Cheney, By Proxy

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, June 4, 2007; 2:16 PM

Is Vice President Cheney trying to undermine Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, in favor of a more aggressive and militaristic approach?

Well, maybe not directly. Cheney does his best work by proxy. Anyone looking for public evidence of a major rift between Cheney and Rice will be sorely disappointed. In fact, Rice denied any such thing at a press conference in Madrid on Friday.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a rift. Cheney's aides and other loyalists he has installed in the government wield enormous power on his behalf, even as they provide him with plausible deniability. (See, for instance, the Scooter Libby case, discussed below.)

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post: "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insisted Friday that Vice President Cheney fully supports a diplomatic course in the dispute with Iran over its nuclear program, denying claims of divisions among President Bush's foreign policy advisers."

From the transcript of her remarks:

"QUESTION: If I may, Madame Secretary, you've been pushing diplomatic efforts and making that heard loud and clear your message, and you're making extraordinary efforts -- or an extraordinary offer, rather -- to talk. But can you assure us that Vice President Cheney does not want to use military action on Iran to deal with its nuclear policy? Because there's a perception of a divide within the Administration.

"SECRETARY RICE: First, let me be very clear. The President of the United States has made very clear what our policy is. That policy is supported by all of the members of his cabinet and by the Vice President of the United States. The President has made clear that we are on a course that is a diplomatic course, but it is a diplomatic course that is backed up by disincentives for Iran to continue its activities."

But as Helene Cooper writes in the New York Times: "Ms. Rice's assurance came as senior officials at the State Department were expressing fury over reports that members of Vice President Dick Cheney's staff have told others that Mr. Cheney believes the diplomatic track with Iran is pointless, and is looking for ways to persuade Mr. Bush to confront Iran militarily.

"In a news conference on Friday, Ms. Rice maintained that Mr. Cheney supported her strategy of trying to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions through diplomacy. A senior Bush administration official separately denied that there was a deep divide between Ms. Rice and Mr. Cheney on Iran.

"But, the official said, 'The vice president is not necessarily responsible for every single thing that comes out of the mouth of every single member of his staff.' The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about any divide within the administration.

"The reports about hawkish statements by members of Mr. Cheney's staff first surfaced last week in The Washington Note, an influential blog put out by Steve Clemons of the left-leaning New America Foundation. The reports have alarmed European diplomats, some of whom fear that the struggle over Iran's nuclear program may evolve into a decision by the Bush administration to resort to force against Iran."

I quoted the Clemons report when it came out, but it's worth reviewing. "On one flank are the diplomats, and on the other is Vice President Cheney's team and acolytes -- who populate quite a wide swath throughout the American national security bureaucracy," Clemons writes.

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