Is Fourthbranch Blackmailing Bush?
I've been thinking some more about this de facto coup that we've found ourselves saddled with in this country. It's extremely distressing to have someone this manaical, with these perverse and anti-American theories, who also knows how to manipulate and rule by fear in such a way that he can institute any policy he wishes on an unsuspecting public. The potential damage of this knows no bounds and has probably already been done. Fourthbranch Cheney and his lawyer David Addington are the Cardinal Richelieus of the 21st century, pulling all the strings behind the scenes and bending American government to their will. Despite the capability and experience of other White House insiders, they just can't beat Fourthbranch:
And yet, as Gellman and Becker relate, the Vice President does consistently prevails in the internal debates. He wins virtually every battle -- or at least bollixes things up sufficiently to prevent others from prevailing. (A good example was last week's short-lived story, when certain high-level officials leaked word of a meeting the next day at which the fate of Guantanamo was to be decided, and a consensus to close it had all but been reached -- a leak obviously designed to make the closure virtually inevitable. By that very evening, Cheney had successfully caused the meeting to be cancelled, and had stopped the "Close GTMO" forces in their tracks -- forces that included high-level players such as the Secretaries of State and Defense.)
This is the great mystery of the Bush Administration, and the question that no one, including Gellman and Becker, has answered: It's not very newsworthy that the Vice President has strongly held views, and that he fights hard for them. (So did Vice President Gore.) Nor is it even terribly notable that he is constantly opposed by others in the Administration. What is remarkable is that time and again, Cheney wins. And in so doing, he makes mincemeat of Powell, Ashcroft, Gates, Rice, etc. They are constantly beaten back -- indeed, in many cases, they're not even briefed into the process or the substance of the decision making.
Why do strong figures such as Rice, Gates, et al., continue to allow the Vice President to run roughshod over them and make them look like fools?
Maybe it's because Powell and Rice are acting under expected rules of conduct and have sufficient respect for their peers, while Cheney appears to have none of these burdens. Cheney is apparently spying on all his counterparts in government, acting like a panopticon who sees all and knows all, taking information in and not letting any out.
But maybe it's because they now how Fourthbranch has implanted his theories and beliefs into the heads of the empty suit President, and they understand that they would lose such a battle. Remember that story where Rice had to go to great lengths to get to the President first because she knew if Rumsfeld and Cheney got there she would be cut off? The real question here, as Marty Lederman asks, is why? Why does the President consistently side with Cheney over these other confidants, people he's known longer and, prior to his Presidency, hewed closer to his stated beliefs?
And so the $64,000 Question is: Why has this President, unlike every other, so uncritically deferred to the Vice President, even where the rest of his Administration is begging him not to do so? I've heard Sandy, an Austin native, say many times that he would have expected the Bush who was Governor of Texas to be much more conciliatory, more of a consensus builder. Why has there been no sign of that President?
The answer to that question is not yet revealed. (I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the uncompromising nature of the Cheney and Addington worldview appeals to the Manichean side of Bush that emerged in full force post-9/11.)
Certainly that could be part of it. Appeals to "you can't give the terrorists a victory" would certainly work with someone as averse to nuance as Bush. But I can't help but think it's something more. Cheney and Addington have shown themselves to be very dirty players. Could they have something on the President that forces him to accede to their desires and policy needs? I may be unnecessarily alarmist here; with a President this incurious, maybe Cheney just knows how to talk to him easier than anyone else. Or maybe this is part of a pact to run a co-Presidency made in 2000.
But its nagging at me that there's something more here. And the truth may be very, very ugly.