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Saturday, May 13, 2006

INSIDE CHENEY'S BUNKER---PART II.........................................................



.......Larry Wilkerson, formerly a top aide to Secretery of State Colin Powell, is a no-nonsense, ex-military man who has spoken out bluntly about what he calls a "cabal" led by Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and their top aides. Time after time, in various interagency meetings, all the way up to the cabinet-level "principals committee," Wilkerson would watch in astonishment as Cheney's staffers muscled everyone else.

"The staff that the vice president send out made sure that those [committees] didn't key anything up that wasn't what the vice president wanted," says Wilkerson. "Their style was simply to sit and listen, and take notes. And if things looked like they were going to go speedily to a decision that they knew that the vice president wasn't going to like, generally they would, at the end of the meeting, in great bureaucractic style, they'd say: 'We totally disagree. Meeting over.'"

At that point, policymakers from NSC, the State Department, the Defense Department, and elsewhere would have to go back to the drawing board. And if a policy option that Cheney opposed somehow got written up as a decision memorandum and sent to the Oval Office, he showed up to kill it.

"The vice president's second or third bite at the apple was when he'd walk in to see the president," says Wilkerson. "And things would get reversed, because of the vice president's meeting in the Oval Office with no one else there."

According to Fuerth, such a skewed modus operandi was unthinkable in the Clinton-Gore administration. "There is no doubt that we exercised a great deal of influence, but it was never in the form of a premptory, you-may-not-go-down-this-path, or you-must-go-down-this-path," he says. "It was advisory."

Former Cheney aides tend to confirm Wilkerson's version of how the OVP operates. Dean McGrath, who served as Cheney's deputy chief of staff under Libby from 2001 until last year, says he didn't hesitate to express the vice president's views during the policy-making process. "I tried to convey at meetings where he would come down on issues," says McGrath.

An important mission of the OVP was to do battle with a resistant bureaucracy. "Often you'd have the permanent bureaucracy that was not on board, especially on all of the issues where you're trying to change things," he says.

Aaron Friedberg, who served as Cheney's director of policy planning for three years, agrees that the bureaucracy was often an obstacle. "It's not an active resistance. It's a passive skepticism about the whole direction of policy." Friedberg who says he worked on issue of "terrorism, Asia, Europe, Russia, North Korea, Iran, just about everything outside of Iraq," suggested that the biggest issue on which Cheney had to confront the bureaucracy was over the administration's push for democracy, especially in the Middle East. This program's overseer is his daughter Liz Cheney, a top State Department official.

Wilkerson portrays the vice president's office as the source of a zealous, almost messianic approach to foreign affairs. "There were several remarkable things about the vice president's staff," he says. "One was how empowered they were, and one was how in sync they were. In fact, we used to say about both [Rumsfeld's office] and the vice president's office that they were going to win nine out of ten battles, because they were ruthless, because they have a strategy, and because they never, ever deviate from that strategy...They make a decision, and they make it in secret, and they make it in a different way than the rest of the bureaucracy makes it, and then suddenly foist it on the government---and the rest of the government is all confused."

Often the rest of the U.S. government---including even the NSC---would operate outside the normal interagency process to prevent the OVP from interfering, according to officials who asked to remain anonymous. Perhaps most startling is the sidetracking of the NSC, which is by statute the ultimate arbiter for policy options and recommendations that go to the president's desk.

According to Wilkerson, Cheney's office and the NSC were completely seperate on foreign policy. Cheney says, Wilkerson, "set up a staff that knew what the statutory NSC was doing, but the NSC statutory staff didn't know what *his* staff was doing. The vice president's staff could read the statutory NSC's e-mail, but the NSC couldn't read *their* e-mail. So, once someone on the statutory NSC figured it out, they used various work-arounds. Like, for example, they would walk to someone's office, rather than send an e-mail, if they were going to talk about things they didn't want to reveal to the vice president's very powerful staff. "But that was difficult because of Cheney's "spies" within the bureaucracy, including people like John Bolton at the State Department, Robert Joseph at the NSC, certain staffers at WINPAC (the arms control shop at CIA), and various Pentagon officials, he adds.

Two of the people most often encountered by Wilkerson were Cheney's Asia hands, Stephen Yates and Samantha Ravich. Through them, the fulcrum of Cheney's foreign policy---which linked energy, China, Iraq, and oil in the Middle East---can be traced. The nexus of those interrealted issues drives the OVP's broad outlook.

Many Cheney staffers were obsessed with what they saw as a looming long-term threat from China. Several of Cheney's highest-ranking national security aides came out of Congressman Cox's rather wild-eyed 1990s investigation of alleged Chinese spying in the United States, tied to the overblown allegations about Chinese contributions to the Clinton-Gore campaign. Cox, a California Republicans, chaired a highly partisan committee that issued a scathing report about China.

According to the New York Times, his 7o0-page report portrayed China as "nothing less than a voracious, dangerous, and fully-equipped military rival of the United States." Among the top Cheney aides who joined the OVP in 2001 from Cox's staff were Libby, who served as legal adviser to the committee, McGrath, a key staffer for Cox, and Jonathan Burks, a senior aide who became Cheney's special assistant.

Yates, who joined the tean from the Heritage Foundation, is a China specialist who has long urged a more confrontational policy. In 2000, he wrote a Heritage paper offering advice to the Bush administration, and slamming Clinton for accomodating China. He urged a stronger, pro-Taiwan policy while predicting a Chinese attack.

Charles W. Freeman, who served as U.S. ambassador to China and has known Yates for many years, puts him in the same category as former Defense Department officials Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, who "all saw China as the solution to 'enemy deprivation syndrome.'"

Yates, who left Cheney's office recently to join the ultraconservative lobbying firm of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, had an important impact on Asia and Middle East policy.

Says Wilkerson: "Generally Steve was quiet. But when there came a time for him to speak, the room grew very silent, and that did it. We weren't going any further in that discussion item if Steve said that the vice president didn't like it. And it didn't take too long to understand that the real power in the room was sitting there from the vice president's office." Yates declined to comment for this story, but in an interview with the National Journal, he pooh-poohed the idea that Cheney's office had set itself up as a shadow NSC. "The idea that 10 or 15 people can replicate or supplant the work of the 100 or 200 people on the NSC...is a bit unrealistic," he said.

For the Cheneyites, Middle East policy is tied to China, and in their view China's appetite for oil makes it a strategic competitor to the United States in the Persian Gulf region. Thus, they regard the control of the Gulf as a zero-sum game.

They believe that the invasion of Afghanastan, the U.S. military buildup in Central Asia, the invasion of Iraq, and the expansion of the U.S. military presence in the Gulf states have combined to check China's role in the region.

In particular, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the creation of a pro-American regime in Baghdad was, for at least ten years before 2003, a top neoconservative goal, one that united both the anti-China crowd and far-right supporters of Israel's Likud. Both saw the invasion of Iraq as the prelude to an assault on neighboring Iran.

Several of Cheney's aides, as well as the vice president himself, were early supporters of the neoconservative flagship Project for a New American Century, whose founding statement called for a return to a "Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity."

Among them were Libby, Friedberg and Robert Kagan, who is married to Victoria Nuland, ambassador to NATO who served as national security adviser in the OVP.

She, in turn, succeeded Eric Edelman, another neoconservative who left the vice president's office to serve as ambassador to Turkey before taking over Doulgas Feith's job as chief of policy for the Department of Defense.

The pivotal role of Cheney's staff in promoting war in Iraq has been well documented. Cheney was the war's most vocal advocate, and his staff---especially Libby, Hannah, Ravich and others---worked hard to "fit" intelligence to inflate Iraq's seeming threat. William J. Luti, a neoconservative radical, left Cheney's office for the Pentagon in 2001, where he organized the war planning team called the Office of Special Plans.

David Wurmser, another neoconservative from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), joined the Pentagon to found the forerunner of the OSP, the so-called Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which then manufactured the evidence that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were allies.

To that end, Wurmser worked closely with Hannah, Libby, Luti and Harold Rhode, a Defense Department official in Andy Marshall's Office of Net Assessment. Ravich, along with Zalmay Khalilzad, a neoconservative Middle East analyst and now U.S. ambassador to Iraq, worked hard to build the Iraqi National Congress-linked opposition forces under Ahmad Chalabi.

Libby and Hannah produced key propaganda for the war, including the most inflammatory and inaccurate speeches delivered by Cheney and Bush. The Libby-Hannah team also authored a 48-page speech for Colin Powell's 2003 United Nations appearance so extreme that Powell trashed the entire document. That version had never been released.

David L. Phillips, the author of "Losing Iraq," was a State Department consultant during the prelude to the war in 2003, and he watched Ravich operate. His account provides a perfect paradigm for the OVP's role in interagency's meetings, in this case involving the most important decision of the administration's tenure: the decision to go to war in Iraq.

During meeting after meeting in London, in Brussels, or in Washington with Chalabi, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), and the rest of the Iraqi opposition (including its Shiite fundamentalist compotent), the youthful, inexperienced Ravich dominated the course of events because of her association with Cheney. "The State Department officials showed extraordinary deference to her," says Phillips. "It was almost a sense that their efforts would be judged by Ms. Ravich and reported to the OVP." The INC and Chalabi "would run to Samantha when there were disagreements."

In those meetings, the INC "would hold forth on their ties to the OVP as a form of threat over U.S. officials or other Iraqis. And U.S. officials felt that if there was a misstep, the Iraqis would go running to the OVP and they would have their chains yanked," says Phillips.

In Washington, Hannah served as the INC's chief political point of contact, according to Entifadh Qanbar, an INC official who is serving as defense attache' at the Iraqi embassy.

Like Hannah, who came to the OVP from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Wurmser traipsed a roundabout path to Cheney's staff: He worked with Hannah at WINEP in the 1990s, and then went to AEI, where he directed Middle East affairs, to the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, to John Bolton's arms control shop at the State Department, and then to the OVP.

Even among ardent supporters of Israel, Wurmser---and his wife, Meyrav, who runs the Hudson Institute's Middle East program---is considered an extremist. In 1996, the Wurmers, Perle, and Feith co-authored the famous "Clean Break" paper for then-Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, which called for radical measures to redraw the map of the entire Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Palestine) to benefit Israel.

Later, in a series of papers and a book, Wurmser argued that toppling Saddam was likely to lead directly to civil war and the breakup of Iraq, but he supported the policy anyway: "The residual unity of [Iraq] is an illusion projected by the extreme repression of the state."

After Saddam, Iraq will "be ripped apart by the politics of warlords, tribes, clans, sects, and key families," he wrote. "Underneath facades of unity enforced by state repression, [Iraq's] politics is defined primarily by tribalism, sectarianism, and gang/clan-like competition."

Yet Wurmser explicitly urged the United States and Israel to "expedite" such a collapse. "The issue here is whether the West and Israel can construct a strategy for limiting and expediting the chaotic collapse that would unsue in order to move on to the task of creating a better circumstance."

Later, with former CIA director James Woolsey and others, Wurmser proposed restoring the Jordan-based Hashemite monarchy in Iraq. While Wurmser's OVP allies may share his neoconservative fantasies of the willy-nilly reorganization of the Middle East, few experts do. "I've known him for years, and I consider him to be a naive simpleton," says a former U.S. ambassador.

Adds Wilkerson, "A lot of these guys, including Wurmser, I looked at as card-carrying members of the Likud party, as I did with Feith. You wouldn't open their wallet and find a card, but I often wondered if their primary allegiance was to their own country or to Israel. That was the thing that troubled me, because there was so much that they said and did that looked like it was more reflective of Israel's interest than our own."

Today, Wurmserm Hannah, Liz Cheney and her father are pushing hard for confrontations with both Iran and Syria. Liz Cheney, who exercises enormous power inside the State Department, has secured millions of dollars to support opposition elements in both countries, and she has met with Syria's version of Ahmad Chalabi, a discredited businessman from Virginia named Farid al-Ghadry.

Hannha sat in on a meeting with Ghadry, which was arranged through Meyrav Wurmser, a friend of the would-be Syrian leader.

Hannah and Wurmser's boss, the vice president, talks freely about the need for a military showdown with Iran to destroy its alleged nuclear program.


The true measures of how powerful the vice president's office remains today is whether the United States chooses to confront Iran and Syria or to seek diplomatic solutions.

FOR THE MOMENT, AT LEAST, THE WAR PARTY LED BY DICK CHENEY REMAINS IN ASCENDANCY.


*Robert Dreyfuss is a 'Prospect' senior correspondent.

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