Woodward Book Underestimates Cheney’s Influence

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While the book exposed a lot of the systemic rot in the Bush administration’s Iraq-related decision-making process, there were several things wrong with Bob Woodward’s State of Denial.
To discuss one of these, Woodward was duped about the diminishing power of Vice President Cheney and his team. Woodward clearly spent a lot of time with Defense, State, and intelligence officials, but he failed to see the forest for the trees in his analysis of who was driving and influencing America’s national security portfolio.
Clearly, the President is important and calls a lot of the shots, but the key question that Woodward never gets to is who really controls the national security bureaucracy. As former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson so clearly put it on October 16, 2005, a “Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal” hijacked the national security decision-making process. Woodward puts most of the responsibility for failure on Rumsfeld with a weak President and national security team too frequently acquiescing to Rumsfeld’s outrageous behavior.
But what Woodward completely misses is that Dick Cheney is the only figure in this presidential administration who has followers — or what one might otherwise call disciples and acolytes.
The President has no followers — or very few. They just don’t know what his “world view” is. Some are loyal to the persona of George W. Bush, but that is different than knowing what the President would think about some policy or situation. Rice has few followers in the administration. Hadley none. Rumsfeld was despised, and his brilliant “snowflake” strategy helped keep everyone on edge and also helped him evade accountability at every turn. Such types don’t generate “followings.”
George Tenet, John Negroponte, and others in the intelligence community never cultivated a crowd dedicated to institutionalizing and pursuing their policy prerogatives.
The closest anyone came to challenging Cheney’s many followers was Colin Powell who with Richard Armitage and Lawrence Wilkerson at his side tried to breed “sensibility” and “caution” among those who made national security policy — but at the end of the day, Powell and his team tended to matter when they were in the room and didn’t matter when they weren’t. Any followers he had dissipated with his departure from the Bush administration.
But Cheney’s followers populate the entire national security bureaucracy. He has allies, spies, and fellow travelers in State, Defense, the CIA, the NSA, the DNI, the DIA, all of the uniformed services, and throughout the government. They know his world view and don’t need instructions on what to do or what he might think. They know it. They know he wants a war with Iran — and his team of followers are doing what they can to move us in that direction.
There are many inside the Bush administration who do not want what Cheney and his followers prescribe — but they are poorly organized and don’t have the bureaucratic muscle to compete with Cheney’s machine.
Some friends in the blogosphere like Brad DeLong contest my view and argue “that they all work for the czar” — meaning that George Bush is much more in control of matters than my model would suggest. That may be the case — but still, within the bureaucracy it is the paradigm that Cheney has established which has tied together a network of like-minded adherents. Bush may ultimately be driving that franchise, but Cheney’s frame is still the dominant structure that followers connect to.
Woodward’s book — which is excellent on a vast number of fronts — totally misses the Cheney machine and underestimates what Cheney has done and continues to do to wrestle the course of national security policy the way he wants it to go.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

30 comments on “Woodward Book Underestimates Cheney’s Influence

  1. jello says:

    thanks for outing woodward’s curious oversight.
    cheney loyalists even in the academic world. they blocked juan cole from being accepted at harvard.

    Reply

  2. Peter Principle says:

    “But Cheney’s followers populate the entire national security bureaucracy.”
    Cheney doesn’t have followers — he follows the neocons. What Steve is really talking about here is the network the neocons have built over the past three decades of burrowing into the Republican Party and the U.S. government. Cheney didn’t build it, he’s just using it. Or, to be more precise, it’s using him.

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  3. Chris Brown says:

    Cheney, as “chief of transition” in 2000 placed his neofascist allies in agencies involved in war and foreign policy. He placed Hadley to keep an eye and report on Rice as NSA, Bolton and others at State for the same purpose, and populated that three top spots at the Dept. of War with neofascists.
    Cheney has been Commander in Fact since the inception of Incurious George’s presidency.
    Oh yeah, Woodward is demonstrably a whore who doesn’t want to lose his “access” to the D.C. cocktail circuit.

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  4. Sebastian Dangerfield says:

    Yes, I like DeLong, but he fails to remember that Czars occasionally have their Rasputins — who command the cossacks by proxy or otherwise.

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  5. Mr.Murder says:

    It goes past this generation.
    Michael Sheldon Cheney was the first ever director of PR for ARAMCO. The Arabian/American Oil Company that was a merger of Rockefeller interest of SOCAL(Nixon’s backers) and Standard Petroleum of New Jersey(Exxon) with various Saudi leadership interest, for the purpose of attracting venture capital for the infrastructure that helped OPEC fuel the world.
    MSC was making certain that Roosevelt covered lend lease provisions for the trans Arabian railroad. He set up small city-state hamlets in Arabia to dot he work.
    The Trans Arabian pipeline ends in Lebanon, where Rummy once ran Reagan’s boondoggle war with Osama’s finance interest at heart. The Israeli-Lebanon war was between the baker/Saud factions and the Rumsfeld/Iraq interests since the Trans Iraqi pipeline is slated to arrive the same staging points of southern Lebanon.
    It’s my contention that the Cheney name is no accident, Michael Sheldon Cheney is part and parcel of the entire cabal roots.
    Woodward is a rat, was an ONI damage control asset during Watergate. He was put close to Bernstein for the purpose of damage control, word was already getting out.
    Most likely Hoover got so close to them doing his spy work or letting Nixon go unabated with the Cubans that the former INTEL asset Woodward caught sympathy.
    He wants the book deal for the Cheney dynasty as well, no need to step on toes when they can tighten your necktie.
    Cheney ran this from day one, you note his appointment of self, the entire ’04 campaign was operation CREEP all over down to laundering Lieberman’s campaign(yes the money missing there went somewhere).
    Ford’s birthday party list was requested for subpoena as well. They flaunt being above the law.
    As for Condi, she’s on the way out, Negroponte gives leverage to keep her in, why remove her for greater evil? He was her boss anyways going back to Iran/Contra and the Paris talks for the October Surprise. No need to hide who calls the shots anymore.
    Negroponte stays a while then elevates Cheney’s daughter at State if they can pull another coup.
    Condi is due Commission appearances tomorrow and may crack. John is trying to pre-empt that occurrence.
    Blumenthal pulled the war events together wrt psyops in Iran, naval commander is in Iraq, this is underway in real terms.
    One fly in the ointment is Chavez, whom Negroponte was fixed upon with his former Central/South American interests. Hugo seized telecoms there, and most likely we used them as the initial spying/end run around our Constitution as the linkup to calls in this Hemisphere.
    Now that he has nationalized he can leak out what we retained as plausible denied modus operandi. his contacts being cultivated off that pork barrel are now evaporated, those items can burn the whole house of cards down.
    Bush needs a new war, it would be easier to blame losing Iraq on war with Iran rather than the fools that can’t keep Baghdad occupied. It’s the new Berlin-east/west meet Sunni/Shi’ite. Bush has a gun with one bullet, Barney Fife is about to see the British contingent withdraw.
    He’ll still claim all is well in Mayberry, and really it’s just a town drunk voluntarily bedding in the cell of his own policy.

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  6. AlanDownunder says:

    Good call, Steve. Cheney is reportedly behind Miers’ replacement.
    “A Republican close to the White House said Mr. Fielding had maintained close ties to Mr. Cheney, whom he has known for decades, and had occasionally been an informal adviser to him.”
    — Jim Rutenberg, New York Times, 1/9/07
    Cheney, not Bush, will be instructing Fielding in relation to congressional subpoenas.

    Reply

  7. ET says:

    Oh, come on, guys. Ole Woody dropped a card or two. Remember Russert’s interview with him last October? Video clip at:
    http://hotair.com/archives/2006/10/09/video-woodward-claims-cheney-told-him-thats-bullshit-about-otr-interviews/
    LOL. So give him a break. Sometimes you gotta drive wounded. I do. 😀

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  8. ET says:

    I don’t know. I think ole Woody dropped a card or two. Remember Russert’s interview with him back in October? In case you missed it, a slice of the video appears at:
    http://hotair.com/archives/2006/10/09/video-woodward-claims-cheney-told-him-thats-bullshit-about-otr-interviews/
    LOL

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  9. Skeptic says:

    If to further bolster Steve’s point, the Cheney cabal is highly organized. They even manage to have “Ford Administration Policy Planning” and other reunions annually — that are all documented by a hired official photographer (unfortuately behind a password wall!). Same time every year:
    Nixon – Ford White House Reunion 11/7/2003 – Washington, DC
    Nixon White House Reunion 11/14/2002 – Washington, DC
    Nixon-Ford White House Policy Planning Staff Reunion 11/5/2004 – Washington, DC
    Nixon-Ford White House Policy Planning Staff Reunion 11/3/2005 – Washington, DC
    Nixon-Ford White House Policy Planning Staff Reunion 11/14/2006 – Washington, DC
    The Nixon Reunion 11/16/2001 – Washington, DC
    Search for “Reunion” at http://www.reflectionsorders.com and see what you get!

    Reply

  10. David Noziglia says:

    Steve:
    More excellent insight. Woodward is the ultimate example of the entire Washington media establishment. Sucking up to power means far more to these people than any actual reporting.
    To add to his crimes, we should also note the Cheney innovation — and it was his — of the “unitary presidency” and the signing statements to allow the executive to legislate independently.
    For this and his many other violations of law, his oath of office, and the constitution …
    Maybe someone should suggest impeaching Cheney instead of / before Bush.
    Oh, right, someone has. Repeatedly.
    Oh well. We’re screwed. The Democrats are either spineless, stupid, or have convinced themselves that they stand a better chance of winning in ’08 if Bush/Cheney are still around destroying the country. The problem, as so many on this post have pointed out, is that those two can do so much more damage than they already have in those two years.
    It seems to be far worse to screw an intern — or a page or two — than to screw the American people, or screw with the Constitution.

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  11. bryanwilkins says:

    Look, Cheney has populated the entire foreign policy apparatus in the USG with his acolytes. When he got pushback from CIA he personally ventured over to Langley to put it down. Frontline’s transcript from last week highlights ALL the CIA dissent at that time and Cheney’s willful effort to cut it off with the the aid of Scooter Libby( Plame etc). By the way, I doubt Libby’s case will come to trial this month. There will be some face saving procedural to deep six it, in fact Fitzgerald may even be offered up as sacrifice.(See this AM Wall Street Journal edit.) Meanwhile Veldron is on to something. Rice is clearly over her head and needs help. Negroponte is an inside State burueaucrat, has Bush’s ear, and will know how to fight the Cheney cabal (hopefully). By the way do not forget Elliot Abrams,in the NSC, has his fingerprints all over strategy, especially when it comes to US-Israel coordination. The plot thickens.

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  12. Marky says:

    Both Bush and Cheney are cognitively impaired.
    After his 1988 bypass, Cheney’s temper reportedly became completely out of control. Bush has severe deficits in memory and comprehension, and his lack of empathy borders on psychopathy.
    Cheney is probably the more rational actor of the two, in terms of his ability to respond to events, but his fundamental beliefs are more bizarre.

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  13. dino says:

    Carol,
    FYI: Look for the well spring for AEI in the personalities and pocketbooks of Bruce Kovner and Lee Raymon. Search articles at Mondoweiss.
    Dino

    Reply

  14. MDS says:

    I don’t necessarily agree that Cheney in any way recognizes “his failure.” DENIAL is the cornerstone of his (and his puppet’s) governing philosophy, and I really think that their denial is not some facile knee-jerk reaction to a reporter’s question, but a deep rooted, irrational, quasi-religious belief system. They are dangerous, I agree, because they have such power, and because they are essentially sealed off from any oppositional point of view, from any rational problem solving. Cheney’s years of government service taught him how to create the “perfect storm” of power, and that is what we have two more years of.
    Laura Rozen has a new article about this:
    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2007/0701.rozen.html
    My bumper sticker says it all:
    Dick Cheney before he dicks the whole dang country
    I should have said the whole dang world.

    Reply

  15. MP says:

    I agree with Den here: The absence of Cheney in this account can’t just be a mistake or an oversight in this kind of narrative. Maybe none of the Cheney cabal would talk to him. But it is very odd.

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  16. MP says:

    My feeling about Cheney–and to a certain extent Bush–is that, right now, they are extremely dangerous. I know that sounds funny given how much damage they’ve already done, but they are even more dangerous now.
    Here’s why: 1) They’ve manifestly failed in the most public and dramatic of ways and even their old allies say so publicly; 2) they have two years to endure their public humiliation; and 3) they will be tempted to do something even more dramatic, even more dangerous simply to save, not merely their own personal reputations, but the reputation of their failed policies.
    So, instead of simply hanging on and kicking the failure down the road to the next administration, they will be tempted to take desperate measures to salvage their “vision.” Cheney is like a cornered animal right now.

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  17. Den Valdron says:

    I’ve heard the rumour floated that Negroponte’s move to state is to free him up for Rice’s job, for when Rice moves into the Vice Presidency.
    The problem with this rumour is that I don’t see Cheney ever voluntarily leaving the Vice-Presidency short of death/coma or impeachment/imprisonment.

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  18. Frank Wilhoit says:

    It’s not the Czar (or the Vice Czar), it’s the Party. The entity that “Cheney’s disciples” are reading the mind of is not an individual; it is the Party propaganda machine and, behind it, the constituency that it echoes back to itself. That constituency has not shrunk nor have its views mellowed. Distinguish correctly between the dog and the tail.

    Reply

  19. Ben Rosengart says:

    Some people are now floating questions as to whether Cheney’s time in the administration is up.
    Rumors of Cheney’s isolation and ouster will be credible if and when we begin to see his secrets exposed with no consequences for the exposers.
    That has not happened, and I don’t expect it to happen.
    I participated in a discussion today where it was suggested that Cheney’s bureaucratic skills are those of the courtier; therefore, one should not be surprised when he tends to create a situation that is markedly … royal.

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  20. Pissed Off American says:

    “I suggested before that the only way for Bush to save his name is to dennounce the neo’s, throw himself on the mercy of the public as a good man lied to and betrayed by evildoers in his own adm bosom…….”
    But Carroll, the poor delusional ass would have to claim God lied to him as well, and I don’t think that option is on the table.

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  21. Den Valdron says:

    Working for someone else, I would imagine.
    Where is there left to go with Bush?

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  22. Carroll says:

    I wonder if it has occured to anyone else as it did to me long ago…well actually last year..that the criticism of Bush is deliberately put out there to deflect from Cheney, the neo cabal and the Israeli lobby? Woodward being no exception to the types that would be recuited for that. They want to draw attention from everyone responsible for Iraq except Bush.
    The first attack on Bush I saw by the neos was a blistering press release on the web site of AIPAC for his “faltering” in the Iraq war, followed by increasing articles and demur’s by various usual pundits and neo intelluctual’s ..and it has grown louder until everyone thinks Bush did all this alone….without the neocons and the cabal of others within the WH and other agencies.
    I suggested before that the only way for Bush to save his name is to dennounce the neo’s, throw himself on the mercy of the public as a good man lied to and betrayed by evildoers in his own adm bosom and stage McCarthy type hearings for all the actors behind Iraq intell. Bush’s die hard base would accept this with open arms and the rest of us already know the mysteries of the neos. So it would a total crowd pleaser for everyone. I can’t believe Rove hasn’t thought of this. He must be slipping…or he is working for someone else now.

    Reply

  23. rapier says:

    All of which makes me chuckle when, as this weekend, the Cheney is leaving story popped up again. The only way Dick is going, pre 09, is on the horozontal. I can guess that Baker and the old permanent government hands would love for him to exit, which is yet another reason why he won’t.
    In essence Cheney made a coup the day he selected himself VP. He is more the President than Bush is on many many levels.
    Cheney represents the failed state. The ultimate ‘conservative’ dream. Which is actually the dream of the corporatist plutocracy. (I hate using such terms but can think of no other) While Steve lives in the world of policy and government the fact is that those are things of the past. States worldwide are failing and will continue to do so. In the first world the facades will remain but the day of the state are over. Small cabals can take over with ease as Cheney shows.

    Reply

  24. Den Valdron says:

    The way Steve describes it, its like writing an article about a living room and managing to miss the fact that there’s an elephant sitting in the middle of it.
    Dick Cheney has consistently avoided site. His schedule, his meetings, his activities are generally undisclosed. He makes very few public appearances, and only under the most controlled conditions. He doesn’t give interviews or press conferences. His policy meetings are not disclosed, as we saw with the Energy policy stuff. He goes well out of his way to avoid public or congressional scrutiny.
    In short, he’s a Stealth VP, deliberately flying under the radar, avoiding attention at all costs, while implementing his agenda.
    Combine this trait with Steve’s description of Cheney being at the center of a cult, that should be enough for cold chills to run down everyone’s back.
    But I’m wondering how Woodward managed to miss Cheney. Was it a matter of incompetence? Woodward never took an obvious look around to see where Cheney fit in the decision making process, what influence he had, how he was exercising that influence…
    Or was it simple acquiescence? Cheney said ‘don’t write about me’ and Woodward caved in?
    Either way, it doesn’t strike me as impressive. Woodward by now has a rather chequered history. Deathbed confessions from William Casey, post mortem revelations from Gerald Ford, a hagiographic book about Bush.
    And now this? A so called hard hitting book by a so called journalist who deliberately or incompetently ignores one of the major powers of the Bush administration?
    Can we all just stop calling Woodward a journalist. He’s become the Paris Hilton of news media, but with less credibility.

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  25. Carroll says:

    Posted by LJ at January 7, 2007 06:05 PM
    >>>>>>>>>>>
    The same way all other collections of nutcases find each other…like the KKK or any other terrorist group…they think they have all the answers or have THE plan…master of the universe wannabes.

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  26. LJ says:

    Steve, If this is he case, and I suspect you are correct, then how did and does Cheney do it? How do they all know what he is thinking? How did this network get started in the first place? How is it nurtured and tended?
    And as a reporter or historian, how does one right about “what does not exist?”

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  27. Carroll says:

    I have never believed Bush was controlling anything except when he might insist on one thing or another due to his own little ego or brain blips.
    And I did read State of Denial and have said before there is no “denial” except in clueless Bush.
    Cheney and his fellow travelers have always know exectly what they doing and what they were lying about and why.
    Woodward is giving them a handy excuse for their treason and criminal acts.

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  28. Marcia says:

    Who controls all the covert operations? Who flew to Saudi Arabia? etc, etc. The list is so long.
    Whose line is tapped? Whose letters opened?
    There are many ways to control situations.
    The worst is probably still ahead if there is no real action to reign in this political mafia.

    Reply

  29. Doug T says:

    Steve,
    Nice post. I haven’t read the book, but you tap into bureaucratic politics well and make a lot of sense. I like the distinction you make between loyalty the to Bush and that to Cheney among the political appointees and then there is Cheney’s ability to work the career appointees. This post, along with the post on the ripple, excuse me surge, make clear how screwed we are as a nation. And the rumors of Condi as VP? Lord help us.
    doug

    Reply

  30. Roberto Eder says:

    Hi Steve,
    I much appreciate your insightful analysis of the Cheney treatment in State of Denial by Bob Woodward. I read the book and then re-read it. But I wish I had seen your critique before I commenced Woodward’s story.
    Roberto in Utah

    Reply

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