The pushback on Dick Cheney
One of the mantras on this blog from day one has been the excessive influence that Vice President Richard B. Cheney has played in the foreign policymaking process. This is not to say that a Vice President should have no influence — merely that Cheney had his thumb so hard on the scale that the ...
One of the mantras on this blog from day one has been the excessive influence that Vice President Richard B. Cheney has played in the foreign policymaking process. This is not to say that a Vice President should have no influence -- merely that Cheney had his thumb so hard on the scale that the interagency NSC process was fatally compromised. Dana Priest and Robin Wright have a front-pager in the Washington Post on the proposed amendment to prevent detainee abuse suggesting that Cheney's thumb is not as heavy as it used to be:
One of the mantras on this blog from day one has been the excessive influence that Vice President Richard B. Cheney has played in the foreign policymaking process. This is not to say that a Vice President should have no influence — merely that Cheney had his thumb so hard on the scale that the interagency NSC process was fatally compromised. Dana Priest and Robin Wright have a front-pager in the Washington Post on the proposed amendment to prevent detainee abuse suggesting that Cheney’s thumb is not as heavy as it used to be:
Increasingly, however, Cheney’s positions are being opposed by other administration officials, including Cabinet members, political appointees and Republican lawmakers who once stood firmly behind the administration on all matters concerning terrorism. Personnel changes in President Bush’s second term have added to the isolation of Cheney, who previously had been able to prevail in part because other key parties to the debate — including Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and White House counsel Harriet Miers — continued to sit on the fence. But in a reflection of how many within the administration now favor changing the rules, Elliot Abrams, traditionally one of the most hawkish voices in internal debates, is among the most persistent advocates of changing detainee policy in his role as the deputy national security adviser for democracy, according to officials familiar with his role. At the same time Rice has emerged as an advocate for changing the rules to “get out of the detainee mess,” said one senior U.S. official familiar with discussions. Her top advisers, along with their Pentagon counterparts, are working on a package of proposals designed to address all controversial detainee issues at once, instead of dealing with them on a piecemeal basis. Cheney’s camp is a “shrinking island,” said one State Department official who, like other administration officials quoted in this article, asked not to be identified because public dissent is strongly discouraged by the White House.
The report goes on to describe the lengths to which Cheney’s camp is going to maintain the upper hand in the game of bureaucratic politics:
Beside personal pressure from the vice president, Cheney’s staff is also engaged in resisting a policy change. Tactics included “trying to have meetings canceled … to at least slow things down or gum up the works” or trying to conduct meetings on the subject without other key Cabinet members, one administration official said. The official said some internal memos and e-mail from the National Security Council staff to the national security adviser were automatically forwarded to the vice president’s office — in some cases without the knowledge of the authors. For that reason, Rice “wanted to be in all meetings,” said a senior State Department official.
Andrew Sullivan has more — a lot more. This issue, by the way, also raises some interesting questions for realists — the flavor of the month in critical foreign policy circles. Consider Cheney’s explanation for why the proposed limitations on interrogation would hamper U.S. national security, according to Newsweek’s Daniel Klaidman and Michael Isikoff:
Last Tuesday, Senate Republicans were winding up their weekly luncheon in the Capitol when the vice president rose to speak. Staffers were quickly ordered out of the room?what Cheney had to say was for senators only. Normally taciturn, Cheney was uncharacteristically impassioned, according to two GOP senators who did not want to be on the record about a private meeting. He was very upset over the Senate’s overwhelming passage of an amendment that prohibits inhumane treatment of terrorist detainees. Cheney said the law would tie the president’s hands and end up costing “thousands of lives.” He dramatized the point, conjuring up a scenario in which a captured Qaeda operative, another Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, refuses to give his interrogators details about an imminent attack. “We have to be able to do what is necessary,” the vice president said, according to one of the senators who was present.
Now, if you’re a realist, this should be an easy call if you accept Cheney’s assertion — aggressive interrogations yield useful intelligence. Removing this option might preserve some soft power and demonstrate grater respect for international law, but neither of those things should matter in realpolitik world anyway. Developing…. UPDATE: Daniel Benjamin has more on Cheney’s role in national security policymaking in Slate. Oh, and just to be clear — Cheney’s oversized role in this does not mean that I believe Cheney is the main culprit for U.S. missteps in either Iraq or interrogation policy. The responsibility for those policies — and the process that abetted them — lies with the president. ANOTHER UPDATE: Well, now that I have everyone’s attention, let’s highlight one more fissure this kind of issue generates among conservatives. On the one hand there are the Hamiltonians who place a great deal of trust in the executive branch to execute policy in a good faith manner. On the other hand there are Madisonians who inherently distruct executive power and wish to see limitations placed on its use. If you study foreign policy, there are many compelling reasons to prefer the former approach — but I’m starting to have great sympathy for Madison in recent years.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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