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COMMENTARY: DICK CHENEY’S UNCERTAIN FUTURE by TOM PAUKEN Print E-mail
by Tom Pauken    Thu, Nov 17, 2005, 02:32 PM

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Dick Cheney
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald called a press conference on October 28 to announce a five-count indictment against I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff and principal national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney. Fitzgerald indicted Libby on one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury, and two counts of false statements. The charges were made against Libby for his alleged cover-up of his role in blowing the cover of "Valerie Wilson," a covert CIA operative. The other main target of Fitzgerald’s investigation, Bush political advisor Karl Rove, dodged the bullet of an indictment after he made a fourth (and final) trip to the grand jury and after Rove’s attorney engaged in lengthy, last-minute discussions with Fitzgerald’s office, according to sources close to the investigation. While Rove was not indicted, the special counsel made clear that his investigation was "not over" and that Rove was still a target. Shortly after his initial statement, Fitzgerald also announced that he intended to call Vice President Cheney at Libby’s trial, signaling that the Vice President himself might be a target of Fitzgerald’s investigation.

What happens next? It is difficult to speculate how far the investigation will go and who else may be indicted as Fitzgerald looks into the improper use of national-security information by administration officials. One immediate fallout of the indictment is that the alliance of mutual convenience between Karl Rove, the President’s chief political advisor, and Vice President Dick Cheney, the "king" of foreign policy in the Bush Administration, may well be over. One commentator asked, after Rove managed a last-minute escape from "political execution," "Did Rove rat on Scooter?" The speculation is that "Rove fingered Libby to save his own skin," as Joshua Frank put it.

Cheney was a latecomer to the Bush presidential team. Karl Rove, on the other hand, had dreamed of a Bush presidency even before George W. Bush’s first race for governor of Texas in 1994. More than any other individual, Karl Rove is responsible for George W. Bush’s election as governor of Texas and president of the United States. People tend to forget that Cheney was selected by the Bush team to identify and recommend a running mate in 2000 and that he, in effect, recommended himself.

During the selection process, there was a lot of speculation by Texas political insiders that Karl Rove was not pleased with the naming of Cheney as Bush’s running mate. Those same sources believed that Rove would have preferred someone like John Danforth, a former senator from Missouri who was a Bush family friend from way back. Instead, Cheney’s selection meant that a bureaucratic insider, who had been President Ford’s chief of staff and President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of defense, would now be vice president of the United States.

While Danforth likely would have assumed the secondary role that most vice presidents fill, the selection of Dick Cheney immediately changed the dynamics of the office. From day one, Vice President Cheney became the most powerful figure to hold that position in my lifetime—particularly in the critical arena of foreign policy.

For all practical purposes, Cheney and Rove divided power in an administration in which the President would be minimally engaged in setting the policy agenda. Vice President Cheney had the preeminent role in the foreign-policy decisionmaking process. The Vice President became the de facto president of foreign policy, with Lewis Libby as his right-hand man. The Vice President also exercised authority over certain domestic issues, such as energy policy. Meanwhile, Karl Rove ran the White House political operation and had a significant say over the President’s domestic agenda.

A lot of people do not realize that, while Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney wield enormous power in their own spheres of influence within the Bush administration, they are not long-time political allies. Nor do they necessarily share the same worldview.

That division of authority within the Bush White House worked until the war in Iraq began to go badly and the investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame heated up. Both Cheney and Rove had supported the war, albeit for very different reasons. But the Plame investigation was principally about the improper use of classified national-security information by administration officials. Those same officials may have had a motive to manipulate intelligence in order to justify the war in Iraq, a position they had promoted long before September 11, 2001. All of this was going on within Cheney’s sphere of influence, not Rove’s.

So, it would not be surprising if Rove is cooperating with Patrick Fitzgerald’s office in an investigation that may ultimately bring down the Vice President.

Cheney’s advice has not served the President well. A majority of Americans have turned against the war in Iraq. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired Marine Corps officer and chief of staff to former secretary of state Colin Powell, recently charged that the "Cheney cabal hijacked foreign policy" in the Bush administration and has made a mess of things in the Middle East.

Gen. Brent Scowcroft, national-security advisor to George H.W. Bush, made a scathing attack on Cheney in a recent New Yorker article over what Scowcroft calls the administration’s "radical intervention" in the Middle East, orchestrated by the Vice President. Neoconservative architects of the war such as Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith have already jumped ship. Now, Libby is gone. Will the Vice President be next?

Karl Rove has an excellent political antenna. He has to know that the neocon-directed foreign policy in the Middle East has turned into a political liability for his boss. Will Karl seek to persuade the President that Dick Cheney’s supremacy over the foreign-policy decisionmaking process should end?

The place to watch for a possible shift in direction for the Bush administration is at the National Security Council staff level. If Stephen Hadley were to leave (and an individual more independent of Cheney were to take his place as national-security advisor), this might indicate a shift in power away from Cheney. Meanwhile, the Vice President has to worry that the special counsel has him in his sights and that Karl Rove may not be helpful to him at this particular moment.

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