Cheney tried to persuade President Bush to bomb Syria

Combative vice-president's memoirs detail his battles with his colleagues

Rupert Cornwell
Wednesday 09 November 2011 18:30

In a combative and score-settling new book, former vice-president Dick Cheney reveals how he unsuccessfully tried to persuade his boss George W Bush to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear site, and takes sharp aim at his "moderate" rivals of the time, Condoleezza Rice and in particular her predecessor as Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir, to be published next week, has long been keenly awaited, and the man regarded as the arch-conservative in the Bush inner circle does not disappoint. "There will be heads exploding all over Washington," Mr Cheney told NBC in an interview of which excerpts were released yesterday. For once, the hype may not be far off the mark.

For the most part the book confirms the public perception of Mr Cheney when he held office between 2001 and 2009 – of one of the most influential vice-presidents in US history, secretive and sibylline, whose already conservative views were only hardened by the trauma of 9/11.

But the Syrian episode also bears out the widespread evidence that his sway diminished in Mr Bush's second term, as the administration adopted a more multilateral approach to global issues, and the problems left by the 2003 Iraq invasion, of which MrCheney was arguably the most fervent advocate in the administration, became all but intractable.

"I again made the case for USmilitary action against the reactor,"Mr Cheney writes of a June 2007 White House meeting on the issue. "But I was a lone voice. After I finished, the President asked, 'Does anyone here agree with the Vice-President?' Not a single hand went up around the room." In the event, the site was destroyed three months later by Israeli warplanes. In the book, of which leaked extracts appeared in The New York Times yesterday, Mr Cheney does not hide his disagreements with Mr Bush. He also confirms that, well aware of his unpopularity, he offered his resignation on several occasions before the 2004 election. But each time the President rejected them.

In the NBC interview, Mr Cheney denies that his frankness will upset the former president – not least by the credence it might lend to claims that in the first Bush term at least he, rather than his titular boss, called the shots. "I didn't set out to embarrass the President or not embarrass the President," Mr Cheney insisted; there were "many places [in the book] where I say some very fine things about George Bush. And believe every word of it."

The same however cannot be said of his remarks about Ms Rice and General Powell. The former he castigates for her naivety in dealing with North Korea. Indeed in a chapter entitled "Setback", Mr Cheney is scathing about the State Department and the "utterly misleading" advice it gave on some foreign policy issues, especially in the second Bush term. But the fiercest barbs are reserved for Colin Powell, whose State Department was often in undeclared war with Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon and the Vice-President's office during the run-up to the Iraq war.

In Mr Cheney's eyes, General Powell's biggest sin was disloyalty, writing that "it was as though he thought the proper way to express his views was by criticising administration policy to people outside the government". Mr Powell's forced resignation in December 2004, the book drily notes, "was for the best".

Since leaving office Mr Cheney has popped up intermittently, mainly on the right-wing speaking circuit, and usually with trenchant criticism of President Barack Obama. His long history of heart disease has also continued. He has become noticeably gaunter and thinner, and in 2010 suffered congestive heart failure that forced him to be fitted with a special pump.

In his memoir, Mr Cheney reveals that he wrote a letter of resignation dated 28 March 2001, instructing an aide to give it to Mr Bush should he ever be incapacitated by a stroke or heart attack while in office.

Polls favour Perry

Rick Perry has taken a double-digit lead over Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential nomination race in two polls released on Wednesday night.

Although it is less than two weeks since he formally entered the race, 29 per cent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said Mr Perry would most likely be their choice to oppose President Obama in 2012, according to a Gallup poll. Romney had been first in most nationwide opinion polls. Gallup said 17 per cent of respondents favoured Romney, when asked to rate the field of candidates. Texas Congressman Ron Paul was third, on 13 per cent, and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann came fourth, with 10 per cent. reuters

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