Earth to Bush: Ditch Cheney

The idea that George W. Bush is losing confidence in Dick Cheney is gaining traction, and Time magazine has the story:

“‘The problem is that the president doesn’t want to make changes,’ says a White House adviser who is not looking for a West Wing job, ‘but he’s lost some of his confidence in the three people he listens to the most.’ Those three are his vice president, Dick Cheney, whose top aide, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, has been charged with brazenly obstructing the investigation into who leaked the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame; Bush senior adviser Karl Rove, who while not indicted has still emerged as a player in the scandal; and chief of staff Andrew Card.”

The White House was distancing itself from Libby’s boss even before the indictment came down: Cheney, reports Time, was out of the loop on the Miers nomination. Now that Patrick J. Fitzgerald has Libby nailed [.pdf] – and has revealed that Cheney confirmed to Libby that Joe Wilson‘s wife worked for the CIA – we’re looking at a night of the long knives in Washington. As in this Washington Post piece on the indictment and its context:

“On June 9, the CIA faxed classified accounts of Wilson’s assignment ‘to the personal attention of Libby and another person in the Office of the Vice President.’ Two or three days later, [Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc] Grossman told Libby that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and had been involved in planning Wilson’s trip. An unidentified ‘senior officer of the CIA’ confirmed Plame’s employment for Libby on June 11, and Cheney told Libby the next day which part of the agency employed her.

“For Libby, according to a senior official who worked with him at the time, ‘I think this just hit a nerve.’ By June, he said, ‘the blind, deaf, and dumb had to be aware that something was wrong in Iraq.’ Uranium was ‘always a side issue,’ but it was also ‘the beginning of the unraveling of the big story … calling attention to a huge mistake he was part of. So it’s no wonder he took this personally.’

“A senior intelligence officer who knew of Libby’s inquiries about Wilson and Plame said in an interview yesterday, ‘It didn’t occur to anyone that the reason why was so that her name would go out to reporters.’ That, the official said, is ‘the lesson you learn from this.'”

The lesson the Bushies are learning is that the neocons – who have colonized Cheney’s office more effectively and permanently than the Pilgrims did Plymouth Rock – are nothing but trouble, and it just isn’t worth it to go to bat for them. It may, however, be a lesson learned far too late. Bush’s presidency is sinking faster than New Zealand’s Whakarewarewa Thermal Village: both sit precariously atop a locus of volcanic activity. At this point, there are, no doubt, many in the White House who wish they could hand Cheney the presidential Medal of Freedom and send him on his way.

The war Cheney and his neocon confreres wanted has turned out to be an albatross hung ’round Bush’s neck, and it is dragging down the GOP as we approach the 2006 congressional elections. In California, for example, we’re having an election this coming Tuesday, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reform package of statewide initiatives is coming up for a vote. I had to sit there and listen, last night, to a brazenly biased “news analyst” on local television exultantly describe how Libby’s indictment imperils the governor’s chances of victory. Among the proposals up for a vote: an initiative that would hand over the job of setting congressional district boundaries to an impartial panel of judges, instead of assigning the job of redistricting to the incumbents. What is even more galling is that brazenly biased television analyst is right: the mess the neocons have created, in Washington and Iraq, has endangered California’s chances of breaking the stranglehold of the public employees’ unions on the state budget.

We’re exporting “freedom” and “democracy” to Iraq – and imposing a tyranny of onerous taxation and empowerment of the State on ourselves. It’s a paradox that is ringing the death knell of our republic. As we morph into a corrupt and brazenly aggressive Empire, led by megalomaniacs and felons who believe it is noble to lie, the president of the United States glories in the virtue of his loyalty – but what happens when loyalty to friends and supporters becomes disloyalty to one’s country?

The outing of Plame dramatizes the alien agenda of the neocons, which, contrary to their pretensions, has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with pushing their foreign policy agenda. As many on the Right suspected from the start, their views on the export of “democracy” throughout the Middle East have little to do with the pursuit of American interests – and now the Brent Scowcroft wing of the GOP is coming around to the same view of the neocons and Cheney, their patron and protector. As Scowcroft confides to The New Yorker:

“The real anomaly in the administration is Cheney. I consider Cheney a good friend – I’ve known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore. …

“I don’t think Dick Cheney is a neocon, but allied to the core of neocons is that bunch who thought we made a mistake in the first Gulf War, that we should have finished the job. There was another bunch who were traumatized by 9/11.”

The neoconservative foreign policy of exporting “democracy” at gunpoint is, for Scowcroft and his fellow Republican realists, a futile crusade and a dangerous folly. Behind the millenarian views expressed by President Bush in his last inaugural address is a misconception most conservatives ought to be quick to perceive, and Scowcroft sees it:

“I believe that you cannot with one sweep of the hand or the mind cast off thousands of years of history. This notion that inside every human being is the burning desire for freedom and liberty, much less democracy, is probably not the case. I don’t think anyone knows what burns inside others. Food, shelter, security. Have you read Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom? I don’t agree with him, but some people don’t really want to be free.”

That has really been the whole problem for the supposedly pro-free-market Republicans, who say they want to get government off peoples’ backs. Freedom to soar – or to starve – is not a challenge savored by modern Americans. The transformation of the American people from a breed bred on the creed of an ornery self-sufficiency into a mob of corporate and individual welfare queens has been a major obstacle to the modern GOP’s success. Why would an ostensible conservative imagine it’s any better in Iraq, where there never was a tradition of individual liberty to begin with?

Scowcroft’s shot across the bow at the Cheneyites, coming as it did on the eve of Libby’s disgrace, is a case of perfect timing, adding his voice to that of former Powell chief of staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who recently lit into the neocons with unrestrained fury. Detailing his career inside the national security bureaucracy, Col. Wilkerson describes the hothouse atmosphere in which Libby’s recklessness incubated and flourished:

“[What] I saw for four-plus years was a case that I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process. What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. And then when the bureaucracy was presented with the decision to carry them out, it was presented in a such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn’t know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out.”

This seeming incompetence, however, only masked the ruthless effectiveness of what Wilkerson calls “the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal” in carrying out their own agenda: “The dysfunctionality,” says Wilkerson, “camouflaged the efficiency of the secret decision-making process.” Sure we didn’t have enough troops to effectively pacify and occupy Iraq, nor did we have the body armor and other equipment necessary to ensure a minimum of American casualties, but none of that mattered – as long as the ideological vision of the neocons was realized and “democracy” was imposed on an unwilling and no longer even unitary Iraq.

It didn’t matter what sort of price we had to pay: the occasion of the 2,000th American death in battle finds the neocons unmoved. After all, as Max Boot declared, complaining about the lack of casualties in the early stages of the Afghan campaign, what else are soldiers for? Or, as the less ghoulish but no less scary Madeleine Albright said to Colin Powell, “What’s the point in having this superb military you are always talking about if we can’t use it?” This same monstrous Albright declared that the Iraqi sanctions, which killed tens of thousands over the years, mostly children and the elderly, were “worth it.The end justifies the means – every murderous ideologue in history has run this bloody banner up the flagpole. It yet waves over the battlefields of Iraq.

Similarly, it didn’t matter if a single CIA undercover operative had to be sacrificed in the name of the neocons’ holy war against much of the Muslim world. At some point, Scooter Libby may be sitting in the penitentiary, writing his next novel – but it remains a fact that American troops are going to be in Iraq for the foreseeable future, no matter which of the two major parties is in power.

In the battle for the soul of America, the fighting is taking place in two separate but intimately related theaters. Even as Fitzgerald moves to prosecute the War Party on the home front, they’re getting ready to extend the war into Syria – as Congressman Ron Paul is presciently warning. The neocons’ plan to “liberate” the Middle East and unleash a considerably strengthened Greater Israel to claim sufficient elbow room – as proposed by key Cheney aide David Wurmser – is moving full speed ahead. That Mr. Wurmser was working for the government of Israel, and not the U.S. government, at the time he – and others now high in the Bush administration – signed on to the “Clean Break” plan, should tell us everything we need to know about the neocons’ foreign policy agenda.

The whole point of the neoconservative vision for the American Right has been that they have been quite willing to accept Big Government at home in the service of an aggressive foreign policy, which – in the words of Bill Kristol, the neocons’ little Lenin – aims at nothing less than “benevolent global hegemony.” What is the fate of Valerie Plame-Wilson, and a few of her fellow CIA covert operatives, in the face of such a majestic goal? Surely they are expendable, in the neoconservative worldview: and no doubt Kristol and his confreres would be more than willing to “out” the entire CIA, if they could get away with it. Those guys over at Langley, after all, wouldn’t drink the Kool-Aid . They were still stuck in the “reality-based community” and hadn’t gotten with the neocon program, in which facts are crafted to fit ideological preconceptions instead of the other way around. They hadn’t entered the Bizarro World of those, like Libby, who believed that it was their duty to expose a CIA agent and her comrades to danger. After all, Plame-Wilson and her husband were on to their game of fabricating phony “evidence” of Iraqi WMD – and had to be “liquidated.” Like the kulaks during Stalin’s reign over the former Soviet Union, the CIA had to be eliminated for the Greater Good of Mankind.

If Stalin’s heirs have yet to pay for their crimes, then our own neo-Leninist criminals are much closer to experiencing justice – thanks to Patrick J. Fitzgerald, our Lech Walesa, our cautious yet implacable liberator who, the more he denies his role, the more he affirms it. In response to a question about the implications of his indictment of Libby for the war, Fitzgerald said:

This indictment is not about the war. This indictment’s not about the propriety of the war. And people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel.

“This is simply an indictment that says, in a national security investigation about the compromise of a CIA officer’s identity that may have taken place in the context of a very heated debate over the war, whether some person – a person, Mr. Libby – lied or not.

“The indictment will not seek to prove that the war was justified or unjustified. This is stripped of that debate, and this is focused on a narrow transaction. And I think anyone’s who’s concerned about the war and has feelings for or against shouldn’t look to this criminal process for any answers or resolution of that.”

Yet the act of revealing the criminality of this cabal leads ineluctably to the conclusion that the methods, motives, and policies of a small but determined group within this administration were corrupt. The indictment [.pdf] calls the actions of Libby – and, by implication, his unnamed enablers and co-conspirators – a “corrupt endeavor.” How long before the American people learn the lesson of the trial of Scooter Libby – that the policy of war was, in its conception and execution, a corrupt endeavor? In tracing the trail of criminality that led Libby and his cohorts to betray Plame, Fitzgerald must establish not only the means but the motive – and he cannot do that in a vacuum.

The chief neocon “talking point,” as elucidated by David Brooks and Bill Safire on Meet the Press this past Sunday, is that Fitzgerald didn’t indict for the “underlying crime” but only filed charges having to do with violations of law that occurred during the investigation itself. What they forgot to mention is that a new grand jury has been impaneled, with access to all past testimony, and Fitzgerald could go to them with new charges, as Karl Rove and his lawyer are all too aware – and Libby’s lawyer, too, when he finds one. “It’s not over,” as Fitzgerald said at his press conference, even as he was adamant about not telegraphing his intentions to the public – and to potential defendants.

I understand Libby’s main defense is going to be that he was far too busy being an important government official to remember what he said from one week to the next: it was a failure of memory, not of morality. Why he didn’t simply revert to the standard answer given by cornered government officials (“I can’t recall”), instead of making up entire conversations with Tim Russert and relating them to the grand jury, is a question that is bound to come up at the trial.

Speaking of the trial, can anybody believe the administration will let it come to that? The idea of putting the famously evasive Cheney on the stand, to be interrogated by the merciless Fitzgerald, doesn’t even bear thinking about from the administration’s point of view. The best they could hope for is that Cheney’s heart would give out on the stand – before he had a chance to perjure himself. At worst, this collision of the reality-based universe, represented by Fitzgerald, and the fantasy world of the neocons, embodied by Cheney, could cause an unprecedented explosion of such cosmic force that the courtroom – and the country – would go up in a puff of smoke and a thunderclap.

It’s in the interests of Republicans to get everything out in the open, and the sooner they realize that, the sooner they’ll get rid of the cancer that is eating away at Bush’s presidency. The neocons, you see, aren’t just ordinary ideologues, like Communists, Fascists, or advocates of technocracy: they are more like the carriers of a debilitating and highly contagious disease. Once they infected the bloodstream of this administration, the only road to the restoration of its health was to flush them out, clean them out entirely, without hesitation or regret. Because once the infection spreads beyond a certain point, the plight of the patient becomes utterly hopeless, and it’s only a matter of time before he expires.

There is still time for George W. Bush to take his medicine and clean the alien intrusion out of our system of government. Yet the turning point is fast approaching, and the moment of decision is nearly upon him: he can save Cheney, or he can save his party. He cannot save both.

We now know that Plame-Wilson’s highly sensitive CIA work was confirmed to Libby by Cheney, and that after a discussion aboard Air Force Two, the vice president’s consigliere went out and did a job on her and her husband. As I said before the indictment came out: “All roads lead directly to Dick Cheney,” and, as we can see, the distancing of the White House from the Office of the Vice President has already begun. This split can only deepen as the days go by and Fitzgerald closes in on his quarry.

All Saturday Matt Drudge was running a big headline about how Bush wants a “fresh start.” He can have one – if only he’ll ditch Cheney. Then, as the Clintonistas would say, we can all “move on.”

UPDATE: On Sunday, the top headline on Drudge’s much-traveled site read: “PROSECUTOR PLANS ON CALLING CHENEY AS WITNESS IN OPEN COURT; EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE FIGHT LOOMS.”

He’s coming for Cheney.

Will Bush get smart, follow through on his pledge to cooperate with what he described as Fitzgerald’s “very dignified” investigation – and throw the vice president overboard? And what, I wonder, is Karl Rove telling him to do? As I have been saying for two years: get out the chips-and-dip, start popping that popcorn, and pull up a chair. This is going to be more fun than even I had anticipated…

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].