The Omnipresent Vice President
Monday, February 26, 2007; 3:54 PM
President Bush has all but vanished from the national and international radar. But Vice President Cheney is everywhere and in the thick of it all.
His credibility may be shot, he and his boss may be lame ducks, his signal achievement -- the war in Iraq -- may now be almost universally disparaged, his former chief of staff may soon be found guilty of multiple felonies, but it would appear that rumors of the vice president's demise as a political force have been greatly exaggerated.
Consider the following:
* Cheney's latest stops on a highly-publicized world tour have been in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he is said to be belatedly but forcefully pressing government leaders to be more aggressive in hunting down Al Qaeda operatives.
* Since the British announcement of a troop withdrawal from Iraq last week, Cheney has been the administration's point man in a fervid but inevitably fruitless attempt to spin that as a sign of success.
* Cheney has also become the foremost defender of the administration's Iraqi policy in general -- though in doing so he has further fueled criticisms that his assertions are often unsupported and sometimes misleading.
* In an interview on Friday, Cheney defended his assertion in 1991 that invading Iraq would result in a quagmire -- reopening speculation about what Cheney and Bush knew before they went to war in Iraq, what they told the American people, and the gulf between the two.
* Last week, Cheney suddenly spoke in highly critical terms about China, scolding it for behaviour he called "not consistent" with its stated aim of a peaceful rise as a global power.
* Even as I write, Cheney's former chief of staff if awaiting his fate at Washington's federal courthouse, and the verdict -- whichever way it goes -- will inevitably remind the public of Cheney's important and unseemly role in the leaking of a CIA operative's identity. (One juror was dismissed from the jury today, after being exposed to some sort of outside information about the case.)
* And then there's Iran. The reports that Bush is gearing up for strikes against that country may be ambiguous and speculative -- but there appears to be little doubt that Cheney is the lead hawk pushing for a more aggressive posture.
Cheney Delivers a Message
David E. Sanger and Mark Mazzetti write for the New York Times this morning: "Vice President Dick Cheney made an unannounced trip to Pakistan on Monday to deliver what officials in Washington described as an unusually tough message to Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, warning him that the newly Democratic Congress could cut aid to his country unless his forces become far more aggressive in hunting down operatives with Al Qaeda.
"Mr. Cheney's trip was shrouded in secrecy, and he was on the ground for only a few hours, sharing a private lunch with the Pakistani leader at his palace. . . .