Dick Cheney- Corporate Criminal
Details the myriad illegal, immoral, and unethical activities of Dick Cheney when CEO of Halliburton, his obstruction of justice, and lies to the American public since his appointment as Vice President. For information on an equally corrupt politician, see link to Tom DeLay-Corporate Whore. Be sure to visit our cavernous vault of archives.
Appeals Court to Revisit Cheney Lawsuit
by Sam Hananel
WASHINGTON - The legal fight over access to the records of Vice President Dick Cheney's 2001 energy task force is back before a federal appeals court, seven months after the Supreme Court sidestepped the issue.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was hearing arguments Thursday in the nearly 4-year-old fight over whether a federal open government law can be used to compel the Bush administration to publicly release records from meetings of the task force.
The Sierra Club and Judicial Watch are suing to get access to the records, claiming the public has a right to know what role energy company executives who met with task force officials played in crafting industry-friendly recommendations.
The Bush administration opposes producing any records, saying that privacy is important to ensure members of such panels can speak candidly. The administration also maintains that the formal makeup of the task force was limited to government officials. Federal law requires government panels to conduct their business in public, unless all members are government officials.
The groups that are suing allege that participants from industry effectively became members of the task force formulating the White House's energy policy. They complain they were shut out of the meetings.
When the case was last considered by the appeals court in 2003, a three-judge panel rejected government arguments that the lawsuit would be an unconstitutional intrusion on the operations of the presidency.
Democrats had hoped the Supreme Court would uphold that ruling and force the administration to reveal potentially embarrassing details about its relationship with energy company executives ahead of the November election.
But the court sent the case back last June, saying a federal district judge who ruled against the Bush administration demanded the opening of too much task force information. The high court also warned that the White House must be protected from "vexatious litigation" that might distract it from its duties.
This time, the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch say they will heed the Supreme Court's concerns and narrow the focus of the records they will seek.
The legal issues in the dispute were accompanied last year by questions about whether Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia should remove himself from the case because he had gone on a hunting trip with Cheney while the court was considering the case. Scalia refused to do so, and ultimately sided with the 7-2 majority opinion.
The task force met for several months in 2001 and issued a report that favored opening more public lands to oil and gas drilling and proposed a range of other steps supported by industry. Most of the recommendations stalled in Congress.
Reining in Cheney
by Ray McGovern
Quick! Anyone! Who can put the brakes on Vice President Dick Cheney before we have another war on our hands? Current and former intelligence analysts are reacting with wonderment and apprehension to his remarks last week on the nuclear program of Iran and his resuscitated spinning on why attacking Iraq was the prudent thing to do.
There he goes again, they say—trifling with the truth on Iraq and now taking off after Iran. Does he really have the temerity to reach into the same bag of tricks used to convince most Americans that Iraq was an immediate nuclear threat? Will his distinctive mix of truculence and contempt for the truth succeed in rationalizing attacks on Iran on grounds that US intelligence may have underestimated the progress in Iraq’s nuclear weapons program 15 years ago?
At this point the focus is no longer on the bogus weapons of mass destruction (WMD) rationale used to promote the attack on Iraq, intelligence analysts say. It’s the claims the vice president is now making regarding Iran’s nuclear capability...and, given the deliberate distortions on Iraq, whether anyone should believe him.
Appearing Thursday on MSNBC’s Imus in the Morning, Cheney warned that Iran has “a fairly robust new nuclear program.” And besides, it sponsors terrorism. Sound familiar?
In a not-so-subtle attempt to raise the alarm on Iran, the vice president adduced his favorite analogy—the one he used in 2002 to beat intelligence analysts into submission in conjuring up phantom weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Cheney continues to underscore his claim that before the Gulf War in 1991, US intelligence had erred in assessing how close Iraq was to having a nuclear weapon:
“We found out after we got into Iraq [in 1991], in fact, that he [Saddam Hussein] probably was less than a year away from having a nuclear weapon...the intelligence community had underestimated how robust his nuclear program was.”
That “Robust” Word Again
Forget the fact that few nuclear engineers agree on that time frame. The question is what relevance Cheney’s claim has for today? In view of the evolving debate on how “robust” Iran’s nuclear program is, we are sure to be hearing more from the vice president on this subject in the months ahead. How much credence are we to put in what he says?
With the final report on the search for Iraqi WMD now delivered, Cheney is still trying to exculpate himself from his false claims regarding Iraq’s nuclear capability, by equating Iraq’s nuclear posture before 1991 with its much weaker capability in the months preceding the US/UK attack in March 2003.
Needed: Enriched Uranium
For Iraq to possess the nuclear weapons program Cheney claimed it had in March 2003, it needed—first and foremost—highly enriched uranium. But events in the 1990s had eviscerated its capacity to obtain it. After the 1991 Gulf War, all highly enriched uranium was removed from Iraq. UN inspectors destroyed Iraq’s centrifuge and isotope separation programs. And from 1991 on, Iraq was subjected to an intrusive arms embargo and sanctions regime, which made it much more difficult than during the pre-Gulf War years to import material for a nuclear weapons program.
Thus, for Cheney to invoke what Iraq may have been capable of doing in 1991 and apply that to the very different situation in Iraq in 2002 is, at best, disingenuous. There are huge differences between the situations in 1991 and 2002. In 2002, the Iraqis lacked highly enriched uranium and the necessary infrastructure. American inspectors working for the UN team knew that—and reported it—from their hands-on experience in early 2003.
Chutzpah, Confidence, Naiveté—a Noxious Mix
Cheney’s chutzpah on this key issue has been particularly striking. On March 16, 2003, just three days before the war, he zoomed far beyond the evidence in telling NBC’s Meet the Press, “We believe he [Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” Asked about El Baradei’s report just nine days before that Iraq had no nuclear weapons program, Cheney said, “I disagree...I think Mr. ElBaradei is frankly wrong.”
“How did they ever think they could get away with it—I mean using forgery, hyperbole, half-truth, malleable house-engineers, and carefully rehearsed émigrés?” asked a government scientist. Well, remember his March 16, 2003 remarks on NBC’s Meet the Press just before the war?
“We will be greeted as liberators...the people of Iraq will welcome us as liberators.”
The administration’s reasoning, it seems clear, went like this: We’ll use the forged documents on Iraq seeking uranium in Niger and the strained argument that those famous aluminum tubes were destined for centrifuge application, and that will be enough to get Congress to go along. The war will be a cakewalk. We’ll depose a hated dictator and be hailed as liberators. We’ll become the dominant world power in that part of the world and, with an infrastructure of permanent military bases in Iraq, we’ll be able to make our influence felt on the disposition of oil in the whole region. Not incidentally, we will be in position to prevent any possible threat to Israel. At that point, then, tell me: who is going to make a ruckus over the fact that we used a little forgery, hyperbole, and half-truth along the way!
And so, our Congress was successfully conned into precipitous action to meet a nonexistent threat. We deposed Saddam and occupied the country. Everything fell into place. But the Iraqis missed their cue and failed to welcome our troops as liberators. All this brings to mind the old saying, “There is no such thing as a perfect crime.”
Concern, Pressure From Abroad
At this point, British officials, who have had a front-row seat for all this, are worried that Cheney is now driving administration policy on Iran, according to a recent article in The Times of London. Adding to London’s concern is the fact that the Pentagon seems to be relying heavily on “alarmingly inconclusive” satellite imagery of Iranian installations.
(For those of you who missed it, please know that since 1996 analysis of satellite imagery has been performed in the Department of Defense, not by CIA analysts, as had been the case before. As you can imagine, this has made it much easier for the Pentagon to come up with the desired “supporting evidence” than was the case in the days when CIA had that portfolio and imagery analysts were encouraged to “tell it like it is.”)
Complicating the Iranian nuclear issue still more is the hard-nosed attitude of Israel. Its defense minister has warned, “Under no circumstances would Israel be able to tolerate nuclear weapons in Iranian possession.”
The British are well advised to worry, given the appeal that preemption holds for our vice president and president. In his August 26, 2002 speech, Cheney also became the first senior US official publicly to refer approvingly to Israel’s bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. (In a rare instance of US willingness to criticize Israel at the UN, Washington had joined other Security Council members in unanimously condemning Israel’s preemptive attack. And, as far as I know, that remains the official US position.)
Cheney and Israel
Cheney, nonetheless, has done little to disguise his admiration for Israel’s policy of preemption. Ten years after the attack on Osirak, then-Defense Secretary Cheney reportedly gave Israeli Maj. Gen. David Ivri, then the commander of the Israeli Air Force, a satellite photo of the Iraqi nuclear reactor destroyed by US-built Israeli aircraft. On the photo Cheney penned, “Thanks for the outstanding job on the Iraqi nuclear program in 1981.”
Looking again at the Cheney-Imus dialogue last week, Cheney, after expressing deep concern over Iran’s “fairly robust new nuclear program,” repeated basically what Condoleezza Rice had said earlier in the week—“Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel.” Imus then brought up the subject of preempting Iran, asking, “Why don’t we make Israel do it?”
Cheney’s response should give all of us pause:
“Well, one of the concerns people have is that Israel might do it without being asked, that if, in fact, the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had significant capability, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards.”
The vice president’s nonchalance betrays the apparent equanimity with which he regards such a possibility. His words are bound to endear him further with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, but the tone, as well as the words, are poison to 1.3 billion Muslims.
Someone needs to tell Cheney that “diplomatic mess” trivializes the lasting damage to the US that such an attack would inevitably bring. Not only can his attitude be read as a green light for Israeli preemption, but it would undoubtedly be read as proof of US complicity, should the Israelis attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. And the queues at al-Qaeda recruiting stations, already lengthened by Abu Ghraib and Falluja, would now stretch out longer than the lines at the polls in the minority precincts of Ohio.
And so we are back to the key question: Can anyone put the brakes on the vice president? It would normally be the job of CIA analysts to point out to the president and his senior advisors the manifold problems that would accrue from an Israeli attack (or, worse still) a US, or joint US-Israeli, attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. But Seymour Hersh’s recent report that the White House is weeding out the apostates from the true believers among CIA analysts, together with the current dearth of courage in senior Agency ranks, suggest that those remaining analysts who still subscribe to the old Agency ethos of speaking truth to power will continue to choose to resign and look for honest work.
This will leave the field to the kind of “slam-dunk” sycophants who conjured up “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq and then passed their reporting off as intelligence analysis. What can we expect of them this time on Iran?
Ray McGovern served as a CIA analyst from the administration of John F. Kennedy to that of George H. W. Bush, chairing National Intelligence Estimates and briefing the President’s Daily Brief. He is cofounder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
Holding WMD Liars Accountable
01/17/2005 @ 11:19am
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Now that the Bush administration has finally stopped wasting millions of tax dollars each month on the futile search for the weapons of mass destruction it promised would be found in Iraq, it is time for an accounting.
First off, let's be clear about the fact that there was never any credible evidence to suggest that Iraq had a serious WMD program -- let alone the "stockpiles" of already-produced weaponry that the president and his aides suggested. Twenty-three members of the Senate and 133 members of the House rejected the intensive lobbying by the administration and the pliable press for the use-of-force resolution that Bush would use as his authorization to launch a preemptive war. Among those who voted "no" were the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and key members of the Senate and House committees responsible for intelligence, armed services and foreign relations -- all of whom had followed the issue for years and saw no evidence of a threat sufficient to justify an invasion of Iraq. Former President Jimmy Carter and others with long-term knowledge of the issues involved were critical of the rush to war, as were dozens of prominent players in the nation's political, foreign service, intelligence and military elites.
So the suggestion that there was broad acceptance of the premise that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs, or was deep into the process of developing them, is absurd. President Bush, Vice President Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice had access to the same information as those who recognized that there was not a sufficient threat to merit military action by the United States. They chose to dismiss that information, and instead to peddle as genuine a fabricated threat.
When we look at what they said, however, it is clear that some pushed the lies more aggressively than others.
To be sure, Bush said outrageous things. For instance, in February 2002, he told the admittedly gullible folks at the American Enterprise Institute, "In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world -- and we will not allow it."
Unless he was referring to someone other than Saddam Hussein, Bush was wrong. Dramatically wrong. But not, arguably, as wrong as Vice President Dick Cheney when he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on August 26, 2002, that, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
Ouch, that's really wrong. Why, that's almost as wrong as when Cheney told an Air National Guard event in Denver on December 1, 2002, that, "Iraq could decide on any given day to provide biological or chemical weapons to a terrorist group or a terrorist individual." Or when Cheney appeared on NBC-TV's Meet the Press on March 16, 2003, to say of Saddam Hussein: "we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."
Long after it had become clear that the invading forces of the United States were not going to turn up any of the promised weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Cheney continued to promote the lie. Even after the arms inspector David Kay's report raised damning doubts about Iraq's ability to produce WMDs, Cheney told a crowd in Denver on November 7, 2003, that Saddam Hussein had "cultivated weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them."
Cheney's refusal to back off the WMD claim actually became an embarrassment to the Bush reelection campaign when the president was forced to say publicly in 2004 that he could not confirm the statements his own vice president was making.
So if even Bush backed away from Cheney, where was the vice president getting these crazy ideas?
Gee, could have been the national security advisor? Condoleezza Rice, the Dr. Strangelove of the Bush administration, spent much of 2002 promoting the fantasy that Iraq posed a nuclear threat. Famously, she declared on CNN on September 8, 2002, that, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
Don't expect Bush or Cheney appear before a Congressional committee to explain themselves anytime soon. But, conveniently, Rice will have to do so this week, as part of the process of reviewing her nomination to serve as Secretary of State. It seems as if this might be an appropriate point for Congress to begin holding the administration accountable.
John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."
Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here .
Halliburton expands economic ties with U.S.-declared 'enemy' Iran
10 Jan. 2005
WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (HalliburtonWatch.org) -- Halliburton admitted today that it expanded economic relations with Iran despite the Bush administration's insistence that the nation finances terrorism.
A Halliburton subsidiary incorporated in the Cayman Islands, along with a Chinese firm known as Oriental Kish, will help Iran's Pars Oil and Gas Co. develop an estimated 280 trillion to 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in Iran's ocean waters. "Halliburton and Oriental Kish are the final winners of the tender for drilling South Pars phases 9 and 10," Pars Oil and Gas Co. managing director Akbar Torkan told Iranian state television, Agence France Press reported from Tehran, Iran.
Halliburton's Cayman Islands subsidiary, known as Halliburton Products & Services, won the contract from Iran. The subsidiary has been working in the country on many phases of the Pars project for a number of years.
According to today's Houston Chronicle, Halliburton Products & Services has its headquarters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and historically has been selling $30 million to $40 million worth of oil-field services and equipment to customers in Iran annually.
Although U.S. companies are forbidden by law from doing business with Iran, a loophole exempts foreign subsidiaries from such business ties. The loophole allows Halliburton's Cayman Islands subsidiary to legally profit in Iran.
Nevertheless, Halliburton is under criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for illegally profiting in the country. Investigators believe the Cayman Islands subsidiary is actually controlled by officials in Houston and therefore not a true "foreign" subsidiary.
Corporate America generally opposes the prohibition against doing business in Iran since many European companies are profiting there. In May 2004, the U.S. Senate voted against legislation that would have stopped companies like Halliburton from using foreign subsidiaries to invest in Iran. The legislation was defeated by a 50-49 vote, mostly along party lines. "Halliburton's business is clearly permissible under applicable U.S. laws and regulations," Halliburton spokesperson, Wendy Hall, told the Houston Chronicle. "These entities and activities are staffed and managed by non-U.S. personnel," she said.
Vice President Dick Cheney, while CEO of Halliburton, expressed his unhappiness with America's laws against doing business in Iran. "I think we'd be better off if we, in fact, backed off those sanctions [on Iran], didn't try to impose secondary boycotts on companies ... trying to do business there," Cheney told an Australian television interviewer in April 1998.
Nevertheless, President George W. Bush calls Iran a member of the "axis of evil" since the nation is widely believed to finance terrorism around the world.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said the reports of Halliburton's business ties with Oriental Kish sound like a front company for Halliburton."Should this be true, it only justifies more scrutiny of our questionable business activity in this terrorist nation," Lautenberg wrote in a letter to Halliburton Chief Executive Officer Dave Lesar.Halliburton said it has no ownership interest in Oriental Kish.
Halliburton Pays Dearly but Finally Escapes Cheney's Asbestos Mess
By Allan SloanTuesday, January 11, 2005; Page E03
It's time for yet another Halliburton story -- but not the one you may be expecting. This isn't about the endlessly scrutinized Iraq contracting business of the big energy services company that Dick Cheney ran before he became vice president. And it's not about Halliburton's profit-boosting accounting change during Cheney's regime, or the scandals and problems currently affecting some of the firm's far-flung projects.
Instead, let's talk about Halliburton's well-executed $5 billion escape from its asbestos problems, most of which Cheney created when he orchestrated Halliburton's purchase of Dresser Industries in 1998. Few people connect this problem with Cheney, but they should, given that he was in charge at the time and got a raise as a result of buying Dresser.
Dresser's asbestos problem was only a potential one when Halliburton bought it, but rapidly metastasized into a threat to Halliburton's existence. By then, though, Cheney had gone off to Washington.
Had he still been Halliburton's chief executive, Wall Street might have forced him to take responsibility for the asbestos problem he imported to his company. But because he wasn't around -- and because his successor, Dave Lesar, was a stand-up guy -- Cheney has largely escaped scrutiny for this fiasco.
Now that Halliburton has managed to extract itself from its asbestos liability by paying a ton of cash and stock to trusts that will compensate victims and their lawyers, we can get a handle on how much Dresser's piece of the problem cost Halliburton. It turns out to be almost as much as Halliburton paid for the company.
While Halliburton's all-stock takeover of Dresser was valued at $7.7 billion when it was announced in February 1998, it was worth only $5.3 billion when it was completed seven months later. The bankruptcy settlement is costing Halliburton just about that much: around $2.8 billion in cash, Halliburton stock with a market value of $2.3 billion the day before Dresser's bankruptcy was resolved and miscellaneous odds and ends and potential payments.
The bankruptcy resolution, which became final on Jan. 3, covered both the Dresser problems and the smaller asbestos problems that Halliburton already had.
Halliburton hasn't said how much each set of liabilities cost, but Dresser is clearly way more than half. How do I know that? Because a Halliburton bankruptcy filing discloses that "historical Dresser" accounts for about two-thirds of the claims, and the filing also shows that claims from Dresser's business average from 2.5 to five times as much as equivalent claims from Halliburton's businesses.
Do the math, and at least five-sixths -- 83 percent -- of the claims costs are from Dresser. So let's attribute 85 percent of the costs to Dresser. That seems reasonable, if not conservative.
That works out to around $4.3 billion. That doesn't include what Dresser-related claims cost Halliburton between the purchase in 1998 and the Chapter 11 filing in 2002 by Dresser and other Halliburton subsidiaries. It doesn't include offsets for possible insurance payments, either, but I don't know how to value those.
I give Halliburton's current management huge credit for pulling off this tricky maneuver. And I give them big credit for dealing with the problem rather than awaiting a miracle rescue from Congress. Almost from the day it took office, the Bush administration has pushed hard to get Congress to limit asbestos liability. That includes President Bush's visit to Illinois last week to push his "reform" proposals.
Halliburton, whose fortunes are tied to the oil industry, has profited from the surge in oil prices. Even though its stock has quadrupled from its asbestos-woe low, it's still below what it was when Cheney left in the summer of 2000. Imagine what Halliburton shares would fetch today had the Dresser problems never happened. Much more than it currently sells for, I'm sure.
A Cheney spokesman said the vice president wouldn't comment about Halliburton, and referred all queries to the company.
Halliburton, which is understandably eager to put the whole asbestos mess behind it, wouldn't discuss Cheney's role or how much Dresser's asbestos problems have cost it. "We are certainly glad to close the asbestos chapter in Halliburton's history," said company spokesman Wendy Hall. "We are focused on moving forward in 2005, not backwards."
Even if it had been a non-celebrity CEO who messed up big-time with Dresser, this would still be a tale worth telling. That's because this deal shows that when you analyze a transaction, you have to look long-term as well as short-term.
As Cheney's Dresser misadventure shows, today's triumphant deal champ can be tomorrow's chump.
Dick Cheney is a man of principles. Disastrous principles.
By Joshua Micah Marshall
Early last December, Vice President Dick Cheney was dispatched to inform his old friend, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, that he was being let go. O'Neill, the president's advisers felt, had made too many missteps, given too much bad advice, uttered too many gaffes. He had become a liability to the administration. As Cheney himself once said in a different context, it was time for him to go. It couldn't have been a fun conversation--especially since it was Cheney who had picked O'Neill two years earlier.
O'Neill stormed off to Pittsburgh and within days the White House had announced his replacement. Yet the new treasury secretary nominee turned out not to be much of an improvement. Like O'Neill, John Snow was a veteran of the Ford administration who ran an old-economy titan (the railroad firm CSX) and seemed to lack the global market financial experience demanded of modern day treasury secretaries. Like other Bush appointees, Snow came from a business that traded heavily on the Washington influence game. And--again typical of the president and his men--the size of Snow's compensation package seemed inversely proportional to the returns he made for his shareholders. Of the three new members of the president's economic team nominated in early December, Snow was the only one to get almost universally poor reviews. He was also Dick Cheney's pick.
Week after week, one need only read the front page of The Washington Post to find similar Cheney lapses. Indeed, just a few days after Cheney hand-picked Snow, Newsweek magazine featured a glowing profile of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that began with an anecdote detailing her deft efforts to clean up another Cheney mess. In a July speech, the vice president had argued that weapons inspections in Iraq were useless and shouldn't even be tried. That speech nearly upended the administration's careful late-summer repositioning in favor of a new United Nations-backed inspections program. As the article explained, Rice--the relatively junior member of the president's inner circle of foreign policy advisers--had to take the vice president aside and walk him through how to repair the damage he'd done, with a new statement implicitly retracting his earlier gaffe. Such mistakes--on energy policy, homeland security, corporate reform--abound. Indeed, on almost any issue, it's usually a sure bet that if Cheney has lined up on one side, the opposite course will turn out to be the wiser.
Yet somehow, in Washington's collective mind, Cheney's numerous stumbles and missteps have not displaced the reputation he enjoys as a sober, reliable, skilled inside player. Even the Newsweek article, so eager to convey Rice's competence, seemed never to explicitly note the obvious subtext: Cheney's evident incompetence. If there were any justice or logic in this administration as to who should or shouldn't keep their job, there'd be another high-ranking official in line for one of those awkward conversations: Dick Cheney.
Consider the evidence. Last year, Cheney's White House energy task force produced an all-drilling-and-no-conservation plan that failed not just on policy grounds but as a political matter as well, saddling the administration with a year-long public relations headache after Cheney insisted on running his outfit with a near-Nixonian level of secrecy. (To this day, Cheney and his aides have refused to provide the names of most of those industry executives who "advised" him on the task force's recommendations, though a federal judge has now rejected the Government Accounting Office's effort to make them do so.) During the spring of 2001, rather than back congressional efforts to implement the findings of the Hart-Rudman commission that called for forceful action to combat terrorism (including the creation of a department of homeland security), Cheney opted to spearhead his own group--not because he disagreed with the commission's proposals, but to put the administration's stamp on whatever anti-terrorism reforms did get adopted. Cheney's security task force did nothing for four months, lurching into action only after terrorists actually attacked America on September 11. In the months that followed, Cheney was one of several key advisers arguing that the White House should keep Tom Ridge's Office of Homeland Security within the White House rather than upgrade it to a cabinet department and thus open it to congressional scrutiny. Cheney's obstinacy ensured that the administration's efforts were stuck in neutral for nearly eight months.
Cheney has not fared much better in the diplomatic arena. Last March, he went on a tour of Middle Eastern capitals to line up America's allies for our war against Saddam. He returned a week later with the Arabs lining up behind Saddam and against us--a major embarrassment for the White House. Much of the success of the administration's Iraq policy came only after it abandoned the strategy of unilateral action against Saddam, the strategy Cheney championed, to one of supporting a U.N. inspections regime--a necessary and successful course correction that Cheney resisted and almost halted. Indeed, broadly speaking, the evolution of White House Iraq policy might be described fairly as a slow process of overruling Dick Cheney.
And there's more. Remember those corporate scandals that came close to crippling Bush? Last summer, White House advisers were pondering whether to back the sort of tough corporate accountability measures that Democrats and the press were demanding. The president was scheduled to deliver a big speech on Wall Street in early July. His advisers were divided. Some argued that strong reforms were at the least a political necessity. But Cheney, along with National Economic Council chair Larry Lindsey, opposed the idea, arguing that new restrictions on corporations would further weaken the economy. The president took Cheney's advice, and gave a speech on Wall Street that recommended only mild and unspecific reforms. "He mentioned a lot of things in the speech that the Securities and Exchange Commission already does," one non-plussed Wall Streeter told The Washington Post with a yawn. The day after the president's speech, the Dow shed 282 points, the biggest single-day drop since the post-terrorist tailspin of Sept. 20. Within days the president was backpedaling and supporting what Cheney had said he shouldn't. Lindsey got the boot later in the year. Cheney is still in the West Wing shaping economic policy.
Much of the reason Cheney so often calls things wrong--even on those business issues that would seem his area of expertise--can be traced to the culture in which he's spent most of his professional life. Despite his CEO credentials and government experience, Dick Cheney has been surprisingly insulated from the political and financial marketplace. He began his career as a Nixon-administration functionary under Donald Rumsfeld. Later, he joined the Ford administration as a deputy assistant to the president before becoming White House chief of staff. From there he moved into elective office, but to the ultra-safe House seat from Wyoming, a post only slightly less shielded from the tides of American politics than were his posts in the Ford administration.
Cheney resigned his House seat in 1989 and moved back to the executive branch where he belonged, serving--with distinction--as defense secretary under the first President Bush. From there he moved to the corporate suite at Halliburton, where he eventually earned tens of millions of dollars. But Halliburton is a peculiar kind of enterprise. It doesn't market shoes or design software. Rather, its business--providing various products and services to the oil industry and the military--is based on securing lucrative contracts and concessions from a handful of big customers, primarily energy companies and the U.S. and foreign governments. Success in that business comes not by understanding and meeting the demands of millions of finicky customers, but by cementing relationships with and winning the support of a handful of powerful decision-makers.
Indeed, that's why Halliburton came to Cheney in the first place. His ties with the Bush family, his post-Gulf War friendships with Arab emirs, and the Rolodex he'd compiled from a quarter century in Washington made him a perfect rainmaker. And though he did rather poorly on the management side--he shepherded Halliburton's disastrous merger with Dresser Industries, which saddled the new company with massive asbestos liabilities--he handled the schmoozing part of the enterprise well.
Cheney is conservative, of course, but beneath his conservatism is something more important: a mindset rooted in his peculiar corporate-Washington-insider class. It is a world of men--very few women--who have been at the apex of both business and government, and who feel that they are unique in their mastery of both. Consequently, they have an extreme assurance in their own judgment about what is best for the country and how to achieve it. They see themselves as men of action. But their style of action is shaped by the government bureaucracies and cartel-like industries in which they have operated. In these institutions, a handful of top officials make the plans, and then the plans are carried out. Ba-da-bing. Ba-da-boom.
In such a framework all information is controlled tightly by the principals, who have "maximum flexibility" to carry out the plan. Because success is measured by securing the deal rather than by, say, pleasing millions of customers, there's no need to open up the decision-making process. To do so, in fact, is seen as governing by committee. If there are other groups (shareholders, voters, congressional committees) who agree with you, fine, you use them. But anyone who doesn't agree gets ignored or, if need be, crushed. Muscle it through and when the results are in, people will realize we were right is the underlying attitude.
The danger of this mindset is obvious. No single group of people has a monopoly on the truth. Whether it be plumbers, homemakers, or lobbyist bureaucrats, any group will inevitably see the world through its own narrow, mostly self-interested, prism. But few groups are so accustomed to self-dealing and self-aggrandizement as the cartel-capitalist class. And few are more used to equating their own self-interest with the interests of the country as a whole.
Not since the Whiz Kids of the Kennedy-Johnson years has Washington been led by men of such insular self-assurance. Their hierarchical, old economy style of management couldn't be more different from the loose, non-hierarchical style of, say, high-tech corpor-ations or the Clinton White House, with all their open debate, concern with the interests of "stake-holders," manic focus on pleasing customers (or voters), and constant reassessment of plans and principles. The latter style, while often sloppy and seemingly juvenile, tends to produce pretty smart policy. The former style, while appearing so adult and competent, often produces stupid policy.
Over time, people in the White House have certainly had to deal with enough examples of Cheney's poor judgment. It's fallen to the White House's political arm, led by the poll-conscious Karl Rove, to rein in or overrule him. Yet the vice president has apparently lost little stature within the White House. That may be because his get-it-done-and-ignore-the-nay-sayers attitude is one that others in the administration share. Cheney stands up for the cartel-capitalist principles they admire. He is right, in a sense, even when he's wrong.
Why, though, has the press failed to grasp Cheney's ineptitude? The answer seems to lie in the power of political assumptions. The historian of science Thomas Kuhn famously observed that scientific theories or "paradigms"--Newtonian physics, for instance--could accommodate vast amounts of contradictory evidence while still maintaining a grip on intelligent people's minds. Such theories tend to give way not incrementally, as new and conflicting data slowly accumulates, but in sudden crashes, when a better theory comes along that explains the anomalous facts. Washington conventional wisdom works in a similar way. It doesn't take long for a given politician to get pegged with his or her own brief story line. And those facts and stories that get attention tend to be those that conform to the established narrative. In much the same way, Cheney's reputation as the steady hand at the helm of the Bush administration--the CEO to Bush's chairman--is so potent as to blind Beltway commentators to the examples of vice presidential incompetence accumulating, literally, under their noses. Though far less egregious, Cheney's bad judgment is akin to Trent Lott's ugly history on race: Everyone sort of knew it was there, only no one ever really took notice until it was pointed out in a way that was difficult to ignore. Cheney is lucky; as vice president, he can't be fired. But his terrible judgment will, at some point, become impossible even for the Beltway crowd not to see.
Joshua Micah Marshall, author of the Talking Points Memo, is a Washington Monthly contributing writer.