Cheney Is Fulcrum of Foreign Policy

By Glenn Kessler and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 13, 2002

Vice President Cheney likes to operate discreetly, leaving the spotlight to others. But in the doldrums of late August, as President Bush relaxed on his ranch in Texas, it was Cheney who stepped forward to address the gathering chorus of complaints about the administration's Iraq policy.

"If the United States could have preempted 9/11, we would have, no question," he declared at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville. "Should we be able to prevent another, much more devastating attack, we will, no question. This nation will not live at the mercy of terrorists or terror regimes."

Cheney's speech, laden with historical references and a detailed rebuttal of administration critics, was the moment when the administration turned from debating Iraq internally to publicly setting the stage for a confrontation. It also offered a rare glimpse of the singular role that Cheney plays in the making of U.S. foreign policy.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has an approval rating that tops the president's. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is a media star through his frequent briefings. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice is constantly at Bush's side. But, inside the White House, Cheney and his small but powerful staff have emerged as the fulcrum of Bush's foreign policy, according to extensive interviews with officials in and outside the White House, as well as diplomats who deal with the administration.

From the moment hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon last year, Cheney has used his power and authority -- unrivaled by that of any vice president in modern times -- to help set the course of the administration's war on terrorism.

Now, on the eve of a possible conflict with Iraq, Cheney's influence is again coming to the fore. Cheney's assertive and active promotion of a forceful U.S. foreign policy in many ways defines the Bush era. In fierce interagency policy battles, Cheney's views -- that the United States, backed at times by military force, must set an example for the world -- often prevail .

Cheney's position about the importance of confronting Iraq over its weapons of mass destruction has changed significantly since Sept. 11, both because of a new sense of vulnerability and increasingly alarming intelligence, according to administration officials.

"He is as concerned as any human being I know about the danger of a much more serious terrorist attack on the United States, that Sept. 11 was only the beginning," said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who said Cheney "was influenced significantly by the developing intelligence on Iraq in general and al Qaeda in particular."

"He has shaped a consensus on the need to deal with Saddam Hussein," said Dennis B. Ross, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a Middle East envoy for President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton. "It's clear that's not where the State Department was coming from. Cheney's having a clear position on this helped shape the president's view. He's the single greatest influence on the president."

Cheney's influence is not without controversy. In previous administrations, the secretary of state or national security adviser has often been the dominant force in formulating foreign policy. But the roles are more diffuse now, and the resulting differences are more acute in an administration characterized for its often-visible policy disputes.

Congressional officials complain that, unlike with Powell or Rumsfeld, they have no constitutional authority to require Cheney's testimony.

State Department officials fret that Cheney so frequently sides with Rumsfeld -- Cheney's former boss in the Nixon and Ford administrations -- that Powell is constantly frustrated by his inability to prevail in a host of policy disputes, especially those involving Iraq and the Middle East.

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