The US government and military have undergone a series of jolting expansions in the Bush years. We got, for instance, a second Defense Department called the Department of Homeland Security. We got a military command for North America called United States Northern Command. More than anything else, however, while we already had an “imperial presidency,” we also got an add-on–an imperial vice-presidency, a new form of shadow government in the United States, a startlingly unbound, constitutionally unmandated new institutional power.
On taking office, Dick Cheney promptly began to set up a vice-presidential office that essentially mimicked, and then to some extent replaced, the National Security Council (NSC). Just as promptly, his office plunged itself into utter, blinding secrecy–as journalist Robert Dreyfuss discovered when he simply tried to chart out who was working in this new center of power. No information, it turned out, could be revealed to a curious reporter, not even the names and positions of those who worked for the Vice President, those who, theoretically, were working for us. Cheney’s office would not even publicly acknowledge its own employees, no less let them be interviewed.
From that office (and allied posts elsewhere in the executive branch and the federal bureaucracy), the Vice President and his various right-hand men like I Lewis “Scooter” Libby and present Chief of Staff David Addington, both fierce believers in the so-called unitary executive theory of government (in which a “wartime” commander-in-chief president is said to have unfettered power to command just about anything), elbowed the State Department, the NSC, and the Intelligence Community. With the President’s ear, and in league with Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon (among others), they spearheaded a series of mis- and disinformation operations that led to Iraq and beyond. (Reporter Jim Lobe wrote about this at Tomdispatch in August 2005, “Dating Cheney’s Nuclear Drumbeat.”)