Bush Mulled Firing Cheney to Show He Was 'In Charge'

Says he was a "dissenting voice" in push to invade Iraq, but denies the war was a mistake

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Concerned about the impression that Dick Cheney was the puppet master of his presidency, George W. Bush considered dumping Cheney ahead of the 2004 elections, the former president reveals in his new book, Decision Points. Bush wanted to "demonstrate that I was in charge," Peter Baker reports in The New York Times, and offload the political baggage that came with Cheney's image "as dark and heartless – the Darth Vader of the administration." Bush weighed installing Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist as vice president before choosing to stick it out with Cheney.

Bush's relationship with Cheney is one of the most interesting parts of Decision Points, Baker writes. The vice president pushed hard for war in Iraq--Bush notes he "had gotten out in front of my position" when he gave a speech in 2002 saying there'd be no more weapons inspections, and the president asked then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to "rein him back in," Baker reports. And Cheney aggressively sought to topple Saddam Hussein, demanding at lunch,  "Are you going to take care of this guy, or not?" Their friendship was severely strained by Bush's decision not to pardon Scooter Libby for his role in outing CIA operative Valerie Plame. "I can’t believe you’re going to leave a soldier on the battlefield," Bush says Cheney said.

  • A Lesson for Obama, Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway writes. "Of course, in the end Cheney didn’t really harm Bush in the 2004 elections... those making the “Dump Cheney” argument in 2004 have pretty much been proven to be wrong," Mataconis writes. A different VP likely would have fared no better in the 2008 campaign. "Already, there are those suggesting that Joe Biden should step aside prior to the 2012 elections to allow the President to select a running mate who would be ready to run in 2016," but, presidents pick veeps "for reasons other than creating a successor that will follow in their electoral footsteps. In both Bush and Obama’s case, the selection of running mates was obviously influenced by the desire to have a name on the ticket with more experience, especially in the foreign policy area. ... So, just as Bush decided that keeping Cheney on the ticket was worth whatever electoral risks he was taking, Barack Obama is likely to decide that, despite his now famous gaffes, Joe Biden does more good than harm."
  • Never Complain, Never Apologize appears to be Bush's strategy, James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News. "Asked about the war in Iraq, which has claimed 4,745 troops’ lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths, Bush insisted he was among those inside his administration against going to war in 2003 with dictator Saddam Hussein but happy to see him toppled," Meek reports of a not-yet-aired Matt Lauer interview of the former president. Bush explained, “I was a dissenting voice. I didn’t want to use force. I mean force is the last option for a President. ... And I think it’s clear in the book that I gave diplomacy every chance to work.” Bush isn't sorry about the invasion, either, insisting, “I mean apologizing would basically say the decision was a wrong decision. And I don’t believe it was the wrong decision.” He's still the same Bush we knew and loved, Meek observes: "In a new verbal gaffe in a career full of zingers, Bush said of his Iraq legacy, 'Sometimes history doesn’t judge you on the absence of a decision.'"
  • No Big Deal, The Oregonian's Douglas Perry writes. "At first blush, this is big news, but it's not really all that surprising. Vice presidents are always expendable. (Franklin Roosevelt had three of them in four presidential campaigns.) In 1984, there were rumors that the senior George Bush would be dropped from the GOP ticket, and many observers at the time thought Dan Quayle wouldn't be invited back for a second term in 1992."
  • Dates Please! Tom Maguire pleads at JustOneMinute. "Mid-2003? I want dates!  With the looming release of the new Valerie Plame fantasy (inspired by actual events!) I have been having post-traumatic stress flashbacks to my favorite obsession. ... Cheney made a pre-emptive offer to resign, hoping Bush would turn him down.  Meanwhile, loyal underlings like Libby were, uhhh, managing the message to the FBI in order to shield Cheney from his enemies.  And those enemies included some higher-ups at the DoJ, who were scuffling with Cheney on interrogtion and the NSA warrantless surveillance at about this time (mid 2003 to early 2004)."
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