The new administration line

The new administration line is that Vice-President Dick Cheney was off the reservation last week when he said that inspections in Iraq were an irrelevancy. Andy Card apparently told Howard Fineman on the record that Cheney was freelancing when he ruled out inspections.

If this were true you would really have to marvel at the collision of incompetence and humiliation that would require the White House Chief of Staff to tell a reporter on the record on the president’s behalf that the vice-president had made a statement that the president neither authorized nor agreed with.

The key part of that sentence, however, is ‘if this were true.’ Because it’s pretty clearly not true. I can’t tell you what was authorized or who said what to whom. Maybe the president didn’t ‘authorize’ Cheney’s remarks, whatever that might mean. But the premise of Card’s remarks is bogus. Cheney didn’t break any new ground in his remarks on inspectors. On the contrary, the irrelevance and insufficiency of weapons inspections has been administration policy for some time. The point has been stated repeatedly by Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and various other administration appointees.

This may be an embarrassment for the administration’s slip-n-slide policy on Iraq. But it won’t do to peg it on Cheney. This is just clumsy damage control, an effort to make sense of the fact that the vice-president and the Secretary of State flatly contradicted each other on the central point of the president’s foreign policy agenda in less than a week.

Consider the administration’s conceit: the president’s leadership is so vaunted, they say, that when he makes up his mind the allies, who oppose us, will support us. The public, which is ambivalent, will overwhelmingly endorse his policy. But how will he bend the world to his will when he can’t even get his own cabinet secretaries to endorse his policy?