As President Bush flew off for a final round of diplomacy in the Azores, Vice-President Dick Cheney reprised his rare but critical role as the Administration's ultimate "go-to guy."
Cheney sat for the full hour on Meet the Press and for a shorter stint on Face the Nation. It was his first Sunday appearance since September 8, 2002. His profile has been so low that even jokes about his "undisclosed location" have disappeared.
It's easy to see why Cheney rations his appearances. Granting rare interviews increases the chance that the interviewer will be less confrontational and decreases the amount of material an interviewer has to find inconsistencies.
Meet the Press host Tim Russert had to go back to a campaign interview in 2000 to find a Cheney quote regarding the first Gulf War that seemed to conflict with the administration's current diplomatic strategy.
The vice president also has the rare quality of not allowing his facial expression to betray any discomfort with a question. He was abetted by questioning that is more respectful than that used with lesser officials.
Cheney turned aside criticism from former colleague Brent Scowcroft: "He is occasionally wrong and this is one of those instances." He deftly sidestepped a question about President Bush's "show their cards" formulation for the U.N. Security Council: "It has a certain appeal."
Little news was made in Cheney's two appearances.
"We are in the final stages of diplomacy" and "close to the end of diplomatic efforts," he said, echoing a refrain that pundits have been using for weeks. He predicted any war with Iraq would end "relatively quickly," defining that as "weeks, not months."
Cheney attributed unfavorable world opinion about the U.S. and its diplomacy to "new and unique circumstances. ... The rest of the world hasn't come to grips with the post nine-eleven world."
Matter-of-factly, Cheney criticized the French by reviewing their diplomatic history on Iraq. He took pains to point out that before President Bush's response to Sept. 11, there had been "no credible response" to terror attacks. He denied that President Bush was a "cowboy," instead praising the President's "great capability to cut to the heart of the issue."
Asked by Russert why no pre-emptive strike was planned on North Korea, Cheney answered, "I didn't come to announce any new military ventures or to take any off the table."
Secretary of State Colin Powell made surprise appearances on Fox News Sunday and This Week; he was not scheduled as of Friday. There was little daylight between his position and that of Cheney.
In fact, in response to a question by This Week host George Stephanopolous, Powell denied accounts of dissension, saying "we went as a team" to the U.N. Powell also denied as "not accurate" reports that he opposed General Tommy Franks' initial war plan.
Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio, on This Week, did confirm that Spain was not pleased with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's recent comments. After praising Powell and the State Department, she said pointedly, "Some comments from other departments have not helped us."
Tom Friedman of The New York Times, on Face the Nation, after Cheney's appearance: "Diplomacy is over. The president may address the country as early as tomorrow. This is the biggest shake of the dice by a president in my lifetime. I think we're going in."
Al Hunt of The Wall Street Journal, on Capital Gang: "I still think this administration's ineptitude over the last couple months has been stunning."
Fox host Tony Snow displayed two November, 2001 quotes from French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin that surprisingly seemed to support the current U.S. understanding of U.N. Resolution 1441. Colin Powell called them "excellent quotes" and Fox panelist Brit Hume called them "deftly chosen."
Bill and Juan, Together at Last
On Fox, a clip of former President Clinton saying, "This war's going to be over in a flash," was shown. The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol called the remarks "appalling," "flip and glib" and "totally irresponsible."
NPR's Juan Williams, not normally an ally, said Kristol was "absolutely right on."
Canned Zinger Report
Speaking of Clinton, the second "Clinton & Dole, Dole & Clinton" segment on 60 Minutes was almost worse than the first. There were plenty of zingers in this ostensible debate about the U.N., but they seemed almost laughably scripted. Dole might have been on caffeine; Clinton was trying too hard to appear presidential.
Let Bygones be Bygones
Should the U.S. allow France to participate in post-war Iraq? "We should stun France by our gratitude," according to Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria on This Week. On Fox, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said there should be "no recriminations."
Cheney on Fries
In another question on relations with France, Tim Russert asked Vice-President Cheney, "French fries or freedom fries?" Cheney may have made a political statement by saying, "I stay away from French fries."
Quip of the Week
David Brooks of The Weekly Standard, on The News Hour: "Some Republicans think the U.N. is just an atrocious institution and then there are others who really hate it."
Will Vehrs is an economic developer in Richmond, Va., who turned his lifelong obsession with pundit shows into this Web log. His "Punditwatch" column appears on Tony Adragna's Quasipundit; he recently began writing "Virginia Pundit Watch" for Bacon's Rebellion.