Vice Presidential Hubris | Tony Blair to the Rescue?

Waxman v. Cheney—The current fight between Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Vice President Dick Cheney is a rematch of the Walker v. Cheney lawsuit of 2002, when Comptroller General David Walker sued the vice president on behalf of House members Waxman and John Dingell (D-MI). The veteran Congressmen wanted lists of lobbyists who’d attended Cheney’s energy-task-force meeting in spring 2001. David Addington, then Cheney’s legal counsel and now his chief of staff, wrote the initial kiss-off response to Waxman, then shaped Cheney’s response to the lawsuit. District Judge John Bates ruled that Waxman’s demand required a subpoena from a House committee, which Waxman could never get, because the Republican committee chair routinely blocked them.

As chair of Oversight and Government Reform, Waxman now has subpoena power himself. He seems to be moving toward issuing a subpoena to the vice president, which would precipitate a constitutional crisis. Waxman’s blistering June 21, 2007, letter to Cheney suggests that such a confrontation is inevitable. But Cheney is a wily adversary.

In the Walker v. Cheney suit, the vice president didn’t make the astounding claim that his office isn’t part of the executive branch, as he recently asserted. And at no time during that earlier dispute did Cheney assert executive privilege (perhaps preserving his right to later claim that he sees himself as not being part of the executive). A senior Hill staffer, who requests that his name be withheld, said that when Addington was Cheney’s legal counsel he quietly made the argument that the vice president’s office is not subordinate to the White House but is an entity unto itself.

Close Your Eyes and Think of England—If George Bush’s plan to make Tony Blair a special envoy to the Middle East ever gets off the ground, the former British prime minister won’t find much support in the Arab world. Blair last visited the region on a diplomatic mission this past September. He achieved nothing, and Beirut Daily Star managing editor Marc Sirois reminded the BBC that Blair has no credibility—because of his association with George W. Bush. “George Bush might be hated here, but at least he’s respected,” Sirois said. “Tony Blair doesn’t even have respect.”

Nothing has improved in the Middle East since then, and Bush’s two-state solution is now a three-state disaster. The most spectacular failure beyond Iraq—Hamas’s wresting of control of Gaza—is a direct result of Bush’s failed policy. And of Dick Cheney’s influence at the State Department, where he had his own Middle East operative until she left on maternity leave in the spring of 2006: his daughter Liz. She was shaping U.S. Palestine policy at the State Department, where despite a very thin résumé she held the number-two position at the Bureau of Middle Eastern Affairs. “She would allow no contingency plan for a possible Hamas election victory because she was convinced it wasn’t going to happen,” said a source who was at the State Department at the time. “It could not be discussed.” When the impossible happened in January 2006, the administration was utterly unprepared.

Two breathless paragraphs from Fred Barnes’s Rebel In Chief give a sense of how cocksure the Bush foreign policy team was that Bush had successfully re-imagined the region:
Arab leaders such as Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had been urging the Bush administration for months to revive the peace process. In the spring, Bush relented. And the consequences of his decision were as far-reaching as they were unexpected. The policy followed by every American administration since Israel was formally recognized in 1948 came tumbling down. In a string of meetings in the Situation Room in the basement of the White House during the spring of 2002, a new policy was hammered out at Bush’s instigation. It amounted to a revolution in Middle East diplomacy.Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush’s father, and Clinton were too conventional in their thinking to conceive a radical new policy, much less pull one off. Bush was not. He was the architect of the new policy. And by the outset of Bush’s second term, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians was no longer a distant hope. The president’s approach to the Middle East had quickly become the “new consensus” and was “beginning to have some effects,” National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley told me.

Now, with the Hamas-led government Liz Cheney said would never be elected dissolved by Mahmoud Abbas, the architect of the new policy wants to bring Blair in to fix things. Arabs won’t forget that Blair stalled a cease-fire while Israeli bombers and artillery leveled much of Lebanon last year, certain that with more time they could crush Hezbollah.

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