Cheney hasn't done his Iraq homework

August 22, 2002|By Jim Anderson

WASHINGTON -- If you peel away at the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq, you eventually come to the reclusive vice president, Dick Cheney.

He's not the only one there; you'll also find the ubiquitous, indefatigable Richard Perle, head of the Defense Advisory Council, and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary. But Mr. Cheney appears to be the intellectual center of gravity, the head salesman and the focus of the president's attention and respect.

Among his credentials is that he was defense secretary during the 1991 Persian Gulf war against Iraq.

He later became CEO of Halliburton, from which he retired a wealthy man, an almost mandatory qualification for the higher ranks in a business-minded administration.

A closer look at that business background does not inspire confidence in Mr. Cheney's judgment, certainly not in his ability to weigh the risks and benefits in a complicated enterprise. One achievement at Halliburton that he trumpeted was the acquisition of other companies. One such deal, the purchase of Dresser Industries, Inc., has become a minefield of asbestos liability claims and legal costs, enough to potentially drag once-booming Halliburton into bankruptcy.

Lawyers who have looked into the records of the Halliburton takeover of Dresser have found warning signs about the transaction that Mr. Cheney apparently didn't see or chose to ignore. In business terms, he didn't exercise due diligence. This sort of sloppiness appears to have carried over into his second political incarnation. Just as Mr. Cheney didn't do his homework at Halliburton, he hasn't done his research on Iraq.

Doubts about the validity of the Iraq policy pushed by Mr. Cheney and others -- a lack of due diligence -- have been openly expressed by Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, respected Republican elders. Mr. Kissinger was secretary of state to Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. Mr. Scowcroft was national security adviser to the first President George Bush.

As Mr. Kissinger used to lecture reporters who were sentenced to fly around the world with him: What are the consequences of a given policy even if it succeeds? Will it alienate Moscow, Berlin, London? Or Congress? What are the alternatives?

Earlier this year, Mr. Cheney traveled around the Middle East, assigned to line up support from the Arab world for what he presented apparently as a foregone administration decision to launch a military assault on Iraq. He was surprised but not deterred by the unanimous opposition of Arab moderates to such an operation (King Abdullah II of Jordan, no puppet of Saddam Hussein, called the idea "ludicrous.")

The Europeans -- with the possible exception of Britain's Tony Blair -- lined up in solid opposition to the administration's Iraqi campaign. It has become a major issue of contention between the United States and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Back home, the military leadership at the Pentagon either expressed opposition or else made such extravagant demands in manpower and equipment for an operation against Iraq that it amounted to opposition.

It would appear that the administration has not examined the downside of its policy in the same way that executives of the Cheney era at Halliburton assumed that mergers will always work out somehow.

It is clear that a solo U.S. military campaign against Iraq -- without the help of countries such as Jordan or Saudi Arabia, without the support of the European allies, without the backing of the United Nations, without a united Iraqi opposition -- could not work.

It should also be clear that such an operation would be a hugely expensive one in terms of lives and money, not to mention triggering a global oil crisis.

Jim Anderson is a Washington correspondent who has covered foreign affairs for 35 years, including travels with Henry Kissinger.

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