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Dick Cheney’s Office of the Vice President (OVP) is so cloaked in secrecy, journalist Robert Dreyfuss reports, that it routinely refuses to provide a directory of staff members or even the numbers of staff and employees. Dreyfus writes, “Like disciplined Bolsheviks slicing through a fractious opposition, Cheney’s team operates with a single-minded, ideological focus on the exercise of American military power, a belief in the untrammeled power of the presidency, and a fierce penchant for secrecy.” The list of current and former staffers includes, as of April 2006: former chief of staff Lewis Libby; his replacement, David Addington; top national security advisers Eric Edelman and Victoria Nuland; neoconservative and hardline Middle East specialists such as John Hannah, William Luti, and David Wurmser; anti-Chinese Asia specialists such as Stephen Yates and Samantha Ravich; a varying number of technocratic neoconservatives in other posts; and an array of communications specialists, including “Cheney’s Angels”: Mary Matalin, Juleanna Glover Weiss, Jennifer Millerwise, Jennifer Mayfield, Catherine Martin, and Lea Anne McBride. It is known that Cheney’s national security staff was assembled by Libby from various far-right think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), as well as carefully screened Cheney supporters from a variety of Washington law firms. (Dreyfuss 4/16/2006) Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, will recall in early 2007: “A friend of mine counted noses [at the office] and came away with 88. That doesn’t count others seconded from other agencies.” (Rozen 1/7/2007)
'Cabal' of Zealots - Wilkerson calls Cheney’s inner group a “cabal” of arrogant, intensely zealous, highly focused loyalists. Recalling Cheney’s staff interacting in a variety of interagency meetings and committees, “The staff that the vice president sent 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 bureaucratic style, they’d say: ‘We totally disagree. Meeting’s over.’” The committee agendas were generally scuttled. And if something did get written up as a “decision memo” bound for the Oval Office, Cheney himself would ensure that it died before ever reaching fruition.”
Sidestepping the NSC - The National Security Council (NSC) is designated as the ultimate arbiter for foreign policy options and recommendations for the president. But, according to Wilkerson, Cheney’s office and the NSC were often at loggerheads, and Cheney’s “shadow NSC” had the upper bureaucratic hand. Cheney “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,” says Wilkerson.
China Threat - Cheney’s Asia advisers, Yates and Ravich, were most often encountered by Wilkerson. They helped drive Cheney’s agenda for China, which was obsessive to the point of paranoia. China was a grave, if long-term, threat to the US, they believed. The US must begin strongly cultivating Taiwan as a counterbalance to China, whom they asserted was preparing for military action against the US. Former US ambassador to China Charles Freeman compares Yates to the Defense Department’s Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith; all three believed, Freeman says, that China was “the solution to ‘enemy deprivation syndrome.’”
Iraq Policy - Cheney’s current and former staffers played an even larger role in shaping the administration’s Iraq policy than is generally known, and Cheney “seeded” staffers in other departments to promote his war agenda. Luti left the OVP in 2001 to join the Department of Defense, where he organized the Office of Special Plans (OSP). Wurmser, an AEI neoconservative, joined the Pentagon and created the forerunner of the OSP, the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which helped manufacture the evidence of connections between Hussein and al-Qaeda. Wurmser worked closely with Hannah, Libby, Luti, and another Pentagon official, Harold Rhode. Ravich worked with neoconservative Middle East analyst Zalmay Khalilzad to build up Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, their designated supplanter of Hussein.
US or Israel Interests? - Many of Cheney’s most influential staffers are pro-Israeli to the point where many observers wonder where their ultimate loyalties lie. David Wurmser is a standout of this group. Wurmser worked at WINEP with Hannah, then joined the AEI, where he directed that group’s Middle East affairs, then joined Feith’s OSP before moving on to Bolton’s inner circle at the State Department, all before joining Cheney in the OVP. Most outsiders consider Wurmser’s ideas wildly unrealistic. A former ambassador says of Wurmser, “I’ve known him for years, and I consider him to be a naive simpleton.” (Dreyfuss 4/16/2006)
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