Since leaving office in January, former Vice President Dick Cheney has been vocal against what he considers the "far left" agenda of the new administration. But now Cheney reportedly has a new target of his ire -- his ex-boss, former President Bush.
The Washington Post reports Cheney has been holding informal conversations with authors, diplomats, policy experts and past colleagues, to discuss the memoirs he is writing. As is his practice, Cheney listens more than he talks. But in a recent meeting, one of the participants said Cheney opened up when asked about his regrets:
"In the second term, he felt Bush was moving away from him. He said Bush was shackled by the public reaction and the criticism he took. Bush was more malleable to that. The implication was that Bush had gone soft on him, or rather Bush had hardened against Cheney's advice. He'd showed an independence that Cheney didn't see coming. It was clear that Cheney's doctrine was cast-iron strength at all times -- never apologize, never explain -- and Bush moved toward the conciliatory."
John P. Hannah, Cheney's second-term national security adviser, said Cheney is now ready to acknowledge "doubts about the main channels of American policy during the last few years," a period encompassing most of Bush's second term.
Another rift between the two men was Bush's refusal to pardon Cheney's former chief-of-staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of the investigation into the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity. Bush commuted Libby's sentence, but that wasn't enough for Cheney. According to a recent TIME magazine story, Cheney lobbied Bush right up until his final moments in the White House to pardon Libby, but Bush refused.
Bush and Cheney reportedly retain respectful ties, speaking on the telephone now and then. But aides to both of them say they were never really friends.
The mere fact that Cheney is writing his memoirs is a shock to many of his close associates. For decades, he expressed contempt for departing officials who wrote insider accounts, arguing that candid internal debate was impossible if the President and his advisers could not count on secrecy.
"If he goes out and writes a memoir that spills beans about what took place behind closed doors, that would be out of character," said Ari Fleischer, who served as White House spokesman during Bush's first term, told the Post.
But that is what Cheney is apparently doing. Robert Barnett, who negotiated Cheney's book contract, told potential publishers that the memoir would be packed with news.
Cheney himself has said that "the statute of limitations has expired" on many of his secrets. "When the president made decisions that I didn't agree with, I still supported him and didn't go out and undercut him," Cheney said, according to Stephen Hayes, his authorized biographer. "Now we're talking about after we've left office. I have strong feelings about what happened... And I don't have any reason not to forthrightly express those views."
But don't expect this book to be a mirror into the mind of Dick Cheney's personal side. At one of those recent meetings, Cheney alluded to Bush's upcoming memoirs, saying he had no interest "in sharing personal details," as the former president plans to do.
"He sort of spat the word 'personal,' " said one person in the room.