Politics & Prose February 2007

Cheney Lives!

Cheney's star may have faded at the White House, but his doctrine of preventive war remains Bush policy. Does this mean Iran is next?

"Cheney’s Influence Lessens in Second Term." Let’s hope that Washington Post headline is accurate. As evidence, the Post cites the embryonic deal the State Department struck last week to suspend North Korea’s production of nuclear weapons in exchange for economic aid. As late as 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney blocked a North Korea deal, and its apparent consummation now, sources quoted by the Post conclude, indicates that his influence over policy has waned.

There are reasons. From worsening Bush's credibility on Iraq ("Saddam is reconstituting his nuclear weapons") to recently demolishing a possible administration deal with Senate Democrats on Social Security funding, Cheney has done his worst to make the Bush presidency synonymous with failure in foreign policy and deceit at home. At this writing, the jury in the perjury trial of Lewis Libby is still out. Libby, Cheney's former chief-of-staff, is accused of lying to a grand jury over his part in revealing the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had exposed Cheney's claim that Saddam was "reconstituting" his nuclear weapons program as based on fraudulent documents. Libby may or may not be found guilty. Regardless, as prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzerald said in his closing statement to the jury, "Plamegate" has "left a cloud over the White House" and over Cheney and over the origins of the war in Iraq. Cheney armed the explosive charge that Bush lied us into war.

Cheney may have lost on North Korea, but the question of the hour is whether he will win on Iran. An anonymous source quoted in a Post story from several years ago said of Cheney, "He wants them dead"—meaning the leaders of North Korea and Iran. Gripped by idée fixe and damn-the-facts conviction, Cheney doesn’t change his mind—a source of his power over President Bush, whom Paul Krugman plausibly characterizes as an "unconfident bully." Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice used her close relationship with President Bush to bypass Cheney on North Korea. Assuming Cheney doesn’t recapture Bush’s ear on North Korea and undermine Rice’s deal, will Bush feel (or be manipulated by Cheney to feel) that he owes the vice president one—an attack on Iran to make up for the disappointment of his dark hopes for North Korea? According to Ron Suskind’s reporting in The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies since 9/11 (2006), as the war with Iraq (for which Cheney schemed and plotted and—the record suggests—lied) approached in early 2003, the CIA took to calling him "Edgar," for Charlie McCarthy’s ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. Where Cheney stopped and Bush began will be grist for historians.

But Suskind’s book, like Bob Woodward’s State of Denial, contains anecdotes that suggest there was—is?——truth to the one-liner that George Bush is only one heart-attack away from being president. "What about the notion that Cheney is the all-powerful vice president who controls the president?" Woodward asked then-Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, Cheney’s long-time friend, in an interview conducted last July. "That’s nonsense," Rumsfeld replied. "[T]he president is the president." He asserted that Cheney is careful "not to take strong positions when the president’s in the room that could conceivably position him contrary to the president"; although he "asks good questions," the Vice President "doesn’t put the president in a corner or take away his options." As Woodward astutely observed, "I wondered how Cheney’s questions or comments could put the president in a corner or take away his options. Presumably if it was nonsense that Cheney was all-powerful he would be in no position to do either."

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Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America, which was named one of the top ten books of 2001 by Business Week. His previous books are The World According to Peter Drucker (1998) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992). More

Jack Beatty"The Atlantic Monthly is an American tradition; since 1857 it has helped to shape the American mind and conscience," senior editor Jack Beatty explains. "We are proud of that tradition. It is the tradition of excellence for which we were awarded the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. It is the tie that binds us to our past. It is a standard we won't betray."

Beatty joined The Atlantic Monthly as a senior editor in September of 1983, having previously worked as a book reviewer at Newsweek and as the literary editor of The New Republic.

Born, raised, and educated in Boston, Beatty wrote a best-selling biography of James Michael Curley, the Massachusetts congressman and governor and Boston mayor, which Addison-Wesley published in 1992 to enthusiastic reviews. The Washington Post said, "The Rascal King is an exemplary political biography. It is thorough, balanced, reflective, and gracefully written." The Chicago Sun-Times called it a ". . . beautifully written, richly detailed, vibrant biography." The book was nominated for a National Book Critics' Circle award.

His 1993 contribution to The Atlantic Monthly's Travel pages, "The Bounteous Berkshires," earned these words of praise from The Washington Post: "The best travel writers make you want to travel with them. I, for instance, would like to travel somewhere with Jack Beatty, having read his superb account of a cultural journey to the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts." Beatty is also the author of The World According to Peter Drucker, published in 1998 by The Free Press and called "a fine intellectual portrait" by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Book Review.

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