Here's an excerpt from Jeffrey Goldberg's upcoming New Yorker article on Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser and current best friend to ex-President George H.W. Bush:
"The real anomaly in the Administration is Cheney," Scowcroft said. "I consider Cheney a good friend -- I've known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore." He went on, "I don't think Dick Cheney is a neocon, but allied to the core of neocons is that bunch who thought we made a mistake in the first Gulf War, that we should have finished the job. There was another bunch who were traumatized by 9/11, and who thought, 'The world's going to hell and we've got to show we're not going to take this, and we've got to respond, and Afghanistan is O.K., but it's not sufficient.'" Scowcroft supported the invasion of Afghanistan as a "direct response" to terrorism.
Perhaps the greatest mystery of this Administration has been Cheney's failure. He became Secretary of Defense in 1989 after the Senate rejected George H.W. Bush's first nominee, their old colleague Sen. John Tower, as too much of a drunk. By all accounts, Cheney performed well during the first Gulf War. Most notably, he opposed conquering Iraq when we had the chance at the end in March, 1991.
But his choice of personnel for the Administration during the frenzied transition of 2000-2001 -- Wolfowitz, Feith, Libby, etc. -- has turned out disastrously. And he has imposed a paranoid, irrational influence on foreign policy decision-making ever since, which has been the opposite of calm, wise, voice of experience that he was expected to bring.
One theory that has been floating around is that Cheney is a "pump head," which is one of those vicious M.D. terms -- like Gomer (Get out of my Emergency Room), banana (a jaundice victim), and FLK (funny-looking kid, i.e., retarded due to an organic syndrome). A pump head is someone who has suffered mental problems, typically cognitive loss, following a bypass operation. Bypass operations can also lead to depression.
(I suspect you can see the exact point in Tom Wolfe's novel A Man in Full where he had his bypass operation due to the sudden deterioration in quality. Wolfe suffered from a version of manic-depression some time after his operation. He dedicated the novel to his psychiatrist who helped him get out of his depression. Fortunately, Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons showed a significant recovery of form.)
The problem with the pump head theory is that Cheney had his quadruple bypass operation in 1988, before his impressive performance as Defense Secretary.
Since then he's had a small heart attack in November of 2000, and two heart operations in the first half of 2001. Perhaps those have caused mental troubles, but, still, the timing doesn't seem quite right, although his health problems still could be a factor in his deterioration. He got seduced by the neocons some time during the 1990s, probably the late 1990s, for reasons that remain inexplicable.
Another possibility is that Cheney's thinking got warped in an apocalyptic direction, which the neocons ideologues could exploit, by his participation for many years, along with Donald Rumsfeld, in a secret program started by the Reagan Administration to provide continuity of government in case the actual Federal government was wiped out in a nuclear war. According to James Mann in a 2004 Atlantic article called "The Armageddon Plan,"
A t least once a year during the 1980s Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld vanished. Cheney was working diligently on Capitol Hill, as a congressman rising through the ranks of the Republican leadership. Rumsfeld, who had served as Gerald Ford's Secretary of Defense, was a hard-driving business executive in the Chicago area—where, as the head of G. D. Searle & Co., he dedicated time and energy to the success of such commercial products as Nutra-Sweet, Equal, and Metamucil. Yet for periods of three or four days at a time no one in Congress knew where Cheney was, nor could anyone at Searle locate Rumsfeld. Even their wives were in the dark; they were handed only a mysterious Washington phone number to use in case of emergency.
After leaving their day jobs Cheney and Rumsfeld usually made their way to Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington. From there, in the middle of the night, each man—joined by a team of forty to sixty federal officials and one member of Ronald Reagan's Cabinet—slipped away to some remote location in the United States, such as a disused military base or an underground bunker. A convoy of lead-lined trucks carrying sophisticated communications equipment and other gear would head to each of the locations.
Rumsfeld and Cheney were principal actors in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan Administration. Under it U.S. officials furtively carried out detailed planning exercises for keeping the federal government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The program called for setting aside the legal rules for presidential succession in some circumstances, in favor of a secret procedure for putting in place a new "President" and his staff. The idea was to concentrate on speed, to preserve "continuity of government," and to avoid cumbersome procedures; the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the rest of Congress would play a greatly diminished role.
This kind of end-of-the-world playacting could take a toll on one's mental balance. Thus, when 9/11 came along, perhaps Cheney was primed to latch onto nonsensical theories about how Saddam was going to nuke America.
Once again, the timing isn't right -- Cheney's roleplaying came in the 1980s, not the 1990s, but combined with his heart problems and who knows what else in his private life, we may be beginning to unravel Cheney's unraveling.