In the beginning, it was a mutually beneficial relationship. As a Beltway outsider, George W. Bush needed the advice of a seasoned Washington politician. Dick Cheney was eager to exert his influence on public policy without the glare of the spotlight. So Bush asked Cheney to be his running mate. The rest, as they say, is history: 9/11, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession. The simplistic story was that Cheney, as vice president, ran the country behind the scenes, directing the moves of an untested president. The reality, according to journalist Peter Baker, was that the relationship between Bush and Cheney was much more complex. His new book, Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House, describes a relationship that evolved from Cheney being a trusted adviser to one where Bush became increasingly wary of his vice president’s counsel.
Baker witnessed the evolution firsthand, covering Bush as a reporter for the Washington Post. He now covers the Obama administration for the New York Times. Baker brings his newspaperman’s style of writing to Days of Fire; the book is steeped in facts, and the writing is clear and crisp.
You will also be impressed by Baker’s research and reporting. He interviewed more than 200 people, including White House insiders, politicians, relatives and friends to find some incredible anecdotes and to describe the shifting relationship between Bush and Cheney. In summary, when Bush chose Cheney as his running mate, he was looking for a mentor. But it was clear from the beginning that Bush was in charge, and he ultimately relied on his gut when making decisions, Baker writes. Things started to deteriorate after 9/11, as Cheney was a strong advocate of the invasion of Iraq under the assumption that it had weapons of mass destruction. In the aftermath, Bush started to rely more on his instincts, based in part on his growing self-confidence, and the realization that his vice president was a staunch, stubborn conservative.
Among the more fascinating examples of the changing Bush-Cheney relationship in Days of Fire is an account of how Cheney pushed hard to get a presidential pardon for his aide, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, after he was convicted of leaking the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Bush, having already commuted Libby’s 30-month prison sentence, ultimately refused to pardon the conviction, a decision that infuriated Cheney and further soured their relationship.
All told, Days of Fire delves deeply into the Bush-Cheney partnership and offers breathtaking insights into power, passion and politics at the highest levels of our government.