Team Cheney Defends Iraq Policy: It's a Family Affair


Jan. 30, 2007 — -- They're a close-knit family who sometimes sing "Home on the Range" at get-togethers. Though a long way from native Wyoming, the four members live relatively close to each other and occasionally get together for Sunday dinner.

Father and mother are former high school sweethearts; their two daughters are incredibly loyal to each other. And when they feel under siege, they go on the attack instead of circling the wagons. Crisis just brings them closer.

They're the Cheneys.

And today they're celebrating Dad's 66th birthday.

Vice President Dick Cheney's family stands out in Washington for its extraordinary unity, sense of purpose and commitment to conservative politics. In addition to the vice president, every member of the immediate family has been outspoken about their beliefs in a way that few political families are.And the Cheneys are a trusted ally in the Bush administration's efforts to garner support for the unpopular Iraq War.

In the last two weeks, Cheney and his two daughters have been aggressively promoting the troop buildup and the need to combat the "war on terror" in print and in speeches.

While it's expected for a vice president to advocate policy in interviews with news networks and magazines, it's almost unprecedented for his family to be so outspoken and partisan.

In an op-ed piece for The Washington Post on Jan. 23, Liz Cheney's arguments for the war were often more pointed than those expressed by her father or President Bush, accusing the Democratic leadership of helping the terrorists by pushing for a redeployment of troops.

"Few politicians want to be known as spokesmen for retreat," wrote Cheney. "Instead we hear such words as 'redeployment,' 'drawdown' or 'troop cap.' Let's be clear: If we restrict the ability of our troops to fight and win this war, we help the terrorists. The terrorists are counting on us to lose our will and retreat under pressure. We're in danger of proving them right."

Criticizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Cheney saved her harshest words for presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. "I suppose Hillary Clinton's announcement was a sign of progress. In 2007, a woman can run for president and show the same level of courage and conviction about this war many of her male colleagues have. Steel in the spine? Not so much."

A day after Liz's op-ed ran in the paper, her sister Mary gave a partisan speech to students at McKendree College in Illinois. She discussed the midterm elections, emphasizing that the Iraq War had little to do with Republican losses, blaming the defeat on corruption scandals in Congress.

Presidential historians say that it is almost unprecedented for a vice president's family to be so outspoken. "Usually you don't speak until spoken to," said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University. "Eleanor Mondale [daughter of Vice President Walter Mondale] was out there from time to time. But this is different -- Vice President Cheney, architect of the current Iraq policy, is using his family as surrogates."

Some political insiders believe that the Cheney daughters' outspokenness is part of a calculated strategy on the part of the administration.

"I don't think any of them [Lynne, Liz and Mary Cheney] would be out there freelancing on their own," said a former White House staffer. "There's an agenda and a script the White House follows and I'm guessing that Liz's op-ed was part of some communications strategy to build support on Iraq."

Not that it's a new role for Liz. Her June 2005 speech to the Foreign Policy Association very closely matches, in tone and in phrasing, a speech given by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee just two months earlier. At least eight of the exact same phrases were used in both speeches, according to an analysis by iThenticate, a plagiarism detection service, lending credence to the view that the administration follows specific talking points.

A spokesperson for Cheney's office insisted that there was no coordination involved and that the daughters handle their own media appearances.

Not that the Cheney daughters are unqualified to play the roles of policy mavens.

Liz, the older daughter, is a powerful player in foreign policy circles, and some speculate that she has political ambitions of her own. Last fall, before the birth of her fifth child, she resigned her post as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, where she headed the Iran-Syria Operations Group. That group's goal is to promote democracy in those countries. Liz occasionally met with opposition groups, leading some critics to accuse the group of being dedicated to regime change.

And Liz's husband, Philip J. Perry, is a crucial aide to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. He became the agency's general counsel soon after leaving his job as a registered lobbyist for Lockheed Martin, one of the country's largest defense contractors.

Mary is an executive at AOL, but she's often played a critical role in Republican politics. She is frequently consulted for her advice. The sharp-minded strategist managed her father's re-election campaign in 2004.

And Cheney's wife, Lynne, has long been a player in Washington. When Bush was running for office in 2000, Lynne was mentioned as a possible running mate due to her extensive experience -- as chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities during the 1980s and as a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

Lynne, who says that she is more conservative than her husband, is known for the steadfastness of her beliefs and her willingness to confront her opponents. Last October, she accused CNN of airing "terrorist propaganda." During a contentious interview, she asked host Wolf Blitzer if he "want[ed] us to win."The more the administration comes under fire for its policies in Iraq, and the more that the vice president is caricatured as Darth Vader by late-night comics like Comedy Central's Jon Stewart, the closer the family seems to grow.

"They're a close-knit family," said Charlie Black, a Republican strategist. "Liz might have been chomping at the bit to say those things."

The outcry from war critics seems to have unified them even more.

"When you are part of a political family, you get a feeling of us against the world. All the attacks and the criticism, that draws you together, all of that makes you closer," said the former White House staffer. "He [Vice President Cheney] certainly doesn't care about Jon Stewart -- if he even knows who Jon Stewart is."

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