While reporters Gellman and Becker have raised blogosphere hell over their four-part Cheneyfest that starts in today’s Washington Post, I posit that everybody else has missed the real meat of Sunday’s story. We already knew that Cheney hides his appointment schedule, his staff list and his own middle name in some impenetrable secrets chest. The blogosphere long ago covered how Yoo, Addington and Fredo Gonzales cooperated to ensure that America would stop respecting such trivialities as FISA and the Geneva Conventions. But one point is news to me:
When James A. Baker III was tapped to be White House chief of staff in 1980, he interviewed most of his living predecessors. Advice from Cheney filled four pages of a yellow legal pad. Only once, to signify Cheney’s greatest emphasis, did Baker write in all capital letters:
BE AN HONEST BROKER
DON’T USE THE PROCESS TO IMPOSE YOUR POLICY VIEWS ON PRES.
Cheney told Baker, according to the notes, that an “orderly paper flow is way you protect the Pres.,” ensuring that any proposal has been tested against other views. Cheney added:
“It’s not in anyone’s interest to get an ‘oh by the way decision’ — & all have to understand that. Can hurt the Pres. Bring it up at a Cab. mtg. Make sure everyone understands this.”
In 1999, not long before he became Bush’s running mate, Cheney warned again about “‘oh, by the way’ decisions” at a conference of White House historians. According to a transcript, he added: “The process of moving paper in and out of the Oval Office, who gets involved in the meetings, who does the president listen to, who gets a chance to talk to him before he makes a decision, is absolutely critical. It has to be managed in such a way that it has integrity.”
Two years later, at his Nov. 13 lunch with Bush, Cheney brought the president the ultimate “oh, by the way” choice — a far-reaching military order that most of Bush’s top advisers had not seen.
According to Flanigan, Addington was not the first to think of military commissions but was the “best scholar of the FDR-era order” among their small group of trusted allies. “He gained a preeminent role by virtue of his sheer ability to turn out a draft of something in quick time.”
That draft, said one of the few lawyers apprised of it, “was very closely held because it was coming right from the top.”
Now that’s an interesting data point. Working under a famously dim underachiever Dick Cheney became exactly the kind of bureaucratic disaster that he himself used to warn people about. What happened? Delving too deeply probably risks getting into the weeds of psychohistory, but it is interesting to note that so many of our recent troubles could have been avoided if Dick Cheney had listened to Dick Cheney.