Will Dubya Dump Dick?
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.
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.
reasons 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.
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.
addition, 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 liability.
Democrats 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.
were 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
addition 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.
unprecedented 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.
think he knows that he's in trouble," one prominent Republican
activist, who thinks Cheney should be dropped, told IPS this week.
don't 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."
travel 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 and abroad."
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.
not 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.
assertions were almost instantly refuted by none other than the
administration's outgoing chief weapons inspector, David Kay.
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.
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 York.
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 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
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."
whether 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.
also 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.
Dick 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," she wrote.
no one should expect Dick Cheney and his group (of neo-conservatives)
to change. They will not."
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.
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."
despite 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.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service