WASHINGTON, DC—Vice-President Dick Cheney issued a stern admonishment to President Bush Tuesday, telling the overeager chief executive that he didn't want to hear "so much as the word 'Iraq'" for the rest of the day.
"I told him, 'Listen, George, I promise we're going to invade Iraq, but you have to be patient,'" Cheney said. "'We need a halfway plausible casus belli. You know that, George. Now, stop bugging me about it.'"
According to Cheney, for the past three weeks, Bush has been constantly asking if it's time to move troops into the Gulf region.
"George is calling me, he's following me around in the halls, he's leaving notes on my desk reminding me to let him know if I hear 'any news,'" Cheney said. "He just will not sit still. I actually have a permanent red mark on my shoulder on the spot where he comes up and taps me."
"'Hey, Dick, is it time yet?'" said Cheney, adopting a Texas drawl in imitation of the president. "'Hey, Dick, can we invade yet?'"
In spite of repeated assurances that he will be apprised the moment the time to invade arrives, Bush continues to badger Cheney.
"He knows I don't want to talk about it, but he still somehow manages to find a way to sneak it into conversations," Cheney said. "He'll drop by my office on some pretense—the Kyoto treaty or whatever—and then right before he's about to leave, he'll say, 'Oh, by the way, do you think it's time to get those troops into the Middle East yet?' As if that wasn't his whole reason for the visit."
Bush has also taken to hanging around certain West Wing hallways, hoping to "accidentally" bump into Cheney as he exits meetings.
"Last Thursday, I nearly ran him over as I was coming out of a debriefing with the Joint Chiefs of Staff," Cheney said. "So he says, 'I was thinking of maybe talking to [CIA director] George Tenet, because the CIA helped spark that Kurdish uprising in '96, so maybe we could do something like that again with Iraq.' I said, 'George, I'm doing everything I possibly can to set things up for an Iraq invasion. Try to think about something else—health-care reform, the economy, anything—before I strangle you.'"
Though he understands and appreciates the president's eagerness, Cheney said his patience finally wore out when Bush called him at home over the weekend.
"I'm sitting down to dinner, and I get a phone call asking if 'Congress knows they've got weapons of mass destruction,'" Cheney said. "I told him yes, and to settle down. Later that night—it must have been midnight—the secured line rings. I leap out of bed, thinking something awful has happened. It's George, saying that he can't sleep thinking about how right at this very minute, Saddam is manufacturing more weapons of mass destruction, and we're sitting here doing nothing."
On Monday, Cheney sat Bush down and explained at length the political ramifications of proceeding with a first strike without creating the appearance of approval from Congress and the American people.
"I said we can do it, but we don't want to at this moment," Cheney said. "'If we just wait a little longer, Saddam is bound to commit some act of aggression or we'll find some juicy al Qaeda ties or something, and then we can make it look like the whole country's behind it. George has got to learn to hold his horses."
Cheney also explained to Bush that his constant pestering is keeping him from attending to the very work that will make the invasion a reality.
"Donald [Rumsfeld] and I are working on the U.N. weapons-inspections thing, and we're this close to finding a way to make that a compelling reason, but we just need a little more time," Cheney said. "I told George to go back to the Oval Office and stay there. I also made him put his hand on his heart and promise me he wouldn't talk to me about it anymore."
Within an hour of sending Bush to his office, Cheney received six e-mails from Bush, all of them forwarded news articles that the president had found online. Among them was an Associated Press story titled, "Lawyers Say Bush Does Not Need Congress To Attack Iraq," accompanied by a message from Bush reading, "dick, have you seen this?!?!?!?!?! [sic]"
"Of course I've seen it," Cheney said. "Who does he think planted the story?"
The vice-president is not the only key White House figure Bush has harassed.
"George is driving me absolutely batty," Rumsfeld said. "I got back from lunch, and there were four voicemail messages from him, then another two on my cell phone. Each one says he has to talk to me about a 'highly confidential subject,' as if I don't know what it is. Condoleezza [Rice] said she's been getting the same thing. He just doesn't seem to understand that we all want war as badly as he does."