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Cheney is, of course, the hardest of the hard-liners--and his intransigence is responsible for both the CIA's fury and the Pentagon leadership's arrogance. Cheney and his low-profile neoconservative chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, have been stalking the CIA for years. They have disputed the agency's negative findings on an Iraq attempt to buy African uranium and an Iraq involvement in 9/11. The failures of American intelligence have been a Cheney obsession--which is why Republican Senator Chuck Hagel recently suggested that if the President really wants to know who the White House leakers are, he should "sit down" with his Vice President. Cheney's alliance with Rumsfeld has been at the heart of this Administration's hawkish, unilateral foreign-policy fantasies.
Indeed, Cheney has assumed the role that powerful National Security Advisers like Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski played in the past. He has been the President's closest foreign-policy confidant. He has not merely coordinated policy, he has conceptualized it. Rumsfeld's outburst obscured the most important question raised by the President's apparent decision to give Condoleezza Rice a more prominent role in Iraq policy: Does this mean that the President is finally turning away from the Vice President?
If so, it certainly is about time. Bush's speech last week was part of an aggressive public relations effort to spread the news that things aren't so bad in Iraq--a sure sign that things aren't so good. The American military has done wonders in restoring order and building civil society in the north and south of the country. But the Sunni triangle festers, and we are one strategically placed truck bomb--or coordinated sequence of bombs--away from disaster. This sort of uncertainty should be a revelation to the Vice President. His worldview is a simple one, bereft of even the neoconservative romance with exporting democracy. He believes that America has the power to create the world it wants--whether that means going it alone in Iraq, putting Ahmed Chalabi in power there or pretending that Yasser Arafat is not the Palestinian leader. These miscalculations have diminished America's military strength, its position in the world and perhaps its national security. Cheney has all the qualities this President admires. Cheney is tough, discreet, secure in his judgments--but he has been wrong too often, and now George W. Bush must decide what he wants to do about that.