We’ve Made It Closer

Cheney’s Nemesis
By Matt Taibbi

For forty years, Seymour Hersh has been America’s leading investigative reporter. His latest scoop? The White House’s secret plan to bomb Iran

04/16/07 “Rolling Stone” 04/02/07 — — – On May 29th, 1975, an aide to then-White House chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld sat down with a yellow legal pad and in careful longhand sketched out a list of possible responses to a damaging investigative report in The New York Times. “Problem,” the aide wrote. “Unauthorized disclosure of classified national security information by Sy Hersh and the NYT.” He then laid out five options, ranging from the most ominous (an FBI investigation of the newspaper and a grand jury indictment) to the least offensive (“Discuss informally with NYT” and “Do nothing”). Number three on the list, however, read, “Search warrant: to go after Hersh papers in his apt.”

The note’s author? A viper-mean Beltway apparatchik named Dick Cheney, who was making his name doing damage control for the Republican White House after the Watergate disaster. Coming so soon after Nixon was burned at the public stake for similar targeting of political enemies, the Cheney memo was proof that the next generation of GOP leaders had emerged from the Watergate scandal regretting only one thing: getting caught.

This year, an almost identical note in Cheney’s same tight-looped, anal script appeared as a key piece of evidence in the trial of another powerful White House aide, Scooter Libby. The vice president’s handwritten ruminations on how best to dispose of an Iraq War critic named Joe Wilson are an eerie reminder of how little has changed in America in the past three decades. Then as now, we have been dragged into a bloody massacre in the Third World, paying the bill for the operation with the souls and bodies of the next generation of our young people. It is the same old story, and many of the same people are once again in charge.

But some of the same people are on the other side, too. In the same week that Libby was convicted in a Washington courthouse, Seymour Hersh outlined the White House’s secret plans for a possible invasion of Iran in The New Yorker. As amazing as it is that Cheney is still walking among us, a living link to our dark Nixonian past, it’s even more amazing that Hersh is still the biggest pain in his ass, publishing accounts of conversations that seemingly only a person hiding in the veep’s desk drawer would be privy to. “The access I have — I’m inside,” Hersh says proudly. “I’m there, even when he’s talking to people in confidence.”

America’s pre-eminent investigative reporter of the last half-century, Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and was on hand, nearly four decades later, when we found ourselves staring back at the same sick face in the mirror after Abu Ghraib. At age seventy, he clearly still loves his job. During a wide-ranging interview at his cramped Washington office, Hersh could scarcely sit still, bouncing around the room like a kindergartner to dig up old articles, passages from obscure books and papers buried in his multitudinous boxes of files. A hopeless information junkie, he is permanently aroused by the idea that corruption and invisible power are always waiting to be uncovered by the next phone call. Somewhere out there, They are still hiding the story from Us — and that still pisses Hersh off.

During the Watergate years, you devoted a great deal of time to Henry Kissinger. If you were going to write a book about this administration, is Dick Cheney the figure you would focus on?
Absolutely. If there’s a Kissinger person today, it’s Cheney. But what I say about Kissinger is: Would that we had a Kissinger now! If we did, we’d know that the madness of going into Iraq would have been explained by something — maybe a clandestine deal for oil — that would make some kind of sense. Kissinger always had some back-channel agenda. But in the case of Bush and this war, what you see is what you get. We buy much of our fuel from the Middle East, and yet we’re at war with the Middle East. It doesn’t make sense.

Kissinger’s genius, if you will, was that he figured out a way to get out. His problem was that, like this president, he had a president who could only see victory ahead. With Kissinger, you have to give him credit: He had such difficulties with Nixon getting the whole peace package through, but he did it. Right now, a lot of people on the inside know it’s over in Iraq, but there are no plans for how to get out. You’re not even allowed to think that way. So what we have now is a government that’s in a terrible mess, with no idea of how to get out. Except, as one of my friends said, the “fail forward” idea of going into Iran. So we’re really in big trouble. Real big trouble here.

Is what’s gone on in the Bush administration comparable or worse than what went on in the Nixon administration?
Oh, my God. Much worse. Bush is a true radical. He believes very avidly in executive power. And he also believes that he’s doing the right thing. I think he’s a revolutionary, a Trotsky. He’s a believer in permanent revolution. So therefore he’s very dangerous, because he’s an unguided missile, he’s a rocket with no ability to be educated. You can’t change what he wants to do. He can’t deviate from his policy, and that’s frightening when somebody has as much power as he does, and is as much a radical as he is, and is as committed to democracy — whatever that means — as he is in the Mideast. I really do believe that’s what drives him. That doesn’t mean he’s not interested in oil. But I really think he thinks democracy is the answer.

A lot of people interpreted your last article in “The New Yorker” as a prediction that we’re going into Iran. But you also make clear that the Saudis have reasons to keep us from attacking Iran.
I’ve never said we’re going to go — just that the planning is under way. Planning is planning, of course. But in the last couple of weeks, it has become nonstop. They’re in a position right now where the president could wake up and scratch his, uh —

His what?
His nose, and say, “Let’s go.” And they’d go. That’s new. We’ve made it closer. We’ve got carrier groups there. It’s not about going in on the ground. Although if we went in we’d have to send Marines into the coastal areas of Iran to knock out their Silkworm missile sites.

So the notion that it would just be a bombing campaign isn’t true at all?
Oh, no. Don’t forget, you’d have to take out a very sophisticated radar system, and a guidance system for their missiles. You’d have to knock out the ability of the Iranians to get our ships.

So this is the “fail forward” plan?
I think Bush wants to resolve the Iranian crisis. It may not be a crisis, but he wants to resolve it.

Read the rest here.

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