With the departure of his longtime friend Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton’s resignation as U.N. ambassador, and Democrats taking over Congress, times seem grim for the Dick Cheney wing of the Bush administration. The vice president’s vision of a “unitary executive”—otherwise known as the imperial presidency—will almost certainly be challenged by congressional oversight committees, and perhaps by the courts. But Cheney—former aide to Rumsfeld in the Nixon administration, chief of staff in the Ford administration, defense secretary in the first Bush administration, and House intelligence committee chairman during the Iran-Contra scandal (in which he backed the Reagan White House)—is no novice in the art of bureaucratic warfare. He has long surrounded himself with impeccably loyal aides who both share his worldview of a powerful presidency unchecked by the legislative branch, and who have also installed like-minded allies throughout the government. Such allies provide crucial intelligence of inter-departmental debates, enabling Cheney to make end-runs around the bureaucracy and head off opposing views at key meetings. Call it Cheney’s state within the state. Herewith a brief guide to the Cheney network, dwindling and beleaguered, but by no means to be underestimated:
First stop, Cheney’s office itself and its extraordinarily large staff, presided over by Cheney’s Cheney, chief counsel turned chief of staff David Addington, who replaced “Scooter” Libby following Libby’s indictment in the Valerie Plame investigation. “A friend of mine counted noses [at the office] and came away with 88. That doesn’t count others seconded from other agencies,” said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, previously chief of staff to former secretary of state Colin Powell. Wilkerson’s source also noted a National Security Council staff of 212, instead of the usual 110 to 150. The build-up signals Cheney’s desire to consolidate power in the White House—where, not incidentally, it’s harder for Congress and the press to pry. (When I inquired about a staffer’s rumored move to the Veep’s office, a Cheney press officer answered sweetly, “If we have a personnel announcement we’d like you to know about, we’ll tell you.”)
Moving to Foggy Bottom, where Cheney’s progeny has until recently reigned. State Department colleagues aren’t sure what’s become of his daughter, Liz Cheney, promoted in 2005 to principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs and head of the Middle East Partnership Initiative—effectively the czar of promoting democracy in the region. She went on maternity leave last summer and hasn’t returned. Department sources say Cheney fille will not resume leadership of the Partnership Initiative. (That post remains unfilled, as the administration’s democracy promotion goals stumble on multiple fronts.) Liz Cheney is said to be updating the necessary paperwork to become a senior adviser to Condoleezza Rice, but few have seen her in the building.
Her former top aides, deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs J. Scott Carpenter and senior advisor David Denehy, both democracy specialists formerly with the International Republican Institute, who did Iraq tours as CPA advisors, are allegedly feeling orphaned during her absence. Denehy is reportedly mulling a move to the vice president’s office to work on Iran. The concern? Since spring 2005, Deneny has overseen the mysterious Iran-Syria Operations Group, conceiving ways to poke at, or perhaps dislodge, the Tehran regime. If Denehy is seconded to Cheney’s office, he’ll take the interagency group farther underground with him. (He’d also join a large group on the axis-of-evil portfolio, including Cheney’s principal deputy assistant for national-security affairs, David Wurmser, national-security advisor John Hannah, both of the neoconservative-hawk persuasion, as is Samantha Ravitch, Cheney’s deputy assistant national-security advisor with responsibility for Iran and North Korea counter-proliferation issues. What the other 84 people working for Cheney do is anyone’s guess.)
Across the river at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld’s exit hits Cheney loyalists hard, as does the departure of Rumsfeld’s right-hand man, Stephen Cambone, formerly the Pentagon’s intelligence czar, torture-enabler and overseer of a vast expansion of domestic spying. But incoming defense secretary Robert Gates may also ponder the pedigree of undersecretary of defense for policy Eric Edelman, a career foreign-service officer and former national-security advisor to the vice president (and said to be more moderate than his predecessor Douglas Feith).
Deeper in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Gates should also watch a secretive Iranian directorate de facto supervised by Abram Shulsky, a Straussian neoconservative intelligence expert who oversaw the controversial Office of Special Plans (OSP), which produced discredited intelligence analysis tying Saddam to al Qaeda and hyping the WMD threat. Two other OSP veterans toil in the six-person directorate: John Trigilio, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, and Ladan Archin, a former graduate student of Paul Wolfowitz. Archin, who went to the vice president’s office briefly last year, returned to the DoD a few months later, continuing to advocate for a harder line against Iran. Whether she and other denizens of the Iran directorate and larger policy shop will remain under Gates—who has called for negotiations with Iran—remains to be seen.
Also to watch at DoD, general counsel William J. Haynes II, author of a Nov. 2002 memo outlining harsh interrogation techniques echoing Cheney’s views. Consequently, Haynes’ nomination for a federal judgeship is probably dead. According to Jane Mayer’s New Yorker series, Cheney’s pro-torture network included Addington; Haynes, Rumsfeld and Cambone at Defense; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Only Cheney, Addington and Haynes remain. The OLC’s acting head, Steven Bradbury, “is not a true Addington believer in the way John [Yoo] was,” said a former Justice Department official. “But [he] recognizes Cheney/Addington as his client.” Nevertheless, with former White House counsel, now attorney general, Alberto Gonzales generally inclined to see things the White House’s way, it’s hard to envision his department vigorously resisting the controversial philosophies of Cheney and his network.
Wilkerson concludes: “Their modus operandi has been to make policy and force the bureaucracy, which often has not had an opportunity to participate in the making of the policy, to execute it.” He adds: “That is a technique that could still work, but it may be diminished in effectiveness. The bureaucracy now understands how beleaguered and isolated the Vice President has become.” And may just bite back.
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Laura Rozen reports on national security as a senior correspondent for The American Prospect.