Dick’s Back

Dick Cheney is suddenly running around like his job depended on it. Which it might.

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Dick Cheney, usually nowhere to be seen, has lately emerged from his undisclosed location and seems to be popping up everywhere — on TV and radio, at the World Economic Forum, in the Italian parliament, talking up the war and expressing the strong belief, rather against the evidence, that WMDs will turn up in Iraq. What gives?

Cheney paid a visit to Pope John Paul II — a vocal opponent of the war that Cheney pushed for. The pope told Cheney to work together with the international community.

“I encourage you and your fellow citizens to work at home and abroad for the growth of international cooperation. … The American people have always cherished the fundamental values of freedom, justice and equity.”

But it’ll take more than the pope’s encouragement to convert Cheney to international cooperation. As two recent books have revealed, the V.P. has a reputation for disregarding dissenting views. In Ron Suskind’s “The Price of Loyalty,” former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill criticized Cheney for working to shield the president from criticism of the war. Even more damning, a new biography of Tony Blair by a Financial Times journalist quotes an anonymous Blair aide as saying that Cheney waged “a guerrilla war” against attempts to get U.N. backing for the invastion of Iraq.

Cheney’s tour is noteworthy for two reasons: the fact that he’s come out of the shadows at all, after being out of sight for so long; and the timing, just as David Kay’s resignation from the Iraq Survey Group brought the issue of Iraq’s elusive WMDs front and center again. In a rare interview on National Public Radio this week, Cheney invoked as “conclusive evidence” of Iraq’s WMD programs Iraq’s mysterious mobile labs (flatly contradicting David Kay).

The New York Times editorial on Tuesday argues that the administration should quit trying to justify its lousy intelligence and figure out how U.S. intelligence failed so spectacularly.

Of course, part of the reason Cheney is required to make the WMD case is that Bush has proved himself incapable of doing so (see the recent Diane Sawyer interview). Also, let’s not forget that Cheney is Bush’s running mate this year, and, however distasteful he may find campaigning, he has to get out there and connect with voters a whole lot more than he’s been doing. A recent New York Times poll shows that Cheney’s approval rating has has dropped 20 percent since 2002.

Paul Light, a vice-presidential scholar New York University, told the Times that Cheney, if he doesn’t watch out, might hurt the president’s reelection chances.

“He’s clearly at a point in his vice presidency to do more harm than good, except among the most intense Republican partisans who look to him for reassurance. … Handling Dick Cheney is like handling nuclear material. It can be quite powerful, but it can be quite dangerous and has to be handled carefully.”

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