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Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency (Hardcover)

139 of 149 people found the following review helpful:

A powerful indictment , September 16, 2008

J. A Magill (Sacramento, CA USA)

Though I've not checked Fox News, no doubt the long knives are out for Barton Gellman. Angler, his portrait of Vice President Cheney is nothing short of devastating. However, for all of the charges Gellman lodges, the author never looses sight of his subject. While some may use Angler to support their two-dimensional mustache twisting image of the Vice President - or alternatively charge Gellman of offering such a portrait as a way of dismissing this excellent work of journalism - careful readers will find that the work offers a view with no small amount of nuance. The vision of Cheney offers is one created by a combination of the man's long held vision that executive power was unduly limited after the Nixon years - something he has long wished to "correct" - and his belief that in the wake of 9/11 the Government should not be constraint in any way in its efforts to prevent a future attack.

The result is nothing short of a toxic stew. Thus the VP, along with his senior staffers Libby and Addington threatened cajoled and manipulated their way into any action they thought necessary, regardless of the law. Gellman offers ample evidence for the charges he levels; likely owing the near end of the Bush reign, more than a few sources went on the record. Some have appeared elsewhere, such as Jack Goldsmith who worked in the Justice Department, while others are new, such as Former Majority Leader Dick Armey describing a meeting in the House in the run-up to the war where Cheney claimed that not only did they have unreleased proof that Saddam and his family had "close" relations with Al Qaeda, but that Iraq was getting close to creating miniaturized nuclear weapons. While in retrospect Cheney's claims more than strain credulity, one can imagine why Armey could not imagine the VP lying about such grave matters and, connecting the dots, switched his position to support the invasion.

Readers will also find interesting Gellman's careful work in explaining how Cheney achieved the level of power he did in the Bush White House. Beyond the obvious - a disengaged President with little intellectual curiosity as has been so well described by writers like Bob Woodward - Gellman offers insights into Cheney's use of his superior understanding of Washington, information, and access as the roads to power. By surrounding himself with the most experienced expert staff, as well as placing key allies at the second, third, and fourth layer of cabinet offices, Cheney was able to insert himself as a sort of Prime Minister, controlling the daily decision making of the Executive Branch. Gellman also provides interesting evidence of Cheney's declining influence as Bush's second term continued and he confronted other players with the President's ear.

Those who dismiss Gellman as an ideogue will be missing a useful and thoughtful examination of the inner workings of the Bush White House. His combination of journalist experience and understanding of foreign policy -- his concise examination of George Kenan remains a must read - make him the ideal person to write this important work.


69 of 76 people found the following review helpful:

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Material!, September 17, 2008

By Loyd E. Eskildson "Pragmatist" (Phoenix, AZ.) - See all my reviews
"Angler" is the code-name used by the Secret Service to refer to V.P. Cheney. "Angler" the book tells the story of V.P. Cheney's role in the Bush administration - from his selection as candidate, his initial moves before even taking office, to his ability to influence decision-making throughout the Bush term, and does this in a calm, credible manner.

Selecting a Running Mate: Bush asked Cheney early on, and was turned down. This, per Gellman, only increased Cheney's appeal. Bush II had witnessed tensions between his father's White House staff and those looking out for Dan Quayle's future; Cheney, in addition, had told him about problems between Nixon-Ford, and Ford-Rockefeller. Bush did not interview a single candidate before settling on Cheney. Further, Cheney negotiated his expanded role at the beginning - "I want to be a real partner in helping you reach decisions."

Cheney's Role in Staffing Positions: Cheney's commanding role on major appointments was without precedent. He recruited candidates, pre-interviewed them, and escorted them for Bush's approval in Austin. For State, Bush already set his sights on Colin Powell, and Linda Chavez for Labor (she withdrew after a nanny-scandal). Cheney brought in Rumsfeld, Whitman (EPA), and O'Neill (Treasury).

Cheney did not stop at the cabinet - 2nd and 3rd ranking officials (eg. Hadley, Bolton) could be vital allies. In policy fields he cared about Cheney placed people even deeper in the bureaucracy. The list did not include most of the Friends of George from the Republican Governor's Association.

"Scooter" Libby was made national security advisor, chief of the V.P. staff, and assistant to the president.

Cheney Gets Personally Involved: Early on (12/03/00), Cheney got his imprint in on the economy by suggesting a recession looked likely - setting the stage to blame Clinton and cut taxes. Cheney also attended almost all NSC meetings and briefed Bush afterwards (Rice did also - separately.) Cheney joined the regular Wednesday lunch of the president's economic team (secretaries of labor, commerce, and treasury, also the budget director), and the National Economic Council, the weekly Senate Republican caucus (LBJ was the last V.P. that tried - he was blocked by the Senators; Cheney pointed out that he was President of the Senate).

Also, the White House created a panel called the Budget Review Board, with Cheney as chair. Overseeing the budget was exactly the find of serious, boring work that Bush disliked, and Cheney thrived in the vacuum. Conflicts with OMB went to the Board, and no one appealed further to Bush.

Cheney also usually sent a staff member to Norquist's Wednesday anti-tax luncheons. Cheney had abandoned Milton Friedman's "no free lunch" maxim for Laffer's supply-side economics - despite serious objection from his long-time friends Paul O'Neil and Alan Greenspan.

Unlike most of his rivals and even the president, Cheney knew what he wanted. One of his first assignments to staff was a fast-track review of Clinton's departing executive orders, accompanied by an order to stop associated operations at the Government Printing Office. (Cheney knew that regulations have no force until printed in the Federal Register). He also got Bush to freeze hiring for everyone whose paperwork wasn't complete.

Cheney then finagled an office on the House side - close to the action on tax-writing. Greenspan began weekly visits to the White House - mostly to see Cheney. One important result was taking Greenspan out of 100% opposition to the Bush tax cuts.

Cheney worked With Andy Card to undermine Sen. Chafee's opposition to the bush tax cut, and convinced Bush to stand firm against Jefford's threat to bolt the party is not given additional Special Education funds. (Cheney reasoned that the R's had already de facto lost control, and did not want to reward threats.)

The Energy Task Force: Cheney asked for chairmanship of the task force on energy. Prior to starting, he directed an assistant to devise a structure that would leave the task force beyond reach of the Federal Advisory Commission Act (Hillary's undoing). This was achieved by limiting "membership" limited to employees of the executive branch. When challenged, Cheney convinced Bush to fight disclosure, contrary to most other advisers; his aim was to set a precedent and gain power.

Environmental groups were limited to a single meeting, and used up half the time making introductions; regardless, Cheney did not attend. An early goal became to walk Bush back from support for reducing CO2; Cheney was aided by four R Senators' requesting clarification from Bush. EPA Secretary Whitman sensed a problem, scheduled a meeting with Bush, but was beat by Cheney's presenting a proposed response to the Senators.

How did he do it - his energy task force portrayed the scientific debate as complex, and unresolved. Bush hated wading into that sort of situation and usually told experts to come back when they had hammered out their facts. Cheney also called for smarter policy and technology to avoid the choice between less energy and greater pollution.

Cheney sat in on the president's daily briefings - AFTER receiving the briefing himself earlier in the A.M. Thus prepared, he was able to shape the president's briefing as well as make comments of his own.

Following these paths gave Cheney awareness and involvement in much of went on in the White House early on. From here on he was in an ideal position to play a leading role, detailed in an interesting and credible manner by "Angler," in the Bush administration. This included not just influencing decisions but also ensuring they were carried out - eg. "defanging" new source EPA rules for coal-fired power plants. Still another source of Cheney's strength was his long-term relationships with numerous members of Congress, which he sometimes strained with slanted and stretched versions of reality (eg. describing Iraq's dangerousness to Rep. Armey to convince him to support war).

Bottom Line: "Angler" shows V.P. Cheney did not acquire his power and influence by accident - it was built through his experience and learning in prior decades at the top levels of government. Clearly he has transformed the nature of the office, and was aided in doing so by an uninvolved, incurious president who was also a poor manager (eg. failure to follow-up directive to Rumsfeld to begin Guantanamo trials, to back up Rice vs. Rumsfeld; to quickly realize "Brownie" was incompetent - Cheney did).

On the other hand, Cheney's ignoring warnings pre-9/11 (along with Bush), sometimes duplicity, and lack of pragmatism in favor of erroneous policies (eg. resisting information requests, even from the 9/11 Commission; almost marching the administration over the cliff regarding reauthorization for internal eavesdropping; lack of sensitivity to growing opposition to the Iraq War) are serious, irredeemable flaws.

Finally, to be fair, it should also be pointed out that Cheney was scrupulous in avoiding possible personal gain from his actions (eg. the Energy Task Force).

Comment Comments (4)  

66 of 82 people found the following review helpful:

3.0 out of 5 stars A very disturbing book about American leadership, September 17, 2008

By   Future Watch Writer (Washington, D.C. Area) - See all my reviews
Prior to 2002 I used to have a great deal of respect for Dick Cheney. He did a great job of running the 1991 war with Iraq. His 2001 energy plan was well researched and professional even thought some people (including myself) felt it should have been more oriented to renewable energy.

However, since September 11, 2001 Dick Cheney has strongly promoted some totally disastrous policies such as the decision to go to war with Iraq.

This book contains some truly stunning accusations. It suggests that Cheney's role in picking himself as Bush's running mate when he was in charge of finding a running mate for Bush in 2000 had serious ethical breaches. There is a suggestion that Cheney was less than candid about his health problems.

The author suggests that Cheney knowingly lied to Dick Armey (House Majority Leader) about intelligence concerning the (nonexistent) relationship between 9/11 terrorists and Saddam Hussein.

There is more disturbing material concerning Cheney's alleged role in encouraging the use of torture against terrorism suspects and the use of domestic wiretapping.

It is interesting that Gelman knocks down one of the most popular accusations against Cheney, the notion that he wanted to use his office for private financial gain or the benefit of the oil industry or his previous employer, Halliburton. In a recent interview with Harper's magazine, Gellman states,

"There's no venality here. Cheney was not trying to aggrandize himself, to steer money to friends, or to set himself up for higher office. He simply believed that the stakes were high and he was more capable than others. He saw the world, he believed, as it truly is and was prepared to do the "unpleasant" things that had to be done to safeguard us.

Cheney is a rare combination: a zealot in principle and a subtle, skillful tactician in practice."

I can't vouch for the accuracy of all that's in this book. It may be true. It may not be - although the reporter is a very professional journalist.

What I can say is that this is a serious book that should be read and considered by American citizens. This is a book that should be read and debated by Amazon readers.

This whole situation is very depressing story about a talented man who did a lot of good in the past but went in a truly disastrous direction since 9/11/2001.

What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception [BARGAIN PRICE] (Hardcover)

73% Disapprove For Good Reason, May 28, 2008
By The Spinozanator (Waco, Texas) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)      
This review is from: What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception (Hardcover)

Scott McClellan was given information to relay to the press about the Valerie Plame incident. Two years later he became convinced he'd been set up to spread lies - maybe not directly by Bush, but certainly by Rove and Libby, and encouraged by Cheney. That was his apparent tipping point. McClellan rethought the whole tenure of his association with the Bush Administration in Washington, began to have epiphanies, and formed new opinions. He doesn't tell us much we didn't already know or suspect, but boy does he tell it. This time around it's coming from a trusted insider who followed Bush to Washington from Texas. Here are a few of his observations:

*Bush believes his own spin (better known as [...]) and demonstrates a remarkable lack of inquisitiveness.

*Bush favored propaganda over honesty in selling the war. Cheney steered war policy behind the scenes, leaving no fingerprints.

*Bush and his team repeatedly shaded the truth, manipulated public opinion, and sold the Iraq situation in such a way that the use of force appeared to be the only feasible option.

*Contradictory evidence was ignored or discarded, caveats or qualifications to arguments were downplayed or dropped, and a dubious al-Qaida connection to Iraq was played up.

*The Bush administration didn't check their political maneuverings in at the door after the win - instead, they maintained a permanent campaign mode, run largely by Rove.

*Presidential initiatives from health care programs to foreign invasions were regularly devised, named, timed and launched with one eye (or both eyes) on the electoral calendar.

*Operating in the campaign mode means never explaining, never apologizing, never retreating. Unfortunately, that strategy also means never reflecting, never reconsidering, never compromising.

*Bush is out of touch, operates in a political bubble, and stubbornly refuses to admit mistakes.

*The press is partially responsible for giving Bush soft questions and enabling the president.

*Despite the expose, McClellan describes Bush as a man easily intelligent enough to be President, possessing personal charm, wit, and enormous political skills, who did not consciously set out to engage in these destructive practices.

*McClellan asserts, "What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary and the Iraq war was not necessary."

Let's analyze this a little. All administrations - all humans - try to present themselves in the best possible light, usually to the point of self-deception. Bush insisted from the beginning on certain points of discipline in his administration and under his guidance they did it better - in my opinion, beyond better, extending to abuse of executive power.

I don't dislike all the items on Bush's agenda, but it's hard to tolerate a presentation so one-sided it borders on dishonesty. I think McClellan is right in that Bush successfully sold us a bill of goods on Iraq. Even Wolfowitz conceded,

"Iraq's supposed cache of WMD's had never been the most compelling casus belli. It was simply one of several. For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, WMD's, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on."

So it wasn't WMD's. Bush was influenced by his war cabinet and others to invade Iraq to seize a valuable piece of real estate. This power grab was going to change the balance of power in the Middle East, change history, and create a legacy for Bush - but he forgot to read the history books. They demonstrate how many times we have attempted to democratize a country and failed - starting with the Philipines in 1898. After the Cold War ended, many democratized of their own accord - when they were ready. War is not a thing to initiate on a hunch.

"Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth or easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tide and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events."

- Winston Churchill




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