Sunday, October 26, 2008

Book Review: Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency

TitleAngler: The Cheney Vice Presidency
AuthorBarton Gellman
Tagsdick cheney, politics, government

Gellman's book is not a biography. It only deals with Cheney's time in office as Vice President. It does cover some familiar ground, but also surprising facts, personality traits, and events.

Cheney comes across here as indeed a man driven by his love of his country and to do what he perceives as right for the country, regardless of the costs and the politics. He is, in some ways, driven by ideology. One of his most fixed ideas was that the power of the Presidency was damaged by the fallout over Nixon and Watergate, and he was determined to increase the power of the Presidency by any and all means.

Yet Gellman places him in the pragmatist wing of the GOP rather than the neoconservative wing, despite the fact that the Iraq war was the neocons' wet dream. His explanation of why Cheney supported the war makes more sense than any other explanation I've seen. Cheney did see Iran and North Korea as more of a threat, but we would not be able to attack them without severe blowback. The response of China to an attack on North Korea was too uncertain and Iraq had a well-equipped army and the fourth largest oil reserves. So Iraq was selected for its "demonstration effect" - it would show the other enemy regimes that America could and would act (see chapter 9). Gellman doesn't say it, but Cheney seems to have miscalculated the time and effort involved in the Iraq war, and that Iran's position in the region would only be enhanced by removal of Saddam Hussein.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the book is the depiction of the near meltdown of the government over the attempt to re-authorize the surveillance program over the objections of much of the Justice Department. We've all heard about the dramatic scene in John Ashcroft's hospital room, but Gellman gives even more detail and shows why this was one of the most important episodes in the Bush administration. First of all, the program was reauthorized without the approval of the Attorney General, and it came quite close to having several layers of Justice Department employees resigning over it, even many who didn't know all the details of the program in question. Gellman seems to think the administration would not have survived that kind of a loss and the subsequent Congressional investigations. Moreover, Cheney and his right-hand man, David Addington, did not sufficiently brief the President on the events, and Gellman seems to think Bush after this turned to Cheney less and to other advisers more. Cheney was also weakened by the loss of Scooter Libby.

All in all, a fascinating read. Gellman uses many sources, but relied heavily on interviews with as many people as he could, some of whom are anonymous - a necessary evil in a book like this. Future historians will find this book invaluable in understanding the Bush administration, as should citizens trying to understand why our government under George W. Bush has gone so wrong.

Highly recommended.
PublicationPenguin Press HC, The (2008), Hardcover, 384 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN1594201862 / 9781594201868

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