Dick Cheney has worked behind a veil of secrecy to become one of the most powerful vice presidents, regarded as a driving force behind the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s industry-friendly energy policy.
Cheney, a longtime Bush family confidant who was defense secretary in the first Gulf War, headed the search committee for Bush’s vice presidential candidate in the 2000 presidential campaign before Bush tapped him for the job.
A history of four heart attacks, including one shortly after the contested presidential election in November 2000, did little to diminish Cheney’s drive or authority. “It’s good enough,” Cheney, 62, told the Dallas Morning News in 2003, referring to his heart.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Cheney worked out of sight for long stretches in what the White House called an “undisclosed location.”
He remained largely in the background as he helped prepare the Bush administration for the Iraq war. He gave a few high-impact public speeches that helped nudge the process along and has been a lightning rod for criticism of the administration’s conduct of the war and its aftermath.
The company he headed before becoming vice president, the Halliburton energy and construction firm, won big reconstruction contracts after the war. Cheney defended himself against Democratic charges of cronyism by saying he had severed his ties to the company and had nothing to do with the contracts.
Supreme Court appeal
Cheney appealed to the Supreme Court in his fight against a court order to disclose his contacts with energy-industry officials when he headed Bush’s energy-policy task force. Environmental activists seeking the disclosure said they were cut out of the process and the resulting policy was tailored for the oil, coal and nuclear power industries.
Cheney is a courtly figure who embodies former President Theodore Roosevelt’s maxim to speak softly but carry a big stick. He blends pinstripe elegance with cowboy boots and a voice so quiet a listener might have to lean forward to catch his words, only to find they express a sobering hard line.
“There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us,” Cheney said in an August 2002 speech that sounded the call for an Iraq war at a time other members of the Bush administration appeared to be waffling.
Bush took a U.S.-led coalition to war against Iraq despite U.N. opposition in March 2003 and Baghdad fell in early April. Nine months later, U.S. occupying forces had yet to find any of the weapons Cheney had accused Iraq of amassing.
For Cheney, who helped plan and execute the 1991 Gulf war, the march to the 2003 Iraq war was set in motion by the Sept. 11 attacks. Long after others had ruled out the notion that Saddam may have helped the al-Quaida network plan the attacks, Cheney held open the possibility, leaving it to Bush to finally acknowledge after the war there was no evidence of a link.
News reports said Cheney worked aggressively to marshal intelligence supporting his case against Iraq, and critics accused him of hyping dubious information.
At the White House on Sept. 11
On Sept. 11, 2001, Cheney was working in the White House while Bush was in Florida as four commandeered passenger jets crashed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.
Whisked to a White House bunker by Secret Service agents, Cheney recommended that Bush approve the downing of a passenger airliner if necessary to prevent an attack on a target such as the U.S. Capitol. He advised the president to delay his return to Washington for fear that “we’ve been targeted.”
For weeks afterward, Cheney worked in a secret location and minimized his joint appearances with Bush to guard against the possible loss of both elected executives in a single attack.
Early the next year, he borrowed Bush’s Air Force One to tour Middle Eastern countries, in search of support for a potential Iraq invasion. But he did not get far with leaders who said resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a higher priority.
Cheney seemed like the quintessential safe choice when Bush, then Texas governor, picked him as his running mate.
But Democrats swiftly focused on a number of votes Cheney cast when he represented Wyoming in the House , including a vote against the release of black South African leader Nelson Mandela, and votes against popular gun control and environmental and education funding measures.
No sooner was that controversy behind him than Cheney found himself assailed for accepting a $35 million retirement package from Halliburton, the world’s largest oil-field service company which he joined as chief executive in 1993.
Giving up $3.5 million
Cheney said he would give up any stock options remaining after taking office as vice president. That would cost him around $3.5 million, a small proportion of the options he cashed.
Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Jan. 30, 1941, Richard Bruce Cheney got his undergraduate and master’s degrees in political science from the University of Wyoming.
He is married to the former Lynne Ann Vincent, herself a well-known conservative voice on cultural issues and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. They have two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary.
Mary Cheney worked for her father’s campaign in 2000 after serving as a liaison to the gay and lesbian community for the Coors Brewing Co. Although Cheney has refused to discuss his daughter’s sexuality, he has put himself on the moderate side of his party on the issue of government recognition of same-sex relationships.
He said during the 2000 vice presidential debate the issue should be a state, rather than federal, matter, and “we ought to do everything we can to tolerate and accommodate whatever kind of relationships people want to enter into.”