It will be many years before it is possible to dispassionately write a book or review a book about Vice-President Dick Cheney. In the near term, it is very likely that any book or review will reflect at least as much about its author as its subject. For those who object to the policies with which Cheney has been associated, nothing but a book that paints Cheney in the darkest hues will be remotely sufficient. Those who are favor or at least sympathetic to Cheney’s policies, Cheney’s decisions and influence will be buttressed with stories about his acknowledged competence and experience. Stephen F. Hayes, an senior writer for the Conservative Weekly Standard, has acknowledged as much in discussions about his recent book entitled Cheney: The Untold Story of America’s Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President.

Within the constraints of dealing with this particular contemporary subject, Hayes provides a valuable service. Because he is perceived as sympathetic to the Bush Administration’s policies, Hayes was granted an extraordinary 30 hours of face time with Cheney. Notoriously distrustful of the press, he does not generally grant interviews. The information Hayes garnered will provide for later biographies heretofore invaluable raw material from which to gain insight into Cheney’s thinking.

Although always considered bright in school, Cheney did suffer some setbacks in his late teens and early twenties. Because of poor academic performance after two years, he was asked to leave Yale and yield a scholarship he had won. Spending a year in Wyoming as a linesman, his star descended further as he was arrested two times for DWI. It was not until Lynne Vincent (later his Cheney’s wife) an academic in her own right, told Cheney that she any future husband of hers would have to behave better, that Cheney reversed his decline. He enrolled at the University of Wyoming, earning his bachelor’s and master’s in degrees political science. Indeed, he was on his way to a PhD and a quiet academic career, until he got involved in politics, serving as an intern for a Wyoming state legislator. Cheney was not particularly partisan and was assigned to Republican representative only because the other intern selected insisted on being assigned to a Democrat. Later President George W. Bush was described as the accidental president because of his close victory in 2000. However, in a very real sense, decades earlier Cheney had become an accidental Republican.

Cheney’s big break on the national political scene was to work for Donald Rumsfeld who was the Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity in the Nixon Administration. This situation is key understanding Cheney’s Conservative view of economic policy It is here that he was became disenchanted with the power of government to micromanage the economy. He and Rumsfeld led the failed wage and price control efforts of the Nixon Administration. Rumsfeld went on to become Chief of Staff in for President Gerald Ford. Later when Rumsfeld became Secretary of Defense for Ford, Cheney took his place as Ford’s Chief of Staff. In the course of a little more than a decade, Cheney had risen from a Wyoming linesman in to one of the most important positions in the Executive Branch.

After Ford lost to then Governor Jimmy Carter in 1976, Cheney returned to Wyoming and was trying to decide whether to go into business, when Wyoming’s single Congressional representative seat opened up on a retirement. Senator Alan Simpson, later one Cheney’s best friends in Washington, was running at the same time for the open Senate seat.

In Congress, Cheney rose rapidly to leadership positions, because of his reputation for fairness, competence and discreteness. Minority Leader Robert Michael, helped Cheney’s career because he judged Cheney an up-and-coming moderate voice in a Republican Party increasingly dominated by followers of Ronald Reagan. Actually, Cheney’s voting record was very Conservative, but because he worked tirelessly for Ford’s nomination in 1976 against Reagan.

When inaugurated in 1989, George H. W. Bush originally nominated John Tower as Secretary of Defense. It was soon clear that Tower’s reputation for consuming too much alcohol and chasing too many women disqualified him for such a sensitive position. Cheney’s nomination to that position was large viewed as bi-partisan selection. Cheney’s experience in Congress demonstrated that he could work comfortable across the aisle. Looking back at the comments of the time, Democrats largely could not say enough good things about Cheney.

Cheney’s major test during the administration of the first George Bush came during the first Gulf War. Cheney and then Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell proved to be a effective team. During this conflict, Cheney buttressed his reputation has a thoughtful competent leader.

Hayes reminds us Cheney’s reasoning that for not proceeding to Baghdad to after the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait. Cheney spoke of the difficulty in dealing with the different religious factions in Iraq and the door-to-door fighting that might ensue. These are all warnings that should have been more carefully considered a decade later. Hayes also reminds us of the criticism of Vice-President Gore, running with Clinton in 1992, that the Bush Administration had not done enough to deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein with regard to WMD and his support of terrorists.

Cheney is a person of irony. He was selected to run with George W. Bush as vice-president because he lent a certain gravitas and competence to an candidate inexperience in foreign policy. Yet he now is caricaturized as an overanxious warrior. Cheney did not have ambitions to succeed George W. Bush as president. As a consequence, he ended up having more power and influence than perhaps any other vice-president in history.

The key insight to understanding Cheney what changed the cautious Cheney into a forceful advocate for the Iraq War is September 11. The Bush Administration had to make some terrible decisions during those attacks on the United States. They knew what it was like to lead a country under attack and it colored the way Bush and Cheney subsequently viewed the world. Although United Flight 93 crashed because of a conflict between the terrorists and the passengers, according the Hayes, Cheney passed along a order to shoot down the plane. After hearing that the plane had gone down, for some horrible moments the leadership did not know if their order had actually been carried out.

Since 9/11, the United States homeland has not been directly attacked. Some believe that the original threat was overblown and that 9/11 was a terrible anomaly. Cheney is convinced that the policies that the Bush Administration has been pursued, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and aggressive anti-terror intelligence, are the reason we have not been attacked. It is this assessment by Cheney that explains Cheney’s determination to continue to pursue them despite external criticism. This single understanding is worth the purchase price of the book.

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