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."
Cheney has not always been so deferential to Bush, Suskind reveals. "In the spring of 2002, Bush asked Cheney to pull back a little at big meetings, to give the president more room…to take charge," he writes. "Bush asked Cheney not to offer him advice in crowded rooms." Cheney not only damaged Bush’s confidence at meetings. In a revelation based on Saudi sources, Suskind asserts that Cheney kept vital information from Bush, making him look like a fool to Crown Prince Abudullah of Saudi Arabia, who muttered after a 2002 meeting with the president at his Crawford, Texas, ranch that Bush didn’t know his brief. He didn’t know it because the "Saudi packet" listing the agenda items the Crown Prince wanted to discuss with Bush "had been diverted to Dick Cheney’s office." Bush "never got it, never read it," Suskind writes. "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." On that occasion, at least, the president was not the president. "Edgar" was.