In a spirit of optimism, I'll start writing Cheney's political obituary now.
It's startling how radically my view of Cheney has changed in the last few months.
When Cheney, as chair of the committee to find a Veep for presidential candidate George Bush, chose himself for the job, I started to think of Cheney as a foxy manipulator who was dominating the weaker Bush.
Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty, an authorized account of Paul O'Neill's experience as Treasury Secretary to Bush, seemed to bear this out. Suskind/O'Neill describe cabinet meetings in which cabinet ministers are given scripts by Cheney aides and allowed only to say only what is in the script, while Bush sits silently and Cheney appears in a TV screen at the end of the table, Big Brother directing the play.
By all reports, Cheney acted as no Veep has acted before, directing policy and telling the president what to do. Post-9/11, Cheney took to the bunker while (the presumably more expendable?) Bush stayed in the White House. Cheney's guy (Defence Secretary Rumsfeld) held the balance of power, while Bush's "guy" (NSA Director Condi Rice) was left struggling. Cheney directed Iraq policy, and the company Cheney used to run, Halliburton, just happened to cash in to the tune of billions because of the Iraq war. My image of Cheney was unscrupulous, arrogant and corrupt, but also brilliant and wily.
Then I read State of Denial by Bob Woodward. Woodward, arguably the best-informed objective analyst of the Bush White House, paints a very different picture of Cheney: in particular, as a man of mediocre intelligence and dubious judgement.
For example, Woodward shows Cheney during the first years of the Iraq war, sitting with aides for days on end reading raw intelligence data about weapons of mass destruction - and he has no idea how to read intelligence data, so wastes everyone's time with false emergencies. He calls the head of the weapons of mass destruction search in Iraq at 2 AM, insists someone wake the guy up, and tells him he must immediately follow up on a lead that everyone else knows is a hoax. At other time he gives the guy geographical coordinates which he says pinpoint an Iraqi weapons cache, but the location turns out to be 1,000 miles away in another country. Here we see Cheney the bumbler, with an arrogance that makes him think he can take on a specialized task and do it better than people trained to do it. And he's not just a bumbler, but a buffoon who is laughed at.
That he inspires fear seems to be the truth. Suskind ends The Price of Loyalty with a cryptic account of Cheney firing O'Neill and Bush seemingly trying ineffectually to override the decision. Suskind asks O'Neill why he is speaking out about the Bush administration. O'Neill says that most people simply cannot criticize the Bush administration because they will be destroyed. "These people are nasty, and they have a long memory... I'm an old guy, and I'm rich. And there's nothing they can do to hurt me." That turned out to be true for O'Neill, and not true for Valerie Plame.