Dick Cheney- Corporate Criminal


Pentagon Stonewalled Request for Halliburton’s “KBR” Contracts and Records Concerning Costs, Deadlines, Award Process, Spending Limits & Bonus Scales

(Washington, DC) Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced that it filed a lawsuit yesterday against the Department of the Army in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking records requested under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), pertaining to the decision to grant “sole source” contracts for work in Iraq to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (“KBR”), as well as records concerning KBR costs, deadlines, spending limits, bonus scales, timetables and requirements. Sole source contracts are awarded to a company without the company’s having to go through a competitive bidding process. Judicial Watch filed its FOIA requests with the Defense Department on April 6, 2003 and June 16, 2003. No substantive response or production of documents was made by the Pentagon.

Vice President Richard B. Cheney was Halliburton’s chief executive and chairman from 1995 to 2000, when he stepped down to be President George W. Bush’s running mate. The Securities and Exchange Commission is currently investigating Halliburton's 1998 decision to change the way it accounted for revenue on cost-overrun projects. Recently, Halliburton and subsidiary KBR’s irregular government billing practices are reportedly under criminal investigation.

On September 12, 2003, Judicial Watch reported that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers claimed justification and approval documents for the award of a sole source contract to KBR and a number of e-mail messages were classified documents, and could not be disclosed to the public. The Corps of Engineer’s counsel went on to say that: “The [original KBR sole source] contract is for a period of two years, with three one-year options, and the total amount of the contract cannot exceed $7 billion dollars.”

“It is time for the Pentagon to level with the American public about its contracting practices in Iraq. The secrecy is intolerable and illegal. The Pentagon needs to come clean on Halliburton,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

Dick Cheney, chickenhawk
Capital Times Editorial
Madison, Wisc.

Vice President Dick Cheney has never shown much interest in meeting his responsibilities as a citizen or an elected official.

During the Vietnam War, Cheney avoided military service. Like so many of the current advocates for war with Iraq, he did not want to upset his career plans by wearing the uniform of his country.

The political career that got a jump-start during the Vietnam era has been a successful - and lucrative - one for Cheney. But he has never gotten over his aversion to fulfilling his public responsibilities.

After securing himself the Republican nomination for vice president in 2000, Cheney generally avoided interviews and appearances before large crowds. His regal style allowed him to avoid discussions of his record in Congress, Cabinets and, especially, as a business wheeler-dealer.

Since taking office, Cheney has continued to avoid the limelight. His penchant for hiding out in "secure, undisclosed locations" has made Cheney the punch line to a thousand Dave Letterman jokes. And his penchant for secrecy has been evident in a long legal battle to cloak his deal-making as chairman of the administration's task force on energy policy.

Cheney's well-established aversion to actual contact with the public he is supposed to serve made it difficult to imagine that he ever really intended to accept an invitation from the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin to appear in Madison on Jan. 29. There is no record of Cheney making public appearances in locations where he might be forced to confront the reality that the administration's plans for a war with Iraq are extremely unpopular, and a Madison appearance would have done just that.

So when it was revealed Friday that Cheney would not be coming to Madison - because, his office said, "his calendar wouldn't allow" the visit - no one was surprised.

The prospect that Cheney might come to Madison inspired widespread organizing by religious, political and community groups that oppose war with Iraq.

There is no question that Cheney would have been confronted by a large, nonviolent yet very vocal challenge to the administration's policies. And, as his career has demonstrated, Cheney likes to avoid public challenges - and public responsibilities.

Holes in his defence
Sydney Morning Herald
February 21, 2004

The Vice-President of the United States is floundering in bloodied water, and the sharks are circling, writes Marian Wilkinson.

Any Nigerian Government investigation into a bribery scandal would usually be dismissed in Washington with guffaws, especially if a potential witness was reported to be the second most powerful man in America, the Vice-President, Dick Cheney. But not today.

When the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission announced two weeks ago that it was joining the Paris public prosecutor's office in examining $US180 million ($227 million) in alleged secret payments to Nigerian officials, Cheney's political enemies took note.

The controversial US defence contractor Halliburton owns one of four foreign companies accused in the scandal. The company, M W Kellogg, was bought in 1998 when Cheney was Halliburton's chief executive officer.

The Nigerian investigation is just the latest controversy swirling about Cheney and Halliburton. "We've had the Halliburton scandal of the week for a good five weeks and this is the next big one. If you look over the horizon, this is the one that's coming," says Pete Singer, who investigated Halliburton for his new book, Corporate Warriors, which delves into the grey world of private military contractors. "It's political campaign season and blood is in the water, so you're going to hear about it."

Cheney and Halliburton, the company he led from 1995 until he stood for vice-president in 2000, are now the target of so many accusations that some political analysts are asking whether Cheney has become a liability for George Bush.

A French investigating magistrate, Judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke, has been examining the payments behind closed doors since October. His inquiry grew out of the huge corruption scandal surrounding the French oil companies in Africa. But the bribery allegations involving Halliburton surfaced only recently when a French executive turned state's evidence.

After the French newspaper Le Figaro published the Halliburton connection, the company was forced to disclose the investigation in a document filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in New York on February 6.

"A joint venture in which a Halliburton unit participates is under investigation as a result of payments made in connection with a liquefied gas project in Nigeria," the company statement reads. "The Paris prosecutor's office is probing whether the payments were illegal. The US Department of Justice and the SEC have asked Halliburton for co-operation and access to information in reviewing these matters and are reviewing the allegations in light of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act."

Cheney's office has referred all questions on the Nigerian case to Halliburton. So far there is no evidence he knew anything about the payments that were apparently washed through tax shelters in Portugal and Gibraltar. The scheme was first set up several years before Halliburton owned the company involved. But French and US reports indicate the payments did not stop after the takeover when Cheney was CEO.

The investigation is another blow to Halliburton just when the company is reeling under attacks by the Democrats over corruption, kickbacks and favouritism in its Iraq contracts handed out by the Bush Administration.

But every attack on Halliburton by the Democrats is also aimed at Cheney. A Washington political analyst, Amy Walter, says the Democrats have been working to tie the scandals surrounding Halliburton with the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in order to question Cheney and Bush's credibility.

The Democrats' aim, says Walter, "is to weave a narrative that says to US voters, Republicans have a credibility problem". And a devastating series of revelations about Halliburton in the past month has given the Democrats a lot of ammunition.

In November, Halliburton was basking in the glory of feeding US troops their Thanksgiving dinner in Baghdad when Bush dropped in. Last week, it had to announce it would temporarily halt billing for all meals fed to troops in Iraq and Kuwait after admitting it had overcharged the Pentagon $US34.5 million for catering. The company was also forced to repay $US6.3 million after it was caught overcharging for fuel imports into Iraq. The Pentagon's Inspector General is conducting a probe into the fuel contract.

As each new scandal unfolds, the Democrats are calling for an urgent investigation into Halliburton. The Republicans are resisting but are watching nervously as Cheney's poll numbers fall. Just before the Iraq war his approval rating was more than 60 per cent. Now it's just 45 per cent.

Cheney repeatedly beats back any attempt to link him with the Halliburton scandals by saying he severed all his ties before the 2000 election. But Halliburton's lucrative contracts with the Bush Administration in Iraq have become symbolic of the "special interests" in Washington that are increasingly raising the hackles of many voters.

When the US Army Corps of Engineers admitted that on the eve of the Iraq war it had awarded a no-bid $US7 billion contract to Halliburton to rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure, Cheney's former ties with the company became an easy target. "I have absolutely no influence of, involvement of, knowledge of, in any way, shape or form, contracts let by the [Army] Corps of Engineers or anybody else in the Federal Government," he said when questioned about Halliburton.

While this may be true, he was the architect of ties between the Pentagon and Halliburton. A report by the Centre for Public Integrity in Washington says that when he was defence secretary in 1992 he moved aggressively to outsource military logistics in conflict zones. The company chosen to draw up those plans was Halliburton, which won the first major contracts under the plan - in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti and Rwanda. In 1995, after Cheney gave up his bid to seek the presidency, he was hired by Halliburton to be its CEO.

"Anyone who says these jobs being given to ex-government people isn't about connections is just lying," Pete Singer said. Cheney got the job "because of who he knows and the doors that he was able to open".

By the time he left Halliburton to stand as Bush's vice-president in 2000 he had earned $US35.1 million from the company. He still gets a deferred salary from Halliburton and owns $US18 million in stock options, but he has pledged these funds to charity.

Politically Cheney is vulnerable on two fronts. His old company is one of the chief financial beneficiaries from the Iraq war. And he was also the Administration's most strident advocate for the war, often exaggerating the evidence for Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Until recently, Cheney maintained a cool detachment from the attacks on him, his office and Halliburton. Even now he remains surprisingly unaffected by the storm clouds gathering.

Shortly after Christmas he stunned his adversaries when he took his friend, the conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, on a private duck hunting trip to Louisiana. Just three weeks earlier, the Supreme Court had agreed to hear an appeal by Cheney's office which has been trying to block the release of sensitive documents. The documents concern Cheney's energy taskforce, a group of wealthy corporate executives, including the former head of Enron, who helped craft US energy policy.

The environmental group the Sierra Club and a legal watchdog, Judicial Watch, had successfully sued Cheney in the lower courts so the Government had appealed. The Supreme Court is supposed to hear the case in April. But neither Cheney nor Scalia saw any problem with a private get-together before the case. "I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned," Scalia told the Los Angeles Times.

But despite these controversies and his slipping ratings, Cheney gives no indication that he is planning to retire. The survivor of four heart attacks, he says he is in "excellent" health. He also knows his exit from the White House would only fuel the attacks on Bush's credibility and energise the Democrats.

For now he brushes off questions about his public image. "Am I the evil genius in the corner that nobody ever sees come out of his hole?" he asked jokingly in a recent interview with USA Today. "It's a nice way to operate, actually."

Halliburton calls in Bush lawyer
Richard Thomson, Evening Standard
17 February 2004

HALLIBURTON, US Vice President Dick Cheney's old company, battling against perceptions that it is too close to the White House, has hired a law firm previously used by the Bush family to conduct an investigation into allegations of illegal payments on Cheney's watch.

Halliburton has appointed Baker Botts to conduct the investigation into $180m (£95m) in illegal payments between 1995 and 2002 in connection with the construction of a $4.9bn gas plant in Nigeria. Cheney was Halliburton's chief executive at the time.

The Baker of the law firm's name is James Baker, former-Secretary of State under George Bush Senior. The firm's lawyer, James Doty, also acted for George W Bush when he bought a stake in the Texas Rangers basketball team in the 1980s.

Despite the apparently cosy relationship, however, there are signs that relations between Halliburton and the Pentagon may be deteriorating rapidly.

The company has announced that it is suspending a further $140m in billing to the US military pending corruption investigations. The suspension by Halliburton follows an earlier delay involving $35m of charges.

Another Halliburton Probe
Already under fire for its contracts in Iraq, the company now faces a Justice Department inquiry about business done during Dick Cheney’s tenure

by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenrball

Feb. 4 - The Justice Department has opened up an inquiry into whether Halliburton Co. was involved in the payment of $180 million in possible kickbacks to obtain contracts to build a natural gas plant in Nigeria during a period in the late 1990’s when Vice President Dick Cheney was chairman of the company, Newsweek has learned.

There is no evidence that Cheney was aware of the payments in question and an aide said today the vice president has not been contacted about the probe. Still, the inquiry by the Justice Department’s fraud section—which prosecutes federal anti-bribery law violations—is likely to bring new public attention to the vice president’s past at the giant oil-services firm. Halliburton has been under intense scrutiny in recent months over its handling of hundreds of millions of dollars contracts relating to the rebuilding of Iraq.

The Justice inquiry, along with a related probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission, parallels a separate investigation into the Nigerian payments that is being conducted by a French magistrate and has received widespread attention in recent months in the European press. But the Justice Department and SEC probes have not previously been reported, although they were briefly mentioned by Halliburton last week near the end of a lengthy filing with the SEC.

In the filing, the Houston-based company disclosed that the French magistrate was investigating the Nigerian payments and then added: “The U.S. Department of Justice and the SEC have asked Halliburton for a report on these matters and are reviewing the allegations in light of the US. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Halliburton has engaged outside counsel to investigate any allegations and is cooperating with the government’s inquiries… If illegal payments were made, this matter could have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations.”

A Justice Department official confirmed to NEWSWEEK today that prosecutors have been seeking information from Halliburton related to the Nigerian contract and that the company was cooperating. But the official said the company’s reference to being asked for “a report” by Justice was “not accurate.” Rather than a report, Justice has sought documents from the company—and Halliburton has been turning them over, the official said. Another Justice official described the inquiry as a review of documents supplied by Halliburton and said it was still in its early stages.

In an e-mail response to questions from NEWSWEEK about its disclosure, a Halliburton official, Cathy Gist, said: “Management made the decision to include these statements because of the politically charged environment in which we now operate. We are trying to keep the investment community informed of the accurate facts about the company’s business.” She added that that “while Halliburton has no basis to assume that any of its employees…have ever done anything in violation of the FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act), it has undertaken an examination and intends to cooperate with officials of the U.S. government.” (In a later e-mail response, Gist added: "In future SEC filings, Halliburton will include more precise language regarding the nature of this examination as well as our continued commitment to cooperate with U.S. government officials regarding this matter.")

The investigation could raise sensitive political questions for the Justice Department because—unlike Pentagon probes now underway into Halliburton’s Iraq contracts—the Nigerian matter specifically involves corporate conduct during the period between 1995 and 2000 when Cheney was chairman and chief executive officer of the company.

That could raise potential conflict-of-interest questions for Attorney General John Ashcroft similar to those that recently prompted Ashcroft to recuse himself in another investigation involving the Bush White House—the probe into who leaked information that disclosed the undercover identity of the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson. The Justice official declined to comment on what role Ashcroft has played in the Halliburton probe so far and whether there have been any discussions about whether he might need to recuse himself from decisions relating to it. So far, there is no evidence suggesting any involvement by Cheney in the matters under review, another Justice official said.

The Justice Department inquiry involves a trail of payments to unknown recipients that were routed through off-shore bank accounts and were allegedly handled by a longtime Halliburton lawyer in London who, according to French press reports, was also a financial advisor to Nigeria’s late dictator Gen. Sani Abacha. The payments were made in connection with the construction of a giant liquefied natural gas plant on a remote island in Nigeria.

The plant, one of the largest in the world, was built by TSKJ, a consortium of four major international construction firms, including Kellogg, Brown & Root, a major Halliburton subsidiary that has been the principal recipient of the company’s contracts in Iraq. Halliburton touted its role in the Nigerian project in a March, 2000 press release headlined: “Four Industry Leaders United to Execute World Class Project in Nigeria.”

The question Justice is probing is how exactly Halliburton’s subsidiary came to play that role. According to lengthy accounts of the probe in the French newspaper, Le Figaro, the TSKJ consortium in 1994 had created a subsidiary called LNG Services on Madeira, a Portuguese island in the Atlantic where companies are not required to pay any taxes. The French investigation was triggered, according to Le Figaro, when an official of one of the consortium’s French partners, Technip, was charged two years ago with embezzlement growing out of a separate, long-running corruption case involving the French oil company Elf Aquitaine.

According to Le Figaro, George Krammer, the accused Technip official, was outraged when Technip refused to defend him and turned state’s evidence. The paper reported that he told French authorities about an alleged $180 million “slush fund” that TSKJ maintained to bribe Nigerian officials relating to the natural gas plant in Nigeria. French authorities then tracked close to the same amount in “support contracts” from LNG Services—the subsidiary on the Portuguese island—to yet another obscure entity called Tri-Star, which was located on the British tax haven of Gibraltar. Tri Star, according to Le Figaro, was headed by a London lawyer named Jeffrey Tesler, who has long done work for Halliburton, and was known to have close relations with officials in Abacha’s Nigerian government. Tesler did not respond to a request for comment from NEWSWEEK.

The allegations that TSKJ may have made improper payments to Nigerian officials prompted a Paris prosecutor to open up an investigation into the case in October, 2002. The probe was among the first in France under a new international treaty banning the payment of bribes in commercial contracts—a prohibition that became part of French law in 2000. (U.S. law has banned such payments for more than 25 years.) The case in France has since been transferred to a French investigative magistrate, Reynaud van Ruymbeke—an indication that it is being taken seriously by French authorities.

One key question for Justice Department prosecutors is what knowledge, if any, Halliburton officials in the United States had of any illicit payments that might have been made in Nigeria. According to lawyers familiar with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases, U.S. corporate officials are only liable for the actions of their foreign subsidiaries if it can be determined that they had a control or personal knowledge of the subsidiary’s improper actions.

In this case, Halliburton would seem to have a natural defense: the conduct in question involved actions of a consortium, TSKJ, in which it was only a 25 percent owner. But a Technip official told NEWSWEEK that the Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root, was the chief principal and decision-maker in the venture. “Halliburton is the leader of the JV (joint venture),” said Christopher Welton, chief of Technip’s investor and analyst relations. Welton also said that his company recently had conducted its own internal audit of the venture’s operations and found no evidence of any improper payments. Halliburton, in one of its e-mail responses to NEWSWEEK today, referred to itself as only a 25 percent owner of the joint venture.

© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.

Halliburton will pay $16 million for overcharges

The New York Times
Posted on Tue, Feb. 03, 2004

WASHINGTON - The Halliburton Co. said Monday that it would repay the government for overcharges estimated at $16 million for meals served to U.S. troops at a military base in Kuwait last year, but the company did not admit to any wrongdoing.

Pentagon officials declined to give details about the specific allegations except to say that the matter was under review by Pentagon auditors.

The auditors' allegation was first reported Monday by The Wall Street Journal. It came after two other recent disagreements between the Pentagon and Kellogg Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary that has several major military contracts for work in Iraq and Kuwait.

Halliburton insisted on Monday that the allegations of overcharges for meals were routine questions from the Defense Contracting Auditing Agency and that no conclusions had been reached.

The company noted that it had served more than 50 million meals to soldiers in the past year and that the questions from the auditors dealt with the way Kellogg Brown & Root estimated the number of meals it served.

"This is not about charges," Randy Harl, president and chief executive of Kellogg Brown & Root, said in a statement Monday. "This is about finding a good way to estimate the number of meals so soldiers can be fed."

The dispute focuses on meals served to troops at Camp Arifjan, a sprawling Army logistics hub south of Kuwait City.

The auditors appear to be alleging that Halliburton substantially overestimated the number of meals it would serve and then charged the government for all the meals prepared instead of those served.

Kellogg Brown & Root said it has agreed to reduce its future bills to the government to make up for any overcharges "while the company works with the government to improve the counting method." The statement added that "this is not any sort of 'admission.' It is an agreement to temporarily delay billing" while the matter is investigated.

Cheney Sees His Shadow

By Tom Engelhardt, tomdispatch.com
February 2, 2004

Over the last year, I think it could safely be said that the three men hardest to spot have been Saddam Hussein, finally found in December in his "spider hole"; Osama Bin Laden, still undetected in his "cave," assumedly somewhere on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border; and Dick Cheney, our stealth vice president (or president, depending on your interpretive druthers) in his bunker in Washington.

Well, in the last week-plus, Cheney has been spotted, and then spotted again, and again and again: first, bird-shooting with a Supreme Court justice, then speaking in Los Angeles on the war on terror, next visiting Davos, Switzerland, followed by Italy where he continued to flog those long- discounted Iraqi "trailers" as evidence of massive Saddamite WMD programs, and finally seeking the Pope's blessing at the Vatican, where in a small spectacle of curious taste he came bearing a gift. "During Mr. Cheney's visit on Tuesday, the vice president presented the pope with a gift that symbolized peace: a crystal dove," according to Eric Schmitt and Frank Bruni of the New York Times. Perhaps it wasn't "peace" the vice president had in mind, but "pieces" – as in, all the better to smash it into...

Anyway, it was a week of Cheney glut with Cheney quotes old and new popping up. Unlike Elvis sightings, Cheney sightings have been rare enough that it's worth spending a little time on them.

You might say that the vice president, suddenly under attack by the Democrats as the symbol of an extremist administration and with his poll numbers in free fall, had been flushed out, like one of those game birds he and Supreme Court Justice Scalia hunted together recently. (Wouldn't you have liked to be a little bird – a very small and unmeaty one, of course – listening in on what the potential Chief Justice of the second-term Bush Supreme Court had to say to the administration's first-term "eminence grise," and vice versa? I doubt they were trading Lord of the Rings subplots, and they couldn't have been discussing the potentially embarrassing Guantanamo cases that will appear before the court this year. That would have been unethical.)

Cheney, in the light of day, seemed to be blinking hard and looking just a little unsteady, though our press managed to explain all this in slightly encoded, exceedingly polite language, meant to carry a punch mainly for your basic insider or news jockey. Take Eric Schmitt of the New York Times in this passage:

"Vice President Dick Cheney, on a five-day trip through Switzerland and Italy, is stepping out of his self-imposed seclusion and into what administration officials and political analysts say is a calculated election-year makeover to temper his hard-line image at home and abroad...."

"Democrats acknowledge they are seeking to make Mr. Cheney a lightning rod for criticism of the administration.... But aides say none of this has shaken Mr. Bush's trust in Mr. Cheney, who still wields huge, though largely unseen, influence on issues from Iraq to tax policy. The two meet weekly for a private lunch in a small dining room off the Oval Office. Mr. Cheney has repeatedly said he has no presidential aspirations of his own, allowing him to focus solely on Mr. Bush's agenda."

It's a lovely passage really. That little word "makeover" – as in a before-and-after commercial for some women's beauty product – and that super last line. So that's what he's been doing all these months – selflessly focusing "solely on Mr. Bush's agenda."

If you want to find some evidence of real attitude in our elite press, do remember to check out those final paragraphs of pieces it's undoubtedly assumed that next to no one reads, where a reporter can finally run free. Yesterday, for instance, David Sanger of the Times had a front-page piece on "Bush's Risky Options," focusing on how the President might respond to the call by the former head of the Iraqi Survey Group, David Kay (along with endless Democrats and Sen. John McCain who has no love for the younger Bush) for an independent commission to look into American prewar WMD intelligence.

Sanger pointed out that White House officials have been in "a slow retreat... day-by-day, fact-by-fact" from prewar, wartime, and postwar WMD assertions. (Condoleezza Rice's most recent fallback position, however, when it comes to Saddam's links to "terrorists," sounds a bit of a fall-forward position to me: "With Saddam Hussein, we were dealing with somebody who had used weapons of mass destruction, who had attacked his neighbors twice, who was allowing terrorists to run in his country and was funding terrorists outside of his country.")

Here, in any case, are Sanger's last two paragraphs, just about as snarky as you can get in the Times:

"Only Mr. Cheney, the man who made the most extensive claims about Iraq's readiness to strike out, has failed to back down publicly. Last Friday he was on the air again, talking about Mr. Hussein's mobile biological weapons units, which now appear, Dr. Kay says, to have had no such purpose.

"We'll have to get Cheney the new memo," one White House official said after Mr. Cheney's comments, "As soon as we write it."

But Cheney really didn't need snarky reporters to do his job for him. In the quotes department last week he did pretty well for himself.

From Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing in the Washington Post comes the following:

"During his stopover at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, forum founder Klaus Schwab asked Cheney about his controversial Christmas card, interpreted by some to be sly hint about the country's status as a modern empire. The card featured a quote from Benjamin Franklin: 'If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?'

"Do you consider the United States to be an empire?" Cheney was asked. After jocularly blaming his wife for choosing the card, Cheney insisted "It did not refer, or should not be taken as some kind of indication that the United States today sees itself as an empire." He said that if the United States were an empire, "We would currently preside over a much greater piece of the Earth's surface than we do.'"

Think that one over for a minute, while you consider the following little quote from Secretary of State Colin Powell, off visiting the former Soviet hinterlands. According to Kim Murphy of the Los Angeles Times, Powell arrived in Moscow after a visit to Georgia to "soothe" (other words in our press for his behavior: "mollify," "assure," "reassure") the Russians about our good intentions despite our relatively new bases in the former SSRs of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, our military trainers in Georgia (after all, it has been a state of the Union ever since the American Revolution), our demand that the Russians get their troops out of that small country, and Powell's recent comments about future basing plans in former Eastern European Soviet satellites like Rumania, Bulgaria and Poland. He said, "The U.S. does not want to build bases all over the world. There is no need to."

No more, at least, than the 700-odd we already have, including the new ones in the old Soviet borderlands. If we were an empire, by Cheney's calculations and with Powell's quote in mind, maybe we'd have 1,400 bases.

Murphy elaborated in the following fashion: "U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Monday said the U.S. has no plans to create military bases in Georgia. At the same time, U.S. officials have not ruled out a long-term security presence in the strategically important Caucasus republic, once a part of the Soviet empire and still a crucial component of the Kremlin's effort to maintain an extensive sphere of influence and counter NATO's expansion toward its western frontier...

"For the United States, the region provides a window onto crucial theaters in the war on terrorism, including Afghanistan and Iraq. It also encompasses a crucial transport route for oil riches from the Caspian Sea."

For anyone who lived through the Cold War (or, were it possible, the British "Great Game" against the Russians in Central Asia), this sort of language – and there was plenty of it in the press this week – would sound oddly familiar. Every spot on Earth – or at least in that vast "arc of instability," aka the oil lands of our planet – is actually "strategically important" and a "window" onto something else, and everything we don't control, a danger. But what's to be a "window" for us is evidently meant to be a windowless wall for the Russians who are to be left out in the cold. If the Bush administration could, they would undoubtedly exile the Russians to Siberia and good riddance – though, thought about another way, with its oil and natural gas deposits, Siberia could certainly be considered "strategically important" and a "window" onto something else.

Bitter-enders in Washington

Oh, and as if to help Cheney along this week, a new bio of Tony Blair, the British PM with no less than nine lives, just appeared claiming that Cheney, according to a Blair aide, had "waged a guerrilla war against the process" of seeking UN approval before the war. (Mike Allen, in the Washington Post):

"The book says Cheney considered Blair and his pleas for multilateral military action against Hussein to be an irritant. It asserts that Cheney told a high-ranking British official during the summer of 2002, when Bush was denying he had decided to go to war, 'Once we have victory in Baghdad, all the critics will look like fools.'"

I guess this, then, was the week of the fools, one in which Cheney looked increasingly like Washington's version of the sort of "bitter-ender" Rumsfeld et al. were always yakking about. The Nelson Report, a Washington insider's newsletter, commented on the vice-presidential emergence this way: "Some observers amused themselves with speculation that Cheney's bizarre ceremonial with the Pope is just part of a 'come out of the cave' PR campaign orchestrated by his staff, as part of an effort to rehabilitate his public image."

Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service pointed out that Cheney himself commented on his outing this week ("Will Dubya Dump Dick?"):

"In a[n]... interview, Cheney told USA Today he was not worried about his image as the administration's Machiavelli, skilled in the quiet arts of persuading his 'Prince' to pursue questionable policies, adding, surprisingly unselfconsciously, 'Am I the evil genius in the corner that nobody ever sees come out of his hole? It's a nice way to operate, actually.'"

A few days ago, in a fascinating piece posted at antiwar.com, Lobe asked the question that has been quietly nibbling at the edge of the mainstream press ever since. He wrote in part:

"While Democratic rivals battle for the presidential nomination in a succession of grueling primary elections, Vice President Dick Cheney appears to be fighting to secure his spot on the Republican ticket behind President George W. Bush.

"The vice president, whose moderation and 35-year Washington experience reassured voters worried about the callowness and inexperience of Bush during the 2000 campaign, is seen more and more by Republican Party politicos as a drag on the president's reelection chances in what is universally expected to be an extremely close race...

"Reports were already surfacing two months ago that a discreet 'dump-Cheney' movement had been launched by intimate associates of Bush's father (former president George H.W. Bush) – his national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and former secretary of state James Baker, who now has a White House appointment as Bush Jr.'s personal envoy to persuade official creditors to substantially reduce Iraq's 110-billion-dollar foreign debt.

"In addition to their perception that Cheney's presence would harm Bush's reelection chances, the two men, who battled frequently with the vice president when he was defense secretary in the first Bush administration, have privately expressed great concern over Cheney's unparalleled influence over the younger Bush and the damage that has done to U.S. relations with longtime allies, particularly in Europe and the Arab world."

In her latest column, the New York Times' Maureen Dowd took this up quite bluntly – it's obviously the talk of Washington right now – concluding ("Dump Cheney Now!"):

"Dick Cheney, who declared that Saddam had nuclear capability and who visited C.I.A. headquarters in the summer of 2002 to make sure the raw intelligence was properly interpreted, is sticking to his deluded guns. (And still trash talking those lame trailers.)

"The vice president pushed to slough off the allies and the U.N. and go to war partly because he thought that slapping a weakened bully like Saddam would scare other dictators. He must have reckoned there would be no day of reckoning on weapons once Saddam was gone.

"So it had to be some new definition of chutzpah on Tuesday, when Mr. Cheney, exuding more infallibility than the pope, presented him with a crystal dove."

The same Nelson Report, by the way, had this bit of scuttlebutt on the subject:

"About Vice President Cheney: on the one hand, no one predicts that he will be involuntarily dropped from the ticket, even if they haven't heard the reported reaction from President Bush, when urged, over Christmas, to do just that by serious money players who enjoy that level of access – for the record, Bush said 'no way,' and cited factors of loyalty. But... the rumors persist, not least because of the well-known, public antipathy of what recent journalism calls "the Scowcroft wing' of the party..."

Imagine that. "Serious money players" directly asked the President to drop Cheney. If you want to check out who those money men might have been, you could start by running down the lists of "Pioneers" ("the 241 individuals who have raised a minimum of $100,000 for the Bush 2004 reelection effort") and "Rangers" ("the 151 individuals who have raised a minimum of $200,000 for the Bush 2004 reelection effort") posted at the Texans for Public Justice website.