The Cheney Coup

The vice president conducted a de facto coup on 9/11 when he ordered the "shootdown" of civilian planes. It's not that I think the order shouldn't have been given -- it should've been given by the person in charge.
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I promised myself I wouldn't bring this up, it's a hobbyhorse that I like to ride that has yet to excite anyone but me. But now that Dick Cheney is claiming his office is not an "entity within the executive branch" I can't help myself. You see, I believe the vice president conducted a de facto coup on 9/11 when he ordered the "shootdown" of civilian planes. It's not that I think the order shouldn't have been given. It's just that I think it should've been given by the person in charge. Or should I say the person who was elected to be in charge?

The actual chain of command goes from the president to the Secretary of Defense. The VP has no military authority. His only military job is to not be dead. Yet on 9/11, Cheney was in a bunker giving orders. The claim is that he was "relaying" presidential orders. For some reason the president was unable to give those orders himself from Air Force One, the mobile nerve center of the executive from which a president is able to launch a nuclear war. Yet, for all the communication technology on Air Force One, Bush had to funnel all his presidential-ness through Cheney. Or was it that no one was calling the president? Perhaps everybody just knew, despite all the chaos of that day, to call Dick first.

So, vice president, the not-an-entity-in-the-executive-branch, was giving those orders directly to military commanders, not only cutting the president out of the loop, but the Secretary of Defense. Sure, the VP claims he spoke to the president and got his okay, but the chronology is very suspect.

It's all there in the 9/11 Commission Report. The crucial first conversation in which the president purportedly gave the shootdown order to Cheney, is only remembered by Dick Cheney, George Bush and Condoleezza Rice. Scooter Libby, who was sitting on the opposite side of Cheney (and taking notes) doesn't remember this call, nor does Mrs. Cheney who was also in the bunker. In fact, when Cheney gave the order, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, "watched the exchanges and, after what he called "a quiet moment," suggested that the vice president get in touch with the president and confirm the engage order." In other words, "Ahem, what happened to our Democracy?"

So, there's Cheney, jumping into the chain of command, bypassing the Secretary of Defense and giving shootdown orders. Who cares? It was the fog of war. It seemed planes were about to crash into the White House. Besides, Americans assume the VP is the number two in charge anyway. This doesn't feel like a coup.

Maybe not, but for all the show that goes into electing a president, into discerning the candidate's character and fitness to make decisions, I find it extra insidious to see how little regard was paid to the president, to see how much the power really centered around Dick Cheney. And now, this man-in-the-bunker, this "not an entity" wants to walk away from that power, claiming he never wielded it. Why should he have to answer to congressional oversight? Why should he report his handling of classified information? After all, he's just the vice president, a smoky wizard who will waft away from the throne leaving nothing behind but his dazed stooge.

Ahem, what happened to our Democracy?

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