Though I've not checked Fox News, no doubt the long knives are out for Barton Gellman. Angler, his portrait of Vice President Cheney is nothing short of devastating. However, for all of the charges Gellman lodges, the author never loses sight of his subject. While some may use Angler to support their two-dimensional mustache twisting image of the Vice President - or alternatively charge Gellman of offering such a portrait as a way of dismissing this excellent work of journalism - careful readers will find that the work offers a view with no small amount of nuance. The vision of Cheney offers is one created by a combination of the man's long held vision that executive power was unduly limited after the Nixon years - something he has long wished to "correct" - and his belief that in the wake of 9/11 the Government should not be constraint in any way in its efforts to prevent a future attack.
The result is nothing short of a toxic stew. Thus the VP, along with his senior staffers Libby and Addington threatened cajoled and manipulated their way into any action they thought necessary, regardless of the law. Gellman offers ample evidence for the charges he levels; likely owing the near end of the Bush reign, more than a few sources went on the record. Some have appeared elsewhere, such as Jack Goldsmith who worked in the Justice Department, while others are new, such as Former Majority Leader Dick Armey describing a meeting in the House in the run-up to the war where Cheney claimed that not only did they have unreleased proof that Saddam and his family had "close" relations with Al Qaeda, but that Iraq was getting close to creating miniaturized nuclear weapons. While in retrospect Cheney's claims more than strain credulity, one can imagine why Armey could not imagine the VP lying about such grave matters and, connecting the dots, switched his position to support the invasion.
Readers will also find interesting Gellman's careful work in explaining how Cheney achieved the level of power he did in the Bush White House. Beyond the obvious - a disengaged President with little intellectual curiosity as has been so well described by writers like Bob Woodward - Gellman offers insights into Cheney's use of his superior understanding of Washington, information, and access as the roads to power. By surrounding himself with the most experienced expert staff, as well as placing key allies at the second, third, and fourth layer of cabinet offices, Cheney was able to insert himself as a sort of Prime Minister, controlling the daily decision making of the Executive Branch. Gellman also provides interesting evidence of Cheney's declining influence as Bush's second term continued and he confronted other players with the President's ear.
Those who dismiss Gellman as an ideologue will be missing a useful and thoughtful examination of the inner workings of the Bush White House. His combination of journalist experience and understanding of foreign policy -- his concise examination of George Kennan remains a must read - make him the ideal person to write this important work.
"Angler" is the code-name used by the Secret Service to refer to V.P. Cheney. "Angler" the book tells the story of V.P. Cheney's role in the Bush administration - from his selection as candidate, his initial moves before even taking office, to his ability to influence decision-making throughout the Bush term, and does this in a calm, credible manner.
Selecting a Running Mate: Bush asked Cheney early on, and was turned down. This, per Gellman, only increased Cheney's appeal. Bush II had witnessed tensions between his father's White House staff and those looking out for Dan Quayle's future; Cheney, in addition, had told him about problems between Nixon-Ford, and Ford-Rockefeller. Bush did not interview a single candidate before settling on Cheney. Further, Cheney negotiated his expanded role at the beginning - "I want to be a real partner in helping you reach decisions."
Cheney's Role in Staffing Positions: Cheney's commanding role on major appointments was without precedent. He recruited candidates, pre-interviewed them, and escorted them for Bush's approval in Austin. For State, Bush already set his sights on Colin Powell, and Linda Chavez for Labor (she withdrew after a nanny-scandal). Cheney brought in Rumsfeld, Whitman (EPA), and O'Neill (Treasury).
Cheney did not stop at the cabinet - 2nd and 3rd ranking officials (eg. Hadley, Bolton) could be vital allies. In policy fields he cared about Cheney placed people even deeper in the bureaucracy. The list did not include most of the Friends of George from the Republican Governor's Association.
"Scooter" Libby was made national security advisor, chief of the V.P. staff, and assistant to the president.
Cheney Gets Personally Involved: Early on (12/03/00), Cheney got his imprint in on the economy by suggesting a recession looked likely - setting the stage to blame Clinton and cut taxes. Cheney also attended almost all NSC meetings and briefed Bush afterwards (Rice did also - separately.) Cheney joined the regular Wednesday lunch of the president's economic team (secretaries of labor, commerce, and treasury, also the budget director), and the National Economic Council, the weekly Senate Republican caucus (LBJ was the last V.P. that tried - he was blocked by the Senators; Cheney pointed out that he was President of the Senate).
Also, the White House created a panel called the Budget Review Board, with Cheney as chair. Overseeing the budget was exactly the find of serious, boring work that Bush disliked, and Cheney thrived in the vacuum. Conflicts with OMB went to the Board, and no one appealed further to Bush.
Cheney also usually sent a staff member to Norquist's Wednesday anti-tax luncheons. Cheney had abandoned Milton Friedman's "no free lunch" maxim for Laffer's supply-side economics - despite serious objection from his long-time friends Paul O'Neil and Alan Greenspan.
Unlike most of his rivals and even the president, Cheney knew what he wanted. One of his first assignments to staff was a fast-track review of Clinton's departing executive orders, accompanied by an order to stop associated operations at the Government Printing Office. (Cheney knew that regulations have no force until printed in the Federal Register). He also got Bush to freeze hiring for everyone whose paperwork wasn't complete.
Cheney then finagled an office on the House side - close to the action on tax-writing. Greenspan began weekly visits to the White House - mostly to see Cheney. One important result was taking Greenspan out of 100% opposition to the Bush tax cuts.
Cheney worked With Andy Card to undermine Sen. Chafee's opposition to the bush tax cut, and convinced Bush to stand firm against Jefford's threat to bolt the party is not given additional Special Education funds. (Cheney reasoned that the R's had already de facto lost control, and did not want to reward threats.)
The Energy Task Force: Cheney asked for chairmanship of the task force on energy. Prior to starting, he directed an assistant to devise a structure that would leave the task force beyond reach of the Federal Advisory Commission Act (Hillary's undoing). This was achieved by limiting "membership" limited to employees of the executive branch. When challenged, Cheney convinced Bush to fight disclosure, contrary to most other advisers; his aim was to set a precedent and gain power.
Environmental groups were limited to a single meeting, and used up half the time making introductions; regardless, Cheney did not attend. An early goal became to walk Bush back from support for reducing CO2; Cheney was aided by four R Senators' requesting clarification from Bush. EPA Secretary Whitman sensed a problem, scheduled a meeting with Bush, but was beat by Cheney's presenting a proposed response to the Senators.
How did he do it - his energy task force portrayed the scientific debate as complex, and unresolved. Bush hated wading into that sort of situation and usually told experts to come back when they had hammered out their facts. Cheney also called for smarter policy and technology to avoid the choice between less energy and greater pollution.
Cheney sat in on the president's daily briefings - AFTER receiving the briefing himself earlier in the A.M. Thus prepared, he was able to shape the president's briefing as well as make comments of his own.
Following these paths gave Cheney awareness and involvement in much of went on in the White House early on. From here on he was in an ideal position to play a leading role, detailed in an interesting and credible manner by "Angler," in the Bush administration. This included not just influencing decisions but also ensuring they were carried out - eg. "defanging" new source EPA rules for coal-fired power plants. Still another source of Cheney's strength was his long-term relationships with numerous members of Congress, which he sometimes strained with slanted and stretched versions of reality (eg. describing Iraq's dangerousness to Rep. Armey to convince him to support war).
Bottom Line: "Angler" shows V.P. Cheney did not acquire his power and influence by accident - it was built through his experience and learning in prior decades at the top levels of government. Clearly he has transformed the nature of the office, and was aided in doing so by an uninvolved, incurious president who was also a poor manager (eg. failure to follow-up directive to Rumsfeld to begin Guantanamo trials, to back up Rice vs. Rumsfeld; to quickly realize "Brownie" was incompetent - Cheney did).
On the other hand, Cheney's ignoring warnings pre-9/11 (along with Bush), sometimes duplicity, and lack of pragmatism in favor of erroneous policies (eg. resisting information requests, even from the 9/11 Commission; almost marching the administration over the cliff regarding reauthorization for internal eavesdropping; lack of sensitivity to growing opposition to the Iraq War) are serious, irredeemable flaws.
Finally, to be fair, it should also be pointed out that Cheney was scrupulous in avoiding possible personal gain from his actions (eg. the Energy Task Force).
on September 17, 2008
Prior to 2002 I used to have a great deal of respect for Dick Cheney. He did a great job of running the 1991 war with Iraq. His 2001 energy plan was well researched and professional even thought some people (including myself) felt it should have been more oriented to renewable energy.
However, since September 11, 2001 Dick Cheney has strongly promoted some totally disastrous policies such as the decision to go to war with Iraq.
This book contains some truly stunning accusations. It suggests that Cheney's role in picking himself as Bush's running mate when he was in charge of finding a running mate for Bush in 2000 had serious ethical breaches. There is a suggestion that Cheney was less than candid about his health problems.
The author suggests that Cheney knowingly lied to Dick Armey (House Majority Leader) about intelligence concerning the (nonexistent) relationship between 9/11 terrorists and Saddam Hussein.
There is more disturbing material concerning Cheney's alleged role in encouraging the use of torture against terrorism suspects and the use of domestic wiretapping.
It is interesting that Gelman knocks down one of the most popular accusations against Cheney, the notion that he wanted to use his office for private financial gain or the benefit of the oil industry or his previous employer, Halliburton. In a recent interview with Harper's magazine, Gellman states, "There's no venality here. Cheney was not trying to aggrandize himself, to steer money to friends, or to set himself up for higher office. He simply believed that the stakes were high and he was more capable than others. He saw the world, he believed, as it truly is and was prepared to do the "unpleasant" things that had to be done to safeguard us. Cheney is a rare combination: a zealot in principle and a subtle, skillful tactician in practice."
I can't vouch for the accuracy of all that's in this book. It may be true. It may not be - although the reporter is a very professional journalist.
What I can say is that this is a serious book that should be read and considered by American citizens. This is a book that should be read and debated by Amazon readers.
This whole situation is very depressing story about a talented man who did a lot of good in the past but went in a truly disastrous direction since 9/11/2001.
on April 11, 2014
Gellman's exhaustively-researched and extensively-resourced biography of Cheney paints a portrait of a chillingly immoral and unapologetically evil man. When terrorists struck our nation, they were able to instill fear for a few days, until it became clear that the 9/11 attacks were over. That's when Cheney took control, escalating the terror, making it permanent and awarding the terrorists their most cherished goal.
It is fitting, if not especially comforting, that Cheney sought to use his office to restore the imperial presidency stripped from Richard Nixon after his unconstitutional abuses of power. As soon as his secretive machinations bore fruit he abused his office every bit as much as Nixon, if not more. That both men were granted immunity by their successors is one of the great sorrows of the nation -- and the reason we are permanently damaged by their villainy, instead of bringing them to justice, restoring our principles.
History will judge the Bush-Cheney years. Are we safer or more secure than before? Is the world more stable? Are most people better off? Clearly, the world is a lot more dangerous now, and one man bears the weight of that. He is Richard Bruce Cheney.
on October 31, 2008
This book chronicles the means and methods that Dick Cheney has used in order to become far more than just a vice president in the Bush Administration. The material presented here is probably only a small selection of what has actually happened behind the scenes. If the well-known wall of secrecy behind which Mr. Cheney has operated were torn down, there would probably be much more to examine. As it is, the author has relied upon a number of interviews, some of them from anonymous sources, and many of them from associates the author says took substantial risks. After reading no further than the first chapter concerning Governor Frank Keating, the reader can get an idea of what is meant by substantial risks.
Beside the amazement and then outrage at the way Cheney has managed to control just about every major policy issue of George W. Bush's presidency, the reader can come away with clues as to what is driving this man. The author makes a case that he is not motivated by enrichment, regardless of the way Halliburton has been favored. It's much more a matter of principle and a kind of dogged determination to view the world in a certain way. By Cheney's view, if the choice is to be between the carrot and the stick, he would choose the stick. So, in foreign policy it is a mistake to reward one's enemy in advance because it only encourages aggression. Strength is what matters most in this contentious world and it is only in a strong "unitary executive" that the interests of the United States can best be served. Being tough in this way means that there is no acknowledgement of a mistake: that would be weakness. Never mind that a disaster has been created in a place like Iraq, just continue to tough it out.
From what the author relates, the obvious conclusion is that Cheney virtually ran the government during Bush's first term. As head of the search committee, he basically chose himself as Bush's vice presidential running mate; and then hit the ground running by heading the transition team that chose cabinet officers. Once the term started, he went to work rolling back the touchy-feely stuff - the "compassionate conservatism" - of the Republican campaign. He confronted Christine Whitman at the EPA when she wanted to do something about global warming. He went about setting energy policy by establishing an exclusive task force of industry representatives that decided policy in strict secrecy. He threw out the window concerns about fiscal responsibility ("deficits don't matter") and adopted a strict supply side model. It would seem as if he hijacked Bush's agenda. But by running as an outsider, George W. Bush knew very little about the workings of Washington and had no inclination or ability to master the details of the job. He allowed the vice-president to conduct unprecedented meetings, take the lead on headline issues, and control the flow of information.
Even more Cheney than Cheney has been David Addington, Cheney's long-time legal counsel. After 9/11, it is clearly the case that Addington became the legal authority in the Bush Administration. For a time, he and Cheney basically controlled the Justice Department and were able to get the president to sign off on their own radical agenda of disregarding the Geneva Conventions and extracting information from detainees by "enhanced interrogation methods". They expanded the surveillance program to go well beyond just foreign snooping; that is, they set up a program without going to Congress to data mine reams of domestic correspondence captured by the phone companies.
Things only began to change after Jack Goldsmith became head of the OLC at the Justice Department and started asserting himself against Addington. The centerpiece of the book is the astounding story of how Jim Comey, Goldsmith, FBI director Mueller and several others all threatened to resign over the domestic surveillance program. Only at that point did Bush realize that his presidency was in grave danger.
on June 22, 2014
Gellman exposes the manner in which Cheney manipulated the levers of power to achieve his goals, and the portrait is unflattering. At the same time, Gellman points out that Cheney did not gain personal wealth through his government service. He was--and apparently still is--a true believer, however dark and misguided his beliefs may be. The portrait of Cheney as a dogmatic, canny manipulator exposes some of the darker sides of the Bush presidency and sheds light on how this country got into the terrible mistake of invading Iraq based on misinformation, and sometimes disinformation. This should be required reading in contemporary history courses. It also demonstrates vividly why Cheney and the other Neocons ought to keep their mouths shut in giving guidance on how to deal with the current Iraq situation. They blew up the country and planted the seeds for the current sectarian wars. They ought to have the common decency to be silent now.
The best book of 2008, none I've read thus far even compare. Angler is an incredibly illuminating book into the most unique vice presidency in American history. I would also argue, after having read about a dozen books on President Bush and his Administration; that you cannot truly understand the failures of the Bush Administration and the woeful performance of the GOP in the past eight years without having read this book.
My perspective is one that had me voting for Bush in 2000, primarily in hopes that a Republican president and Republican-majority Congress would lead to authentic tax reform as proposed by most economists of that time if one wanted to sincerely optimize economic growth (i.e., a national sales consumption tax that supplanted all other federal income and wealth taxes based on a 1997 study). While I was aware that Bush was not the most competent person to be running for the job, his nominating Dick Cheney as his running mate pulled me over to supporting and voting for Bush in 2000 (though certainly not in 2004). The Dick Cheney known by his friends and even his opponents was one of intelligence, competence, patriotism, analytic skills, institutional knowledge of the Executive Branch without peer, and judgment.
This perception, shared by many both inside and outside the party, including Democratic colleagues, begs the question in retrospect: How could such a competent VP who had the ear of the President lead to such incompetent results?
Gellman shows his mastery of many topics in providing the answers and he does provide the answers. Gellman's findings are stunning given the opaqueness of the Bush presidency. Gellman was provided access to enough of the players and coupled with his functional expertise in understanding constitutional law and the machinations of the Executive Branch, provides a thorough account of several initiatives that Cheney decides to engage. The book is not a complete biography of the Cheney vice presidency, but instead an analysis of his performance by studying several key areas, such as his transforming intelligence activities post-9/11, fighting to increase the power of the Executive Branch while avoiding the checks of Congress and the SCOTUS, getting Bush reelected in 2004 by pushing for unsound economic policy that is partly the reason this recession will be deeper and longer than need be, to becoming a culture warrior in the war against science to promote certain business interests, and more.
There are no bad chapters, in fact each chapter is a masterpiece of reporting. Each is rife with explosive revelations:
from the process to win the nomination without being vetted,
to staffing allies in certain positions beyond the office of the Vice Presidency that allowed him to virtually control the content of their respective department's work in his areas of interest,
to how Cheney circumvented the law, the constitution, and its ideals,
to insuring an extremely lazy Bush was presented with only those arguments Cheney wanted him to hear,
to developing policy where his fingerprints were missing even to Bush,
to whether Cheney's efforts were in good faith or a result of cronyism or corruption;
Gellman's reporting is done within a proper context, with excellent sources, and in a writing style that reads like a thriller.
The only critique I have is a small one and mostly irrelevant for most readers of this sort of book. Gellman doesn't cover any ground on the ramifications of Cheney's policy execution. For example, while the story of Cheney authorizing the use of torture, including against people who were innocent, is excellently sourced, reported, and framed within the context of both American law and our founding ideals, it's a mere abstract rendering of results. Nowhere does Gellman report on how Cheney's policy affected real people, from those in the military that actually tortured people, to those people who are innocent of any wrongdoing that were tortured and some even tortured to death. This could cause the less-informed reader to not take Cheney's violations of our law as seriously as I believe they deserve (criminal investigations are warranted). For those readers who don't have that perspective, I also suggest the book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals and/or the DVD documentary, Taxi To the Dark Side, or the online documentary found at TorturingDemocracyDOTorg, all of which chronicles the harm done to both the tortured and the torturers while harming, not helping, American interests.
Does the book answer the questions I previously posed? Yes, without qualification I can now present a one paragraph response to how an Administration staffed with such a competent individual and delegated so much power ultimately failed so badly America will suffer its ramifications for generations.
on March 28, 2011
Mr. Gellman has been justly praised for writing a fair assessment of the Cheney Vice Presidency. Many have argued that Mr. Cheney was the puppet master in the Bush Administration and to a large degree they are correct. President Bush was the "decider", but he was also an intellectually lazy leader who liked issues boiled down to one-page synopses. Because the Vice President was given such a large, unprecedented role in so many areas of government, it allowed Mr. Cheney to tailor issues presented to President Bush in a way that usually led the Chief Executive to the VP's desired result. Whoever controls the information, controls the situation. Scarred by Watergate and the weakening of the office of the President, Mr. Cheney was not an evil man, but a brilliant, patriotic, political animal who knew how to get what he wanted. We may argue the merits of his philosophy and the blatant illegality of some of his actions, but it does not negate the fact that he was a very effective administrator to his myopic, dangerous vision of a more monarchical presidency. This is a book about the study of power and the inevitable ugliness that comes with it. Readers looking for a hatchet job or puff piece about the most powerful VP in American history will be sorely disappointed. If you are viewing this work as a partisan piece then that is telling the reader more about themselves than the merits of this wonderful book. The author has written an excellent, easy-to-read chronology that will help future Presidents in determining the role of the Vice President. Well done, Mr. Gellman. Well done.
on September 12, 2014
Dick Chaney, as vice president, had a grasp of the intricacies of how certain critical aspects of the government worked, probably to a greater extent than most others in modern times who were able to rise to his position. His mind was focused, his energy and attention to detail were to be admired. Some would say he was a great mind. But what good is a great mind when it is used to dominate, and overrule the responsibilities of other components of the government that are designed and in place to make a government function in an accountable way. In this book, it is easy to say that he is depicted as an evil person who promoted his own vision of the world, duped a president who relied heavily upon him and pursued an agenda that would have, in all probability, led this country to total ruin. It is hard, if not impossible, to find one redeeming trait possessed by this man who steamrolled over others with responsibilities, using his henchmen to do what ever it took to carry out his agenda. One has to wonder why he is still considered a resource to be consulted on issues, especially in the area of foreign affairs.
on July 24, 2015
This was not the political hatchet job I expected. Mr. Geller's sources were mostly Republican staffers and elected officials. It's interesting to read how Mr. Cheney sets the control process in motion even as the votes in Florida are being counted and re-counted. The Bush Administration is fully staffed and the Bush Cabinet is, with few exceptions, Cheney's selections.
It's sad to see the President willingly go along with this because of his lack of interest in detail and the inability of his personal staff to get traction to challenge Mr. Cheney's decisions, etc. It's not until the acting Attorney General and the head of the FBI threaten to resign and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld leaves the Cabinet that the President begins to assert himself and the VP's grip on power begins to loosen.
One thing missing in this book is Condeleza Rice's role in putting power back into the hands of the President. Perhaps that's another story.