indeed.

Still, for the first time, nervous Republicans are raising serious questions about Cheney. With his public approval plummeting to previously unknown depths for a major U.S. politician -- by late February he had fallen to just 18 percent -- he has lost all but the most reflexive of knee-jerk conservatives. With the vice president increasingly seen as a liability, there is a quiet murmur among GOP insiders about dumping him. The Moonie-linked Insight magazine, wired into right-wing Republicans, last month reported that moves are afoot to “retire” Cheney in 2007. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, former Bush Senior speechwriter Peggy Noonan gave full voice to the dump-Cheney idea. “I suspect what they’re thinking and not saying is, ‘If Dick Cheney weren’t vice president, who’d be a good vice president?’” she wrote. “And one night over drinks at a barbecue in McLean one top guy will turn to another top guy and say, … ‘wouldn’t you like to replace Cheney?’”

More often than not, from policy toward China and North Korea to the invasion of Iraq to pressure for regime change in Iran and Syria, and on issues from detentions to torture to spying by the National Security Agency, the muscle of the vice president’s office has prevailed.

Usually, that muscle is exercised covertly. Last February, for example, after Hamas won the Palestinian elections, King Abdullah of Jordan visited Washington to discuss the implications of the vote. With the support of some officials in the State Department, the young king suggested that Washington should bolster beleaguered President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader, to counter the new power of Hamas.

Then John Hannah intervened. A former official at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a pro-Zionist think tank founded by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, Hannah is a neoconservative ideologue who, after the resignation of Irving Lewis “Scooter” Libby, moved up to become Vice President Dick Cheney’s top adviser on national security.

Hannah moved instantly to undermine Abdullah’s influence. Not only should the United States not deal with Hamas, but Abbas, Fatah, and the entire Palestinian Authority were no longer relevant, he argued, according to intelligence insiders. Speaking for the vice president’s office, Hannah instead sought to align U.S. policy with the go-it-alone strategy of Israel’s hard-liners, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his stricken patron and predecessor, Ariel Sharon. Olmert soon stunned observers by declaring that Israel would unilaterally set final borders in the West Bank, annexing large swaths of occupied land, by the year 2010. His declaration precisely mirrored Hannah’s argument that Israel should act alone

I think Hamas has registered their objection to said wall yesterday. The Wall means one thing, another generation of suicide bombers in Israel. They will never accept having their land stolen.

Oh yeah, the bright idea about not funding Hamas? The Saudis and Iranians are happy to step in. Now, we have exactly zero leverage over them. And Hamas can tell the EU to pound sand.

When the Israelis are wondering why their stores still explode in 2015, they can look at the answer.

posted by Steve @ 11:01:00 AM

11:01:00 AM

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