A number of political observers have taken note of a momentous event in the U.S. government ”“ a counter-coup that overthrew the Dick Cheney/neocon cabal that has been running U.S. foreign policy (if not the entire U.S. government). Juan Cole has cited Admiral William Fallon, head of Centcom, and Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as two key players who stymied efforts earlier this year by Dick Cheney to accelerate the military build-up off the coast of Iran. Andrew Sullivan in a blog entry called The System is Working credits Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for restoring some sanity to the Defense Department, though he also notes that without the Democratic victory in the 2006 elections Bush would never have been forced to jettison Rumsfeld.
In Juan Cole’s piece, he cites a quote from Admiral Fallon supposedly made to a friend at the time Fallon was up for Senate approval to head Centcom:
‘A source who met privately with Fallon around the time of his confirmation hearing and who insists on anonymity quoted Fallon as saying that an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch”. Asked how he could be sure, the source says, Fallon replied, “You know what choices I have. I’m a professional.” Fallon said that he was not alone, according to the source, adding, “There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box.” ‘
The latest handiwork of these coup leaders is this week’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which asserted Iran had ceased its nuclear weapons development program in 2003. All 16 of the intelligence services which contribute to this NIE, and this would include the CIA, Department of State, Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense, concurred strongly with this conclusion. This NIE is a flat-out contradiction to everything the President and Vice President have been saying about Iran’s nuclear ambitions (WWIII is on our doorstep if we don’t stop Iran now). The unanimity of opinion, especially coming from the Department of Defense, is especially embarrassing to the White House.
The conclusion many people reach from this development is that it will be nearly impossible for Bush and Cheney to launch air attacks on Iran. But for this to be true, it means that the White House has lost control of the levers of power over the Executive Branch, at least in this important area. George Bush could just order the Department of Defense to commence bombing, but he would not be obeyed.
But let’s be even more specific: Dick Cheney has lost control over the government and is increasingly isolated in the White House. Without his minions like Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Scooter Libby, David Wurmser, Douglas Feith, and most importantly Donald Rumsfeld, the Vice President has been neutered and put ”œback in the box”.
What this points to as well was that there never really existed a Bush administration, only a Cheney administration. Bush never had loyalists and minions in key cabinet posts; Cheney did. Bush’s loyalists on the White House staff have been resigning steadily, and the only old hand he has around him is Condoleezza Rice, who is in many respects as empty a vessel as Bush himself.
This puts new light on Bush’s frequent assertion that he is ”œthe Decider”. While this seems to mean on the surface that Bush views himself as some sort of dictator, in practice it means that he doesn’t manage his administration, he doesn’t direct anybody or any process, and he isn’t curious about what goes on under him. He sits in the Oval Office waiting for his staff to work up policy issues that require a decision. He insists that these be no more than two pages in length and usually framed as a choice between item A and Item B. Then he decides.
White House power, therefore, rested with the Chief of Staff who controlled access to the President, and with those officials savvy enough to bypass the federal government bureaucracy so that they themselves could frame foreign policy issues and point the President to certain conclusions. Dick Cheney had all these skills, direct access to the President along with a compliant Chief of Staff in Andrew Card, and command of all the key elements of the foreign policy and defense apparatus.
Dick Cheney’s command structure has been dismantled, and now it appears, notwithstanding his continued ability to influence if not mold George Bush’s thinking, that the federal government has struck back at him and effectively boxed in his ability to tell anyone to do anything. Which means that on the use of unilateral, preemptive military force, President George Bush, never a puppet of Dick Cheney but certainly passive in his presence, has been boxed up as well for the remainder of his term.
While the two admirals certainly seemed to have played a role in this counter-coup, ultimately the force for change here is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and directly behind him Old 41 ”“ Poppy Bush. If this is true, George H.W. Bush was not so much taking action against his son (Lord knows he’s probably already given up on Dubya ever being an effective president), but against Dick Cheney, America’s first true l’eminence grise in the most sinister meaning of the phrase.
Let’s consider it Old 41’s Christmas gift to the nation.
Now if he could only get his wealthy media mogul friends to banish William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Victor Davis Hanson, Jonah Goldberg, Michael Ledeen, John Bolton, and all the other neocon crazies from the nation’s airwaves and major newspapers, that would really be something worth celebrating.
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