Dick Cheney, who spent most of his administration's first term in a secure undisclosed location, has been campaigning this fall in the Potemkin Villages of Republican reaction. As such, has not faced much in the way of serious questioning from his audiences of party apparatchiks. Nor has he been grilled by the White House-approved journalistic commissars who travel with the vice president to take stenography when Cheney makes his daily prediction of the apocalypse that would befall America should he be removed from power.
On Tuesday night, however, Cheney will briefly expose himself in an unmanaged setting – to the extent that the set of a vice presidential debate can be so identified. In preparation for this rare opportunity to pin down the man former White House counsel John Dean refers to as "the de factor president," here is a list of ten questions that ought to be directed to Dick Cheney:
1.) When you appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, you announced that, "We will be greeted as liberators." In light of the fact that more than 1,000 young Americans have been killed, while more than 20,000 have been wounded, in the fighting in Iraq, do you think you might have been a bit too optimistic?
2.) Why were maps of Iraqi oil fields and pipelines included in the documents reviewed by the administration's energy task force, the National Energy Policy Development Group, which you headed during the first months of 2001? Did discussions about regime change in Iraq figure in the deliberations of the energy task force?
3.) When the administration was asking in 2002 for Congressional approval of a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, you told the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that Saddam Hussein had "resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons." You then claimed that, "Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror, and seated atop 10 percent of the world's oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of the world's energy supplies, directly threaten American friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail." Several months later, when you appeared on "Meet the Press" just prior to the invasion of Iraq, you said of Saddam Hussein, "We know he has reconstituted these (chemical weapons) programs. We know he's out trying once again to produce nuclear weapons, and we know that he has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al-Qaeda organization." As it turned out, you were wrong on virtually every count. How did you misread the signs so completely? And why was it that so many other world leaders, who looked at the same intelligence you had access to, were able to assess the situation so much more accurately?
4.) Considering the fact that your predictions about the ease of the Iraq invasion and occupation turned out to be so dramatically off the mark, and the fact that you were in charge of the White House task force on terrorism that failed, despite repeated and explicit warnings, to anticipate the terrorist threats on the World Trade Center, what is it about your analytical skills that should lead Americans to believe your claims that America will be more vulnerable to attack if John Kerry and John Edwards are elected?
5.) Speaking of intelligence, were you or any members of your staff involved in any way in revealing the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative who was working on weapons of mass destruction issues, after her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, angered the administration by revealing that the president made claims about Iraqi WMD programs that he and his aides had been told were unreliable?
6.) During your tenure as Secretary of Defense, you and your staff asked a subsidiary of Halliburton, Brown & Root Services, to study whether private firms could take over logistical support programs for U.S. military operations around the world. They came to the conclusion that this was a good idea, and you began what would turn into a massive privatization initiative that would eventually direct billions of U.S. tax dollars to Halliburton and its subsidiary. Barely two years after you finished your service as Secretary of Defense, you became the CEO of Halliburton. Yet, when you were asked about the money you received from Halliburton -- $44 million for five year's work -- you said, "I tell you that the government had absolutely nothing to do with it." How do you define the words "absolutely nothing"?
7.) No corporation has been more closely associated with the invasion of Iraq than Halliburton. The company, which you served as CEO before joining the administration, moved from No.19 on the U.S. Army's list of top contractors before the Iraq war began to No. 1 in 2003. Last year, alone, the company pocketed $4.2 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars. You said when asked about Halliburton during a September 2003 appearance on "Meet the Press" that you had "severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interest." Yet, you continue to hold unexercised options for 233,000 shares of Halliburton stock, and since becoming vice president you have on an annual basis collected deferred compensation payments ranging from $162,392 to $205,298 from Halliburton. A recent review by the Congressional Research Service describes deferred salary and stock options of the sort that you hold as "among those benefits described by the Office of Government Ethics as 'retained ties' or 'linkages' to one's former employer." In the interest of ending the debate about whether Halliburton has received special treatment from the administration, would you be willing to immediately surrender any claims to those stock options and to future deferred compensation in order to make real your claim that you have "severed all my ties with the company."
8.) You have been particularly aggressive in attacking the qualifications of John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, to serve as commander-in-chief. Yet, you received five draft deferments during the 1960s, which allowed you to avoid serving in Vietnam. In 1989, when you were nominated to serve as Secretary of Defense, you were asked why you did not serve in Vietnam and you told the Senate that you "would have obviously been happy to serve had I been called." Yet, in an interview that same year, you told the Washington Post that, "I had other priorities in the sixties than military service." Which was it -- "proud to serve" or "other priorities"?
9.) Nelson Mandela says he worries about you serving in the vice presidency because, "He opposed the decision to release me from prison." As a member of Congress you did vote against a resolution expressing the sense of the House that then President Ronald Reagan should demand that South Africa's apartheid government grant the immediate and unconditional release of Mandela and other political prisoners. You have said you voted the way you did in the late 1980s because "the ANC was then viewed as a terrorist organization." Do you still believe that Mandela and others who fought for an end to apartheid were terrorists? If so, are you proud to have cast votes that helped to prolong Mandela's imprisonment and the apartheid system of racial segregation and discrimination?
10.) Mandela has said that, to his view, you are "the real president of the United States." Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said of the first years of the Bush presidency that, "Cheney and a handful of others had become 'a Praetorian guard' that encircled the President." O'Neill has also argued that the White House operates the way it does "because this is the way that Dick likes it." Why do you think that so many people, including veterans of this administration, seem to think that it is you, rather than George W. Bush, who is running the country?
John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press.
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