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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Cheney Supremacy

The part of Ron Suskind's new book that's getting all the attention this morning is his chilling disclosure that al-Qaeda apparently planned, then called off, a hydrogen cyanide gas attack in New York's subway in 2003.

But the longer-term significance of Suskind's new book -- his second major expose of the Bush White House in three years -- will likely be how it documents Vice President Cheney's singularly dominant role in the foreign policy and national security decisions typically attributed to President Bush.

Where other journalists smarmily imply that Cheney is in charge, or credulously relate White House assurances that he's not, Suskind appears to have gotten people with first-hand experience to actually describe how Cheney operates -- and what he has wrought.

I haven't yet seen a copy of it myself, but starting with its title, Suskind's new book, "The One Percent Doctrine," looks to be all about Cheney.Writes Suskind on his Web site : "What is the guiding principle of the world's most powerful nation as it searches for enemies at home and abroad? The One Percent Doctrine is the deeply secretive core of America's real playbook: a default strategy, designed by Dick Cheney, that separates America from its moorings, and has driven everything -- from war in Afghanistan to war in Iraq to the global search for jihadists."

Time magazine this week is running an excerpt from Suskind's book. In an introduction, Time writes: "Two months had passed since 9/11, and at the highest levels of government, officials were worrying about a second wave of attacks. CIA Director George Tenet was briefing Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in the White House Situation Room on the agency's latest concern: intelligence reports suggesting that Osama bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had met with a radical Pakistani nuclear scientist around a campfire in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

"Absorbing the possibility that al-Qaeda was trying to acquire a nuclear weapon, Cheney remarked that America had to deal with a new type of threat -- what he called a 'low-probability, high-impact event' -- and the U.S. had to do it 'in a way we haven't yet defined,' writes author Ron Suskind in his new book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11.

"And then Cheney defined it: 'If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis . . . It's about our response.' Suskind writes, 'So, now spoken, it stood: a standard of action that would frame events and responses from the Administration for years to come.' "

In an appearance on NBC's Today Show this morning, Suskind had this to say about the "one percent doctrine" -- which he also calls the "Cheney doctrine": "What it does is it embraces suspicions as a threshold for action."

Matt Lauer: "You think there are grave dangers in this type of policy. Why?"

Suskind: "The fact is for us as the most powerful nation in the world, what it does is it sends us into a kind of tactical ferocity where we're following everything, where we can't even have a one percent chance not be handled with the full force of the U.S. The difficulty is there is backlash when you act that way. . . . "

Lauer: "Are you suggesting that Dick Cheney drives the policy of the administration?"

Suskind: "The evidence is that Cheney is the global thinker. Bush is an action-based man, but he operates within a framework that Cheney largely designed."

The excerpt from Time, while concentrating on the gas attack, includes a scene in which Bush appears fairly easily influenced by Cheney.

Suskind describes one particular meeting Bush had in the Oval Office with Cheney and other officials in the days after the CIA had delivered the news that the gas attack had been planned and then apparently called off by Zawahiri.

"The President and the Vice President sat in the two wing chairs, each with his back to the fireplace. 'We need to figure this out,' Bush said, 'as long as it takes. We need to get our arms around this thing.' . . .

"The Vice President was intense. 'The question is why would Zawahiri have called them off? What does it indicate about al-Qaeda's strategy?'

"Bush cut him off. He was more interested in Ali [the informant behind the information].

" 'Why is this guy cooperating with us? That I don't understand.' . . .

"Bush became focused on the players. . . . [Then] Bush, in tactical mode, pressed them. 'Who came to New York?' and 'Are they still here, somewhere?'

"The answer from the CIA briefers: 'We don't know.'

"As Bush dug deeper, Cheney moved to reframe the discussion. Did al-Zawahiri call off the attack because the United States was putting too much pressure on the al-Qaeda organization? 'Or is it because he didn't feel this was sufficient for a "second wave"?' Cheney asked. 'Is that why he called it off? Because it wasn't enough?' "

And apparently, Bush finally came on board.

" 'I mean, this is bad enough. What does calling this off say about what else they're planning?' Bush blurted out. His eyes were wide, fist clenched. 'What could be the bigger operation Zawahiri didn't want to mess up?' "

And here's another telling scene: When Tenet and some of his briefers initially headed over to the White House to tell Bush about the new threat, Tenet has to go first, to "prebrief Bush for four or five minutes," which Suskind writes is "common practice" so that "Bush could be authoritative and updated when others arrived."
The Cheney Supremacy


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