Thursday, November 24, 2005

Acolytes, careerists and true believers: Resurrecting the old cabal

Sidney Blumenthal's latest Salon piece on Cheney is very timely indeed. Although Blumenthal follows the career arc of Cheney in particular, there are a great deal of other co-conspirators and hangers-on who are tarred by association. What emerges from the piece is a portrait of Cheney as the 30 year amasser-of-executive-privilege. Bruce Shapiro alluded to this in his 2002 piece, "Restoring the imperial presidency." [the accompanying 1975 photo of Cheney & Rumsfeld is courtesy of this particular article]
Blumenthal chronicles Cheney's long-push toward "untrammeled" and "unaccountable" executive power and includes the following milestones:

Milestone #1: Cheney's experience in the Nixon White House, as Rumsfeld's assistant (Rummy was Nixon's counselor); Cheney ascended to deputy WH chief of staff after Ford became president. Cheney was tasked by Rumsfeld to deal with intelligence matters and attempted to retaliate against journalist Seymour Hersh for his 1975 NYT expose of CIA abuses--even threatening to have Hersh's apartment searched by the FBI! {Sidenote: Hersh told Amy Goodman that he didn't discover this 'plan' himself until the year 2000. Some Newsweek dudes discovered the Cheney/Rumsfeld memos (and their rebuke from the Dept. of Justice) during an examination of Gerald Ford's library-documents.}

[click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading]

Milestone #2: Strongarming Pres. Ford into abandoning the Kissinger policy of détente with the Soviets (Ford was a lot more moderate on cold-war issues than either Cheney or Rumsfeld). Cheney & Rumsfeld "undermined the negotiations for a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty being conducted by Kissinger." Later, at the next Republican Party Convention, Cheney midwived Reagan's more "muscular" foreign policy into the party platform--much to the dismay of Ford, Kissinger and Rockefeller (VP). Displeased with the "anti-détente" attitudes of the CIA, the director, William Colby was replaced with the eminently pliable George HW Bush.

Milestone #3: In tandem with the neutered CIA, Cheney & Rumsfeld authorized a shadow intelligence unit known as "Team B." (Think "Office of Special Plans"!). If you've seen the documentary "The Power of Nightmares," you'll recognize that name. As Doug Feith's "Office of Special Plans" was tasked with constructing a pro-Iraq-invasion intelligence estimate, Team B was tasked with constructing a pro-escalation/pro-StarWars intel estimate. This "intelligence" was bound to portray the Soviet Union as having amassed far more weapons than previously thought by the CIA--weapons that were so secretive as to be undetectable. {In the PoN documentary, you hear a 1976-Rumsfeld stating that the Soviets had been "very, very busy" in a manner similar to his pre-Iraq assertions about Saddam's "stockpiles" and "arsenals."} Paul Wolfowitz was tapped to coauthor Team B's report. It was "cleansed of contrary intelligence.":
It was fundamentally a political tool in the struggle for control of the Republican Party, intended to destroy détente and aimed particularly at Kissinger. Both Ford and Kissinger took pains to dismiss Team B and its effort. (Later, Team B's report was revealed to be wildly off the mark about the scope and capability of the Soviet military.)
With Ford's defeat, Team B became the kernel of the Committee on the Present Danger, a conservative group that attacked President Carter for weakness on the Soviet threat. The growing strength of the right thwarted ratification of SALT II, setting the stage for Reagan's nomination and election.
So, even while out of power during the Carter administration, the hawks remained hard at work; kind of like what happened during Clinton's admin. Just replace the "Committee on the Present Danger" with the "Project for a New American Century"!

Milestone #4: During this late-70s 'power outage,' Cheney moved on to become a congressman and leader on the House Intelligence Committee. During the Iran-Contra investigation, Cheney actively blocked the Democrats and protected VP George HW Bush from being questioned by the congressional committee.

Milestone #5: When VP Bush became President GHW Bush, Cheney was tapped as Sec. Defense. In turn, Cheney hired Wolfowitz as his undersecretary & Libby (Wolfowitz's former pupil) became Deputy undersecretary. All three men found themselves at odds with then Gen. Colin Powell during the buildup to the first Gulf war. Cheney set up a new Team B to be kept secret from Powell and for the express purposes of developing his own war plan. He ordered Wolfowitz: "Set up a team, and don't tell Powell or anybody else."
The plan was called Operation Scorpion. "While Powell was out of town, visiting Saudi Arabia, Cheney -- again, without telling Powell -- took the civilian-drafted plan, Operation Scorpion, to the White House and presented it to the president and the national security adviser," writes Mann in his book. Bush, however, rejected it as too risky. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf was enraged at Cheney's presumption. "Put a civilian in charge of professional military men and before long he's no longer satisfied with setting policy but wants to outgeneral the generals," he wrote in his memoir. After Operation Scorpion was rejected, Cheney urged Bush to go to war without congressional approval, a notion the elder Bush dismissed.
And now?
Within the White House, the office of the vice president is the strategic center. The National Security Council has been demoted to enabler and implementer. Systems of off-line operations have been laid to evade professional analysis and a responsible chain of command. Those who attempt to fulfill their duties in the old ways have been humiliated when necessary, fired, retired early or shunted aside. In their place, acolytes and careerists indistinguishable from true believers in their eagerness have been elevated.
So there you have it. Erstwhile servants of the state--the career bureaucrats and non-partisan experts--have been dismissed and/or smeared. The word "oversight" is a quaint anachronism that has since been scrubbed from the American lexicon (like so much unwanted-intelligence). For Cheney & Bush, it's 'you & me against the world, baby!'--a kind of Vulcan Thelma & Louise. Hold on tight, brothers: your car is definitely headed over the cliff.

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