At a White House press briefing the other day, a reporter asked Tony Snow: "What role is the vice president playing this week in the listening?" Snow's response: "Well, he's listening and asking some questions, and he's participating in the conversations."
Truth be told, we haven't seen or heard much from Dick Cheney lately. The last bit of news listed on the vice president's Web site is dated Nov. 22. It's a three-sentence press release announcing that Cheney would be traveling to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 24 and Nov. 25. While we've heard a lot about what happened on Cheney's trip, we haven't heard anything else from Cheney himself. His last public words? So far as we can tell, they came on Nov. 17 -- nearly a full month ago -- when Cheney addressed the Federalist Society in Washington.
So where's Dick?
It's a little early to declare him AWOL, but it's not too early to start handing out the sort of year-end awards that we'll start to see in the next few days. And if U.S. News has got the story straight, Cheney deserves one for the Chutzpah Play of the Year. The vice president is lying low, the magazine quotes a longtime associate as saying, because "Iraq is now Bush's baby, and Cheney doesn't want to be tarred with it in the eyes of historians."
As one of the early architects, outspoken proponents and constant defenders of the war in Iraq, Cheney is going to need more than a fourth-quarter disappearing act to avoid having history tie him to the debacle he and the rest of the Bush team created. He's going to need some kind of magic fact erasers. As Think Progress notes, it was Cheney who sold the war on the claim that Saddam Hussein had "reconstituted nuclear weapons." It was Cheney who claimed that American troops would be "greeted as liberators." It was Cheney who insisted, more than a year ago, that we were seeing the "last throes" of the insurgency in Iraq. And it was Cheney who, as recently as that Nov. 17 speech to the Federalist Society, was saying that if the United States were to withdraw its troops from Iraq, the terrorists would "simply draw up another set of demands and instruct Americans to act as they direct or face further acts of murder."
We understand the idea of rats jumping ships. It's what rats do. But Cheney isn't a rat. Or, we should say, he isn't just a rat. He's the ship, and keeping quiet about the rough waters into which he's sailed shouldn't -- and won't -- stop him from going down.