Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cheney v. Chaudhry?

Vice President Cheney has been all over the news this week. First, Cheney made headlines for his claim that he need not comply with rules requiring all executive branch entities to report to an oversight office in the National Archives on how they handle classified information because the Office of the Vice President is not part of the "executive branch." Second, the Washington Post has been running a series of revealing stories this week on the dominant role that Cheney has played in the Bush administration across a range of issues.

For more on all of that, have a look at what our colleagues Jack Balkin and Marty Lederman have to say over at Balkinization. Here, I simply wish to draw attention, in the context of this week's reports, to some of last week's Cheney-related news, which I suspect some folks may have missed -- namely, the apparently dominant role that Cheney’s office also has been playing in the Bush administration’s continued, seemingly unconditional support for General Pervez Musharraf in the current political crisis in Pakistan (which is not discussed in the Post series). First, from a column by Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid in the Post:

[Recent years have seen] a dramatic drop-off in U.S. expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in U.S. history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State's policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney's office. . . . "They know nothing of Pakistan," a former senior U.S. diplomat said.

Current and past U.S. officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Cheney's office. The vice president, they say, is close to Musharraf and refuses to brook any U.S. criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I'm told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney's aides, rather than taken to the State Department.

No one in Foggy Bottom seems willing to question Cheney's decisions. Boucher, for one, has largely limited his remarks on the crisis to expressions of support for Musharraf. . . . Meanwhile, Boucher's boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, demands democracy and media freedom in Venezuela but apparently deems such niceties irrelevant to Pakistan. [link]

Second, from an interview that longtime Asia expert Selig Harrison gave to the Daily Times:

Harrison said that Washington's Pakistan policy is run by Vice President Dick Cheney's office, adding that there is a group in there, which is pushing for a showdown with Iran, including military action, over its nuclear programme before Bush's term expires.

The American Vice President attaches great importance to Musharraf and it would appear that an understanding has been reached with him on Iran. The Cheney lobby is keen on destabilising Iran, said Harrison, who recently returned form a week-long trip to Iran.

He further claimed that Cheney's last visit to Pakistan was Iran-related, during which Cheney wanted to find out if there was more information to be gleaned from Dr AQ Khan on Iran's nuclear programme and what assistance his network had rendered to it. [link]

Meanwhile, the crowds continue to throng around "suspended" Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry as he travels across Pakistan to speak to gatherings of Pakistani lawyers. This past weekend’s stop was Multan, where a 30-plus hour yatra from Lahore culminated in a speech before thousands of lawyers and Musharraf opponents. "Your motto is supremacy and implementation of law and independence of the judiciary," he told the lawyers, "[and] I am confident your movement will succeed." [link] All of this comes amidst new allegations that Musharraf's intelligence agencies are bugging judges' telephones.

Hai rabba, between Cheney and Musharraf, who’s giving advice to whom? Perhaps the same people are giving legal advice to both of them. If it's constitutionally permissible for Musharraf to manipulate electoral rules so he can continue to serve as both President and Chief of Army Staff, as he has hinted that he might, then maybe (among other things) it's also possible that Cheney's Office of the Vice President is a non-branch of government after all.

As our colleague Sepoy, over at Chapati Mystery, might say, tick tock....