The meme of the day seems to be that the Department of Defense and the State Department — particularly Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice — are at war with VP Dick Cheney over torture, with Cheney portrayed as the torture-loving bad guy and Rice the savior of the Republic.
Is Cheney on his way out?
These are tough times for Cheney. He has always been the administration’s most “forward-leaning” force when it came to carrying out the war on terror and the Iraq invasion. Until recently Cheney’s own authority was largely unchallenged in Republican Washington. But Congress, mindful of the public’s turn against the war, is now openly defying his hard-line policies. Powerful figures—within the West Wing, at the State Department and Pentagon—who once deferred to him are now peeling away, worried that Cheney may have gone too far. His credibility has also been damaged by the CIA-leak investigation, which nabbed his trusted No. 2, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, who pleaded not guilty last week to charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
In recent months, Cheney has been the force against adding safeguards to the Defense Department’s rules on treatment of military prisoners, putting him at odds with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England. On a trip to Canada last month, Rice interrupted a packed itinerary to hold a secure video-teleconference with Cheney on detainee policy to make sure no decisions were made without her input.
Increasingly, however, Cheney’s positions are being opposed by other administration officials, including Cabinet members, political appointees and Republican lawmakers who once stood firmly behind the administration on all matters concerning terrorism.
Personnel changes in President Bush’s second term have added to the isolation of Cheney, who previously had been able to prevail in part because other key parties to the debate — including Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and White House counsel Harriet Miers — continued to sit on the fence.
Cheney’s camp is a “shrinking island,” said one State Department official who, like other administration officials quoted in this article, asked not to be identified because public dissent is strongly discouraged by the White House.
Beside personal pressure from the vice president, Cheney’s staff is also engaged in resisting a policy change. Tactics included “trying to have meetings canceled … to at least slow things down or gum up the works” or trying to conduct meetings on the subject without other key Cabinet members, one administration official said. The official said some internal memos and e-mail from the National Security Council staff to the national security adviser were automatically forwarded to the vice president’s office — in some cases without the knowledge of the authors.
For that reason, Rice “wanted to be in all meetings,” said a senior State Department official.