As his eight years as president drag to a close, George W. Bush seems to be having second thoughts about major issues. Instead of denouncing North Korea’s latest break-off from nuclear negotiations, he said that the United States must remain “firm and patient.”
He told ABC News that he was “unprepared for war” and that “the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq.”
Not Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a prime figure in starting the war and keeping it going. He told The Washington Times that “if I was faced with those circumstances again I’d do exactly the same thing.”
He did a lot, and with Mr. Bush’s permission and approval. His actions led Vice President-elect Joe Biden to call him “the most dangerous vice president we’ve had probably in American history.” The fact is that Dick Cheney is the most powerful, most active and most controversial vice president at least in modern history.
And Mr. Cheney’s role in the torture of prisoners, the indefinite detention of sometimes innocent suspects, the wiretapping of Americans without court warrant, and the kidnapping of suspected terrorists and spiriting them off to secret prisons abroad has deeply affronted world public opinion and has made many Americans ashamed of their country’s behavior.
He led the charge in scaring Congress and the American people into approving the unprovoked invasion of Iraq, with all its deadly and costly consequences. His method was to declare with certainty that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist conspiracy and had a ready arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Both claims have been proven false.
As for torture, he helped redefine it in secret memos that justified “enhanced interrogation” methods such as waterboarding and sexual and religious humiliation. Through his tough right-hand man David Addington, he weakened Sen. John McCain’s bill to prohibit torture. Mr. Addington also in-timidated officials of the National Security Administration into giving up efforts to see the secret memos that authorized their illegal wiretapping program.
Mr. Cheney greatly expanded the vice presidency. He operated his own national security staff, often working at odds with the State Department. He arranged to have raw intelligence “stovepiped” to him before it had been analyzed and verified by professionals. He had a longtime alliance with De-fense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and kept informants in the Pentagon after Mr. Rumsfeld’s forced resignation.
He overstepped the constitutional division of powers by insisting on attending the Senate Republican caucus instead of merely presiding over the Senate and breaking tie votes. Mr. Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have agreed that the new vice president will not attend Democratic caucus meetings.
So the “consequential” vice presidency, as Mr. Cheney has called it, seems to be about over and done with. And Mr. Cheney’s departure will end the uneasiness by many Americans that something might happen to Mr. Bush and put Mr. Cheney in the presidency.