They were all this President’s men — Cheney and Rummy and Wolfie and Bolton — neoconservatives, hard-line conservatives, iron-fisted conservatives, unyielding conservatives.
Once they were not only The Untouchables but also The Unbudgeables. Now there is only one.
Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and now John Bolton have been bulldozed and/or forklifted out of power. Once the Team Bush Neocons controlled Bush’s Situation Room. Now they can caucus in a telephone booth — except it is unlikely Cheney can find one anymore.
So perhaps the once-dominant neocons will make do with just a morning caucus in Dick Cheney’s bathroom mirror.
And that may be Cheney’s most visible appearance of the day. For it seems that Dick Cheney may be on his way to becoming just another one of those veeps who is seldom seen and hardly heard. After all, Cheney’s last assigned mission was to be unceremoniously summoned to Saudi Arabia, where not a single public event was held. And that was just as well because the word in the Washington think tanks is that the Saudi monarch used Cheney to send his sternest warning that if the Untied States leaves Iraq too rapidly and the Iranian-backed Shiite take over, the Saudis may step in to prevent a massacre of the Suunis.
The last Cheney sighting you may recall was his Nov. 3 appearance on ABC News, where he defined President Bush’s resolve: "It’s victory in Iraq. And it’s full speed ahead on that basis." That, of course, was part of the pre-election bravado when Bush himself had promised that both Cheney and Rummy would stay on the job as long as he was president. Then, faster than you can say, "Brownie you’re doing a heck of a job," Rummy was told his resignation was accepted, so would he please write it?
Rummy has had a heck of a run in Washington — a marathon. As a 1960s congressman from Chicago’s suburbs, he was known as a moderate Republican back before GOP moderates became a rare breed. Then he got cabinet-rank domestic jobs in the Nixon White House — even though the Old Man (as Nixon’s favorite guys, like Pat Buchanan and Bill Safire, called their boss when he wasn’t around) suspected he was a secret dove on the Vietnam War.
One day when a young Washington correspondent arrived for a scheduled interview, Rumsfeld had another fellow there, too. "This is a new guy on my staff and, if you don’t mind, I’d like him to sit in just to see how I handle press interviews," Rumsfeld said, adding, "Say hello to Dick Cheney."
Rummy and Cheney. Mentor and protege. They were cautious, thorough, insightful yet careful not to leave fingerprints on anything that could explode in their faces … or all over their resumes. They excelled at avoiding controversy, skillfully putting their best and blandest face forward.
But Rummy did his best work behind the scenes and Cheney quickly learned the craft of politics. Including the great manipulation of November 1975. President Ford was under pressure to dump his veep (Nelson Rockefeller) from the 1976 ticket and Ford’s chief of staff. Rumsfeld (Cheney was his deputy there. too) coveted the job. But a potential rival was another ex-congressman, ex-United Nations ambassador and currently ambassador to China: George H. W. Bush. So Rummy engineered Bush’s appointment as CIA director. Bush felt trapped into accepting — and furious.
"It’s a graveyard for politics… ," he wrote his three brothers and sister. Offering his reluctant acceptance to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the elder Bush lamented: "Your message came as a total and complete shock … I see this as the total end of any political future."
Strange turns. Voters weren’t spooked by Bush’s CIA past and he, not Rummy, became a president. And when Bush’s son was elected, it was Cheney who landed a return engagement as defense secretary for his old mentor, Rummy.
Speaking of strange turns, Rummy apparently had one last writing job before getting to his resignation note — that classified memo to President Bush, listing every conceivable new course option for Iraq. His memo, written without the usual detailed analysis, seems intended mainly for our eyes only. It quickly materialized on page one of The New York Times — and we saw everything but the leaker’s fingerprints.
"Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough," Rumsfeld wrote. His memo was dated Nov. 6, just three days after his protege had assured us that the Iraq plan was "full speed ahead" — and three days before the president told the world he needed a new man at the Pentagon to help us find a new direction.
The dynamic duo has run its last course.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scrip