I'm not sure I would have ever bet that in a million years I would have written the following phrase, but - after reading Angler: the Cheney vice presidency - I have a new-found respect for Dick Cheney.
It had been a good, long while since I'd read a solid book written for adults, the kind of book didn't have drawings on every page and that wasn't consumable in an hour or so. And when Terry Gross had an interview with Barton Gellman, his book Angler sounded like a good one to dive into. And I had forgotten how spectacular is the opportunity to get lost in a book, to sit down and have two hours pass before you notice the time slipping by, to want to read and read instead of accomplish anything else that you need to do, to spend ten or fifteen hours - broken up over a couple of weeks - to devour a book of real substance.
And Angler is certainly that. It's an amazingly thorough and even-handed exploration of how Dick Cheney used his position in the Bush White House to further his beliefs and do what he thought necessary to better our nation. His unique position - a president who trusted him implicitly, a president who concerned himself with the big picture while setting aside "the little things", absolutely no need to consider his own political future, his amazing knowledge of the system via his positions in previous administrations - allowed him to take massive advantage of the systems in place and keep his hands in nearly every pie that interested him.
Cheney put himself in position to influence hundreds of decisions and policies, guaranteed that nearly every position paper that left the White House came through his office and was proofed (and often drastically changed) by his staff members such as David Addington. He helped choose - and with Bush's willingness to focus on the "big issues" was largely choosing - numerous office holders below the top level positions. he wasn't as concerned with naming the Secretary of State because he knew that the half dozen people immediately beneath the Secretary were sympathetic with Cheney's world view. If a policy or position paper didn't jibe with Cheney's worldview, the policy simply never made its way to the Secretary's desk. If the policy was never presented to the Secretary, there was no need for the Secretary to be in 100% agreement with Cheney.
Gellman quotes a number of sources - the end notes section takes up a healthy chunk of the last hundred pages of the book - saying that Cheney was the ultimate staffer, knowledgeable of every back channel within the White House (having been a White House Chief of Staff), the Congress (having been a senator), and the Pentagon (as former Secretary of Defense). He insinuated his email into every mailing list on every issue on which he wanted to have influence. When a policy paper was sent to *Asia, for example, a blind copy was sent to Cheney's emailbox, often times without the knowledge of the paper's author.
Cheney's single largest concern and area of influence was in expanding the power of the executive branch. Cheney's belief was that the other two branches - legislative and judicial - were far too massive and slow-moving to be of any use at all in times of crisis, meaning that the executive branch should be given absolute and unchecked power in any issue that could be remotely connected to war or threat on our nation. To this end, Cheney pushed through - often originating, sometime writing, rarely simply supporting - the Bush administration's policies on military tribunals, secret domestic spying, the use of torture in interrogations, environmental deregulation, and so many issues.
I disagree with - I am very close to being able to say I hate - nearly every policy decision on which Dick Cheney used his influence. I abhor torture. I will always side of freedom over security. I feel that the environment should trump nearly every business concern. And I believe that the three-branch, checks and balances system of government should be designed - as Jefferson stated - to be manned by scoundrels because of those very checks and balances.
But I respect Dick Cheney's determination, knowledge, tireless devotion, and dedication to our nation. He believed he was saving our nation, and he ensured that he did every single thing within his power - power that none of his predecessors was given and that Cheney simply assumed - to keep us safe, and I respect that level of drive, that level of commitment.
From Angler: The Dick Cheney Vice Presidency by Barton Gellman...page 389...
Cheney served his country with devotion, at some cost to himself. The stresses of the job did not improve his health. After more than a decade without incident, Cheney suffered eight cardiac events in eight years. He relinquished millions of dollars in stock options and income forgone. The author found no evidence of self-dealing behavior in office, involving Haliburton or anything else. There were times when Cheney stretched the truth, times he may have snapped it clean in half, but he was fundamentally honest about his objectives. Cheney believed that the country was in mortal danger and that he knew better than others how to avert it.
Political reputations shift with time. That does not seem to be nearly so true of wars. When voters, generals, and the political class reach consensus on a strategic mistake, they do not tend to change their minds. Rehabilitation has not come for the southern war of secession or MacArthur's march toward the Yalu River which brought China into the Korean War. Nor has the nation's verdict wavered on Vietnam. The Bush-Cheney strategy after September 11, with its claims of White House supremacy and its sharp tilt from civil liberty to state command, enraged even proponents of a unitary executive and a strong national security state. The invasion of Iraq may have passed a point of no return when Dick Armey - the majority leader of the president's party, from the president's home state - said it was "very likely the biggest foreign policy blunder of modern times." Today cannot speak for tomorrow, and Cheney may turn out to be right that the pendulum will not swing back. Nothing is likelier to bring that about than Cheney's worst nightmare made flesh. If Nexus comes, loosing a plague or igniting a mushroom cloud, posterity may decide we should have stayed the vice president's course. This made for a paradox as Cheney neared the end of his second term. His best hope for vindication appeared to lie in a future no one could want, a future in which his efforts failed.