Shirley Anne Warshaw

 

On her book The Co-Presidency of Bush and Cheney

Cover Interview of June 22, 2009

The wide angle

The Co-Presidency of Bush and Cheney opens a new door into understanding the dynamics between the president’s office and the vice president’s office.  Material for the book was gathered over three years, in which I interviewed senior staff from the Bush/Cheney campaign of 2000, from the White House, and from the executive departments.  One of the most revealing pieces of information emerged during interviews with White House staff.  The staff revealed that during the transition Cheney created what was called “the single executive office,” in which the president’s staff and the vice president’s staff were considered a single office.

In this staffing structure, memos initiated in the White House were also routed through the vice president’s office.  All meetings in the White House, both among staff and with non-staff, were open to the vice president’s staff.  When the president’s chief of staff held a senior staff meeting, two of the vice president’s staff attended.  Cheney built his staff to mirror the White House staff, having aides with the same titles and same portfolio as those in the White House.  Thus, when the national security staff held a meeting, Cheney sent several of his staff.  Conversely, if Karen Hughes, the communications director in the White House, needed a speechwriter for a project, she could pull from Cheney’s staff.

The intertwining of staffs allowed Cheney access to all information available to Bush and, perhaps more importantly, it allowed Cheney to set a course for his policy involvement in which Bush was far less interested.

Not until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, did Bush and Cheney join forces in one policy arena – national security. They both were comfortable using military might to defeat terrorists far from America’s shores.  Cheney’s wealth of foreign policy experience, from his years as Gerald Ford’s chief of staff, to his ten years on the House Intelligence Committee, to his tenure as Secretary of Defense, gave him instant credibility with Bush.  Bush’s foreign policy experience was limited to conversations with Mexico’s president on immigration issues while he was governor of Texas.

Bush’s views on the newly designated war on terror were reinforced by long-time friends of Cheney – whom he had placed in their jobs – Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Stephen Cambone, John Bolton and others.

Unfortunately for Bush, the reality that these interwoven friendships, many of which were decades long, brought to the table was a single-minded view of American foreign policy.  Cheney kept Bush from hearing multiple views – the views that Bush heard on national security were dominated by Cheney loyalists.  Condoleezza Rice, not a Cheney ally, kept out of the policy process – choosing to let Cheney allies control the process.  When Secretary of State Colin Powell offered a different perspective, he was easily marginalized by the uniform voices of the Cheney allies.

Why is this story of staffing important?  Because few know exactly how Cheney was able to dominate the policy process, particularly in national security matters.  When Bush handed Cheney the role of transition director, he handed Cheney control of staffing the new administration.  And Cheney used that power to place his own loyalists across the administration.  Those loyalists shared Cheney’s views of presidential power and national security.  Lest anyone wonder how Cheney gained power, it was first and foremost his ability to staff the administration.