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June 29, 2007

The Non-Vice President

Roy Meachum

Certainly constitutional scholars must have been shocked. At one point, in this week's continuing dialogue between Capitol Hill and the White House, Dick Cheney's office sought to give the impression the vice president did not consider himself in the Executive Department.

Not for the first time could George W. Bush look around and find nobody there to cover his back, the primary duty for the number two job in any administration.

Looking back over the past six-plus years that condition has become perfectly normal when the president and Mr. Cheney disagree. Mr. Bush and his press office inevitably try to explain, while the man elected on his ticket doesn't bother. It was worse.

When Donald Rumsfeld obligingly allowed the administration to place him behind the desk sign that said secretary of defense, it was much worse. Nobody could possibly believe Mr. Rumsfeld ordered the premature start of the Iraq invasion. Mr. Bush was, as usual, out to lunch; another way of saying he was clearing brush in Texas. Whatever.

Within the Washington establishment it was clearly understood that the vice president urged the cafe bombing on March 19, 2003. His friend and "reliable" confidante Ahmad Chalabi told him there was no doubt the infamous Saddam Hussein was in the cafe that night. To push the notion along, Mr. Chalabi told his friend Mr. Cheney both the dictator's sons would be present.

When the bombs stopped falling, the nation discovered there had been a "small" mistake; none of the Hussein boys was on the premises. Ma'alesh! as the Arabs say: Never mind. Mr. Chalabi and his circle of exiles had their war, fought with American blood and money.

Whatever happened to the notion that war in Iraq would not cost taxpayers a dime? It would all be paid for by oil from the invaded country, we were told. What the administration decided to call "insurgents" knocked that notion in the head, fast. Actually, they blew it to pieces.

A Marine gunnery sergeant, who rode into Baghdad with the strike force that "liberated" Iraq's capitol, told me the invaders whizzed by all the ammunition dumps. The 'gunny" was totally frustrated that the push to win, and win quickly, concentrated on grabbing real estate, at the price of security. As you know, many of the improvised bombs that have taken hundreds of American lives came from those dumps on the road to Baghdad.

In the past couple of years as the administration's popularity has sunk below a snake's belly, the vice president has limited his public remarks to certifiably friendly crowds. And that may have something to do with why his chief aide wound up getting sentenced to 30 months in the pokey.

Reluctant to thrust himself directly into the attempted character assassination of Joseph Wilson, the vice president worked through others, especially his loyalists.

Before the drums of war in Iraq had begun to play, Ambassador Wilson reported there was no evidence Saddam Hussein was trying to buy African materials that might help him to build a thermo-nuclear bomb. Finding Mr. Wilson not an easy target, the vice president settled for his wife. At that time she was a classified covert CIA agent. Mr. Cheney could have cared less. Or does anyone really believe "Scooter" Libby acted on his own? Come on.

Obviously the vice president means to disassociate himself from the Oval Office by declaring himself outside the executive branch. Wait a minute, that was modified into a formula I still don't understand.

Never mind a Senate committee promises to straighten things out by sending a subpoena to both the White House and wherever Mr. Cheney currently hangs his hat. It can't be on Capitol Hill. He spends so little time there. The other day, for example, he stopped by to swear in a new senator from Montana. Then sped away.

In a phrase, Dick Cheney has impressed me as a true hit-and-run vice president. Now you see him and - when he chooses - now you don't. Take those early-term meetings with all the big oil and gas tycoons; please don't, however. Mr. Cheney said they didn't exist, not as far as the public and press matter. And we don't, not to him.

The former congressman from Wyoming is a near-perfect example of how people tend to fall apart before anyone who seems to know what's happening. On the evidence, the current vice president really knows less than Pushkin. My English pointer buddy at least has the good sense not to try to push anyone about, especially his peers.

That's the name of Dick Cheney's game. With the subpoenas out, it should be fun, for at least a while, watching the man foam at the mouth, fall down and beat the floor with his fists. His record indicates he's willing to practice any tactic, try any trick rather than be held accountable.

It's about time. Considering how they voted in the recent off-year elections, voters must be disappointed with the weak grasp Democrats have displayed on the Washington mess.

By the way on the same day that the White House's subpoenas were issued, another Senate subcommittee also asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to stop by and chat about those mysteriously fired U.S. attorneys. So far, at least nine Justice Department employees wound up on Pennsylvania Avenue, their offices locked behind, for that second-term purge.

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