Preparing for power: Biden limbers up for office with scathing Cheney attack

Vice President-elect abandons the saccharine scriptto lambast his predecessor
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The Independent US

The incoming Vice-President, Joe Biden, had some choice words for his predecessor yesterday, abandoning the saccharine script he and President-elect Barack Obama have stuck with since the 4 November election.

Mr Biden told The New York Times that he would "restore the balance" of the vice-presidency by returning to the days when the second-most powerful person in America was neither seen nor heard. He used his first newspaper interview since the election to accuse Vice-President Dick Cheney of extending the office out of all proportion. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating," Mr Biden said, jabbing a finger at the Times reporter. "The Bush-Cheney relationship hasn't tasted very good. Not a single person you can name for me. Look at me, now, a single one can't tell you that the pudding has tasted good." And he hammered home his words. "Not one," he said. "Name me one serious person, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican."

Just back from a trip to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr Biden bridled at the suggestion that he would be less influential than Mr Cheney. "The only value of power is the effect, the efficacy of its use," he said. "And all the power Cheney had did not result in effective outcomes."

Mr Cheney himself is busy rewriting history, even as he packs his bags and prepares to leave Washington for Wyoming next week. Last night he was at it again, repeating the discredited claims that Saddam Hussein worked with al-Qa'ida and denying all responsibility for the economic calamity that has crippled America and much of the world as well.

Mr Cheney even rejected the evidence of recent polls, which show he is overwhelmingly unpopular among the American people. "I don't buy that," he said. He also brushed aside fresh revelations about they way a suspect in the 9/11 plot was tortured to within an inch of his life at Guantanamo. "All of the techniques that were utilised were authorised," Mr Cheney said. "None of them were in violation of the basic fundamental tenets that we used out there."

With breathtaking chutzpah, Mr Cheney told the veteran PBS journalist Jim Lehrer that his administration bore no blame for the economic meltdown. "I think we had good economic policies, especially in the early years." The terror threat was inherited, he added, because of poor handling by previous presidents. As far as Mr Cheney was concerned, everything went just great in the Bush years.

Invading Iraq was just the right thing to do, rather than an unnecessary conflict that required hoodwinking Americans. Nor had they bungled the post-invasion occupation, and the infamous scenes in Abu Ghraib had nothing to do with White House authorisation of abusive and illegal interrogation techniques, which Mr Cheney himself endorsed. The crippling US budget deficit was caused, he said, by fighting two wars and by essential programmes such as "enhancing the security of our shipping container business".

Mr Cheney also mocked Mr Biden for saying he does not intend to have his own "shadow government" in the White House. He said it was up to Mr Biden to decide if he wants "to diminish the office of vice-president". There was more scorn in the ultra-conservative Weekly Standard magazine which said recently that "it may be fair to assume that Biden will be the least consequential vice-president since Alben Barkley", a dimly remembered No 2 to Harry Truman.

Mr Cheney's efforts to airbrush his dark record in office have been called dishonest. This has been well-chronicled by investigative journalists and authors who have pointed to his hidden role in the Bush administration's most fateful choices in war: shifting the focus from al-Qa'ida to Iraq, promoting torture and allowing US intelligence services to spy on US citizens at home.

Mr Cheney has emerged as a man persuaded of the need to operate on what he calls "the dark side", in the struggle with Islamic terrorism. The unseen hand behind President George Bush, Mr Cheney's influence was unparalleled. He had a paramount role in decisions on war, the economy, the environment and was responsible for brushing aside long-standing prohibitions in the US military against torture.

It appears that Mr Bush was only dimly aware of the power being wielded by his vice-president. Mr Cheney would arrange to have crucial documents signed off by the President at their weekly lunches, bypassing the entire cabinet in the process.

And he emasculated the former secretary of state Colin Powell, turning him into a laughing-stock over Iraq's missing weapons of mass destruction and cutting off meaningful access to President Bush. It is also widely alleged that he undermined the rule of law and eroded the balance of power between the White House and Congress.

There will be another difference between the Cheney and the Biden vice-presidency. Rather than reside full-time in the grand vice-presidential residence on Massachusetts Avenue, Mr Biden and his wife, Jill, intend to commute to Washington by train once a week from their home and family in Delaware.