Cheney, Libby and the Mess They Made
Tue Nov 1, 2005
The Nation -- Much of official Washington remains focused on the issues --
legal and political -- that have arisen from the indictment of I. Lewis
"Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney who was a
principal architect of the administration's approach to Iraq before and after the
invasion and occupation of that distant land. This is as it should be: Libby and
his former boss need to be held accountable for leading this country's military
forces into a quagmire that has cost more than 2,000 American lives and tens
of thousands of Iraqi lives.
The only problem with this otherwise healthy obsession with the investigation
is that it draws attention away from the disaster that Cheney, Libby and
their crew of neoconservative nutcases have created.
In addition to the rapidly mounting death toll -- 93 U.S. troops were killed
in October, the highest casualty rate since January -- the insurgency's Tet
offensive-level attacks within the capital city of Baghdad, and the degeneration
of the trial of Saddam Hussein into a legal farce, there is the tragedy of
the country's bumbled attempt to craft and implement a constitution.
Were any U.S. officials paying serious attention to the process -- as opposed
to trying to spin it into something it is not -- they would acknowledge that
Iraq is in a state of constitutional crisis. Even if the October 15 vote on
the new Iraqi constitution were technically legitimate -- under the undemocratic
rules adopted by its framers in order to guarantee a particular result -- it
would have been hard to spin as a meaningful signal of progress toward
The details of the document were literally up for grabs until just days
before the voting began, and not even the most over-the-top apologists for the
process would dare suggest that the people of Iraq knew what they were voting on.
More significantly, the vote took place while the country was occupied by a
foreign force that deposed the previous government, that faces an open
insurrection and that, by all accounts, shaped the character of the constitution more
than did the Iraqis themselves.
But, of course, all this is beside the point, since the vote does not appear
to have met the base standards of legitimacy.
Iraq's election commission was for the better part of a week forced to delay
the release of the results as it investigated serious irregularities in the
voting. The commission had to examine evidence of vote totals that did not
appear to be credible -- including "unusually high" numbers of yes votes in
provinces where there was widespread opposition to the constitution. Also of concern
to the commission were reports that Iraqi police removed ballot boxes from
districts where there was significant opposition to the constitution and that
districts where there was more support for the document had recorded more votes
than there were registered voters.
It is true that, after all the irregularities that were documented in the
2000 and 2004 U.S. presidential elections, the U.S. government lacks the
authority that it once had in discussions of democracy. But the Bush administration
and members of Congress should have been much more concerned about the evidence
of fraud and corruption in what was supposed to be a definitional vote
regarding Iraq's future.
As of now, questions about the legitimacy of the Iraq vote remain, especially
after the release of "results" suggesting that the constitution was rejected
by a majority of voters in three Iraqi provinces. That was the standard that
was set for rejection of the plan, but because the constitution was not
rejected by a supermajority in one of the provinces, it was determined to have been
The state of affairs is so troubling that claims by American supporters of
the war that Iraq has passed another "milestone" lack even the bare minimum of
credibility. The only way the new constitution can ever be considered a viable
document, by the Iraqis or by honest observers from the rest of the world, is
if all questions about the legitimacy of the process in general and the
October 15 vote in particular are removed.
That has not happened. Concerns about stolen and stuffed ballot boxes remain.
So, too, do equally serious questions about whether Iraqis were fully aware
of the contents of a document that was in flux up until the eve of the vote,
and about whether a country can or should try to define its future while under
Before U.S. officials can make grand claims about "progress" in Iraq, these
are the issues that must be addressed.
If Iraq is every to become the stable, functioning democracy that not only
President Bush but the vast majority of his critics would like to see emerge,
the process must begin with the absolute assurance that elections are conducted
in a manner that is transparent, fair and fully legitimate. In light of the
scandalous manner in which the vote on the new constitution was conducted -- and
the scandals that have arisen as a result -- no such assurance can be found.
John Nichols' biography of Vice President Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is
President (The New Press, 2004) is currently available nationwide at independent
bookstores and at www.amazon.com. An expanded paperback version of the book,
which Publisher's Weekly describes as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire
magazine says "reveals the inner Cheney," will be available this fall under the
title, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the
Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press).