Trade the grin of the Cheshire cat for a scowl and you have Vice President Dick Cheney. OK, the cat in "Alice in Wonderland" never shot a friend. Still, it is the scowl, all crooked and evil, that makes up the Cheney menace. He is arguably the most powerful vice president ever, filling the vacuum his boss leaves in the Oval Office.
During President George W. Bush's six years in office so far, Cheney has been as famous as the Cheshire cat for vanishing and suddenly reappearing. He was back out on the limb last week promoting Bush's escalation of the Iraq war. The Scowl was all over Fox TV news, rendering the clenched visage of Brit Hume downright charming by comparison.
The Cheney menace also haunted the courtroom where the jury was being picked last week for the trial of the vice president's former chief of staff. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is facing felony charges of obstruction of justice and perjury in the grand jury probe of how Valerie Plame was exposed as a CIA agent, possibly as a punitive act. Defense attorneys reportedly struggled with the daunting task of eliminating from the Libby jury those with "strongly negative feelings" about Cheney.
On the first day two such potential jurors, civic-minded we must assume, couldn't conceal their distaste for Cheney. One reportedly lasted 15 seconds, another weighed his civic duty for 15 minutes before confessing "low regard" for the sitting vice president. Cheney is scheduled as a star witness in Libby's leak case, which is on the periphery of the administration's pursuit of the Iraq war.
Cheney is very much at the heart of the war and deserves as much blame as anyone. His involvement also bears, in the opinion of more than a few, the hint of profiteering, if not conflict of interest. He has amassed great wealth and power in the all too common - and questionable - practice of shuttling between top corporate jobs and posts at the government trough. He is the former chief executive of the giant Halliburton energy and government services conglomerate that has landed multi-billion-dollar U.S. war contracts without competitive bidding.
The vice president may well have met all federal ethical requirements for severing his corporate ties before taking office. The imprint of his association with Halliburton, however, remains as strong as the Cheshire grin when the cat has disappeared. It's a fair bet that if the republic frees itself of Cheney, he is likely to benefit from Halliburton's gorging during his tenure in office.
As for the recent promotion of the troop buildup, Halliburton stands to profit handsomely from the 21,500 additional troops to be dispatched to the Iraq war zone, where its subsidiaries provide housing and food. Early on, Halliburton was accused of fleecing the government by feeding the troops spoiled food and by overcharging for the number fed. There also have been allegations some subsidiaries overcharged for fuel, transportation and other services and wasted millions due to inadequate management of personnel and war materiel.
After almost four years of such management, the new Democrat-controlled Congress may well discover that the waste by Halliburton and others is incalculable. This finding should not, of course, deter the legislative branch from re-establishing its oversight and fiduciary responsibilities. During the roar of the U.S. war machine in Iraq, the Congress, until now, has been as quiet as church mice, and just as impotent.
After 3 1/2 years of watching Bush-Cheney mismanage the war, the American people finally ran out of patience in the November elections. And so it appears particularly unseemly for Cheney to push so aggressively - and wrongheadedly - for almost dictatorial powers for himself and the president to continue budget-busting spending and escalation in Iraq.
While acknowledging Congress' attempts to adhere to the popular will and redirect the war, Bush chillingly declared, "But I've made my decision. And we're going forward" with the buildup. "You cannot run a war by committee," said Cheney. He obviously intends to increase the flow of money to Iraq.
Perhaps it's time for Cheney to vanish like the Cheshire cat, beginning with the tip of the tail and ending with the scowl, which will likely remain long after the rest of him has gone.
© 2007 Newsday