CommunityFDL Main Blog

Condi Plays Cheney’s Cut-Out Game

Is it stating the obvious to conclude that the only way the United States can reach an agreement with a potential adversary is to bypass the Office of Vice President and make sure that none of Dick Cheney’s minions finds out you’re waging peace until after you get the President to sign on? That’s the story we got from this article in Friday’s New York Times.

In a page 3 article somewhat misleadingly entitled, “Rice is said to have speeded North Korea deal,” reporters David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker reveal that Secretary of State Rice helped push the deal to get the North Koreans to suspend further efforts to develop nuclear weapons and allow international inspectors, in exchange for assistance in obtaining fuel oil supplies and other concessions, with further discussions to follow.

To win approval of a deal with North Korea that has been assailed by conservatives inside and outside the administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice bypassed layers of government policy review that had derailed past efforts to negotiate an agreement, several senior administration officials said this week.

In lieu of the formal meetings where objections to such accords were usually voiced during the president’s first term, Mr. Hadley “walked it through with concerned people,” a senior administration official said. The official acknowledged that the process was much more informal, and rapid, than usual, although much of Mr. Hill’s work was built upon previous negotiations at the talks that had been widely vetted across the administration.

But this wasn’t just a case of Condi cutting through layers of inefficient bureaucracy. That’s the official view. Instead, the article hints that what was really going on was Rice using Hadley to bypass Vice President Cheney and his neocon loyalists at the Departments of Defense and State. And Rice had good reasons for doing so:

State Department negotiators almost never dealt with the North Koreans without officials from the Defense Department and the vice president’s office coming along, and reporting back. In one instance, Mr. Cheney stepped into the Oval Office to put an end to a discussion under way in Beijing, when he feared an agreement setting out steps for resolving the nuclear standoff lacked the tough language on disarmament that he believed Mr. Bush wanted. Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, learned of the decision after a black-tie dinner.

I suppose the first question we should ask is which provision of the Constitution gives the Vice President the power to insist on being present and having a veto power over US negotiating positions and policy? I guess that’s in the “Signing Statements” clause of the “Unilateral Vice-Executive Article,” which seems to be missing from my copy.

But now we know why first John Bolton and then Elliot Abrams and other neocons came off the wall against the agreement with North Korea. It explains why the White House felt a need to hold a few hands and why those who oppose the neocons are fighting back in support of the agreement.

The neocon objections are not just about substance: they’re about the neocons’ fear of losing power and influence. Of all the expressed complaints — that we’re “rewarding bad behavior,” and not obtaining all the concessions we want before we give any, and — heaven forbid — agreeing to proposals like those that Republicans criticized President Clinton for signing in 1994! — I find this objection the most interesting: We hardnose neocons were cut out, and that’s bad government!

But to some, it seemed the usual procedures were cut short — vetting the details though an interagency process that ordinarily would have brought in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, the Defense Department and aides at the White House and other agencies who had previously objected to rewarding North Korea before it gives up its weapons.

“There was no process here,” said an official who has been deeply involved in the issue. “Nothing. There was no airing of whether this is the way to deal with the North Koreans.”

State Department officials said that Robert Joseph, the under secretary of state for arms control and disarmament, vehemently disagreed with the approach, telling associates privately what Mr. Bolton has said in public: that the new agreement was no better, and perhaps worse, than one signed by President Clinton in 1994. Mr. Joseph, who announced last month that he would resign soon, declined to comment Thursday.

Once she had the President’s approval, Condi Rice was quick to put the dissenters in their place:

“First of all, the U.S. government is the U.S. government,” she said. “And so the decision has been taken. And since people are loyal to decisions that are taken, I think that everybody expects there to be loyalty to this decision.”

Mr. Bush, asked at a news conference on Wednesday about Mr. Bolton’s critique, was succinct: “I strongly disagree — strongly disagree with his assessment.”

Ouch. How deliciously ironic that the Cheney/Rumsfeld neocons, after making a dismal mess of foreign policy and intelligence for the last six years, usually by bypassing and disparaging the intelligence community and the professionals at State, and then creating their own rogue operations to stovepipe bogus intelligence and disastrous policy recommendations directly into the President, now find that Secretary of State Condi Rice can play the cut-out game too.



John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley