Posted on Wednesday, February 28, 2007
If Dick Cheney were anything less than vice president, you’d have to
wonder if the judge in the Lewis “Scooter” Libby trial would have let
him leave the country. During closing arguments, prosecutor Patrick
Fitzgerald made it clear that he believed Cheney’s chief of staff
perjured himself to cover-up his boss’s role in “outing” CIA agent
Valerie Plame. Testimony depicted Cheney as bitterly obsessed with
Plame’s husband, Joe Wilson, whose New York Times article exposing the
phony “intelligence” concocted to hype Iraq’s imaginary nuclear threat
panicked the White House. A copy of Wilson’s op-ed with angry “talking
points” scrawled in the margins by Cheney was introduced into evidence.
“There is a cloud over the vice president,” Fitzgerald told the jury.
“He wrote on those columns. He had those meetings. He sent Libby off to
the meeting with [New York Times reporter ] Judith Miller where Plame
was discussed. That cloud remains because the defendant obstructed
justice. That cloud is there. That cloud is something that we just can’t
pretend isn’t there.” Big talk about “Big Time,” President Bush’s
nickname for Cheney, testifying in Libby’s defense predictably came to
nothing. No way could he face an aggressive prosecutor with a steel-trap
mind like Fitzgerald’s. Secretive guys like Cheney do their best work in
Everybody who’s worked in a large organization has encountered somebody
like Cheney: compulsive bureaucratic infighters adept at sucking up to
power, bullying subordinates, back-stabbing and office intrigue; the
kind who show up at the office on Sunday to rifle rivals’ desks. If not
controlled, they’re capable of subverting the organization’s ostensible
goals to their own purposes.
Exactly as Cheney, unconstrained by mature leadership in the Oval
Office, has subverted U.S. foreign policy to his own Machiavellian ends.
Remember when they assured us of Cheney’s “gravitas,” and told us the
adults were in charge?
The Plame/Wilson affair dramatizes the whole sick process in miniature:
twisting intelligence to manufacture a non-existent threat, leaking it
to gullible reporters themselves preoccupied with insider status, then,
as the scheme threatened to unravel, turning the same apparatus against
a whistleblower and his wife for revenge.
It’s the furtiveness and obsessiveness of Cheney and Libby’s quest to
smear the Wilsons that emerged most clearly. It’s the Washington
disease. The town’s filled with people like them. Maybe we’d be better
off rotating the nation’s capital at intervals among the fifty states.
Let Pierre, S.D., take a turn; or Montpelier, Vt.
Did Cheney commit a crime by ordering Plame’s covert identity leaked,
supposedly to embarrass her husband? Maybe not. The vice president’s
authorized to declassify secrets. But will that protect him from the
civil lawsuit the couple has filed?
Did Cheney obstruct justice by participating in the alleged cover-up?
There were tantalizing hints prosecutors may think so.
Meanwhile, America’s Crazy Uncle Dick ranged the wide world, putting the
full scope of his upside-down, paranoid world-view on display. How do
you suppose China liked being lectured about its unseemly military
buildup? The U.S. currently spends more on weapons than the rest of the
world combined. China’s military budget is a tiny fraction of ours.
How about the chief architect of the Iraq disaster chastising other
countries for insufficient dedication to the cause? From Australia,
Cheney scolded Democrats. “What happens if we withdraw from Iraq?...
al-Qa’ida functions on the basis that they think they can break our
will. That’s their fundamental underlying strategy, that if they can
kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in
Iraq, then we’ll quit and go home. And my statement was that if we adopt
the Pelosi policy, that then we will validate the strategy of
In reality, as James Fallows pointed out in the Atlantic Monthly:
“Documents captured after 9/11 showed that bin Laden hoped to provoke
the United States into an invasion and occupation that would entail all
the complications that have arisen in Iraq. His only error was to think
that the place where Americans would get stuck would be Afghanistan.” “
Bin Laden also hoped that such an entrapment would drain the United
States financially. Many al-Qa’ida documents refer to the importance of
sapping American economic strength as a step toward reducing America’s
ability to throw its weight around in the Middle East.” Perennially
anxious about proving their “toughness,” Cheney and the neocons live in
a world of illusion. Now comes word via Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker
that in an effort to counter the influence of Shiite Iran—itself
empowered by U.S. removal of its enemies Saddam Hussein and the
Taliban—the administration’s secretly arming Sunni militias friendly to
al-Qa’ida in Lebanon and elsewhere. The folly and incoherence of this
scheme simply cannot be overstated. Needless to say, Hersh reports, it’s
all coordinated out of Cheney’s office.
•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.