Dick Cheney changed history, defining his times and shaping a White House as no vice president has before--yet concealing most of his work from public view. Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman shows how Cheney operated, why, and what he wrought. This is a work of careful, concrete, and original reporting backed by hundreds of interviews with close Cheney allies as well as rivals, many speaking candidly on the record for the first time. It is a study of the inner workings of the Bush administration and the vice president's central role as the administration's canniest power player. Gellman exposes the mechanics of Cheney's largely successful post-September 11 campaign to win unchecked power for the commander in chief, and reflects upon, and perhaps changes, the legacy that Cheney--and the Bush administration as a whole--will leave as they exit office.--From publisher description.
Cheney comes across here as indeed a man driven by his love of his country and to do what he perceives as right for the country, regardless of the costs and the politics. He is, in some ways, driven by ideology. One of his most fixed ideas was that the power of the Presidency was damaged by the fallout over Nixon and Watergate, and he was determined to increase the power of the Presidency by any and all means.
Yet Gellman places him in the pragmatist wing of the GOP rather than the neoconservative wing, despite the fact that the Iraq war was the neocons' wet dream. His explanation of why Cheney supported the war makes more sense than any other explanation I've seen. Cheney did see Iran and North Korea as more of a threat, but we would not be able to attack them without severe blowback. The response of China to an attack on North Korea was too uncertain and Iraq had a well-equipped army and the fourth largest oil reserves. So Iraq was selected for its "demonstration effect" - it would show the other enemy regimes that America could and would act (see chapter 9). Gellman doesn't say it, but Cheney seems to have miscalculated the time and effort involved in the Iraq war, and that Iran's position in the region would only be enhanced by removal of Saddam Hussein.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the book is the depiction of the near meltdown of the government over the attempt to re-authorize the surveillance program over the objections of much of the Justice Department. We've all heard about the dramatic scene in John Ashcroft's hospital room, but Gellman gives even more detail and shows why this was one of the most important episodes in the Bush administration. First of all, the program was reauthorized without the approval of the Attorney General, and it came quite close to having several layers of Justice Department employees resigning over it, even many who didn't know all the details of the program in question. Gellman seems to think the administration would not have survived that kind of a loss and the subsequent Congressional investigations. Moreover, Cheney and his right-hand man, David Addington, did not sufficiently brief the President on the events, and Gellman seems to think Bush after this turned to Cheney less and to other advisers more. Cheney was also weakened by the loss of Scooter Libby.
All in all, a fascinating read. Gellman uses many sources, but relied heavily on interviews with as many people as he could, some of whom are anonymous - a necessary evil in a book like this. Future historians will find this book invaluable in understanding the Bush administration, as should citizens trying to understand why our government under George W. Bush has gone so wrong.
Gellman's ability to draw information from sources close to the vice president is truly impressive and part of what makes this book so compelling. His revelations are all the more fascinating because they are written in the clear, succinct language that we hope for from journalists but don't always find.