Operating in the shadows, where he can best achieve his deeply conservative aims, Dick Cheney enjoys the total confidence of President George Bush and is sometimes described as the "Imperial" Vice-President.
Towards the end of every re-elected US President's second term, the opposition in Congress always smells the opportunity to assert itself. This time the target is Dick Cheney and subpoenas are raining down on his head from the Senate for the release of documents that could implicate him in illegal acts. His record for outflanking his enemies is such that there is little cause for optimism among his opponents who would have him impeached.
Whether giving a green light for the US to torture suspects to the point of "organ failure... or even death", to rolling back environmental measures, or clearing the way for the invasion of Iraq, Cheney's fingerprints are all over the most controversial aspects of the Bush years.
After more than six years of his rule, the US is waking up to the reality that it has been a Cheney-Bush affair in all but name and despite being written off on numerous occasions, the Vice-President's ability to influence events remains unrivalled. Although he is approaching the final months of his career and will never run for office again, more surprises may be in store as he seeks to complete his agenda.
Cheney will have his heart pacemaker installed next month and even with mortality knocking on the door, there is every possibility he will engineer yet another foreign policy surprise, possibly against Iran.
Many have made the mistake of underestimating the office of the vice-president, which Franklin Roosevelt's vice-president John Garner famously said was "not worth a bucket of warm piss". Al Gore may have had similar thoughts as he operated in the shadow of Bill and Hillary Clinton for eight long years. Other vice-presidents, such as Dan Quayle, remained a laughing stock through their tenure.
Not Dick Cheney. Using a combination of stealth and extreme aggression to achieve his aims, he is increasingly recognised in as a man of near-unrivaled power. A four-part forensic investigation in The Washington Post this week has provided fresh details of the Vice-President's elaborate network which he uses to control the presidency.
Three days after the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, it was Cheney, rather than Bush who identified that, from Washington's perspective, the rules of the game had now changed. In a rare appearance on Meet the Press, Cheney explained that the war on terrorism meant: "We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world." As the first suspected terrorists had reached the US prison at Guantanamo Bay it was Cheney who shattered the limits on torturing prisoners. Without bothering to inform the then Secretary of State Colin Powell, Cheney appeared in the Oval Office with an executive order that would enable the US to keep suspects in detention indefinitely without rights.
"What the hell just happened?" Powell exploded Condoleezza Rice was reported to be "incensed". But as the former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal commented in Salon.com yesterday: "Bush never bothered to ask Cheney about their opinions on the executive order or to call them; nor did he seem to care."
Cheney's influence seems also to have been under-appreciated by Tony Blair in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Sir Christopher Meyer, the former UK Ambassador to Washington, pointed out in his memoir, DC Confidential, that Blair overlooked Cheney's ability to force Bush's hand on the timing and conduct of the war. It was the "dryly humorous" Cheney, not Powell and Rice, that Blair needed to influence on the war.
It is the fresh details of Cheney's secretive and loyal coterie of officials at work that provides the most telling insight into how he pulls the strings of the federal government.
The Post reveals that he has a "man-sized" safe in his office to keep the ordinary working papers out of reach of the National Archives and Records as provided by federal law. When the Archives demanded access to the papers, he tried to abolish the agency for daring to seek access to his documents.
The biggest charge against Cheney is that he has transformed the executive office into one of unlimited and unaccountable power. "Cheney has viewed recent American history as a struggle between the imperial presidency necessary in a brutish world and the naíve, undependable and in some cases disloyal constraints of Congress," said Mr Blumenthal.
Most of all Cheney seems to ignore public opinion as he seeks to remake the US way of doing business at home and abroad. As he told Fox News last month: "We didn't get elected to be popular. We didn't get elected to worry about the fate of the Republican Party."
What next? His opponents now wonder in the sunset months of the Cheney-Bush Presidency.
© 2007 The Independent