The following year, with arguments for the Iraq War under way in Congress, Liz was appointed deputy assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs, where she worked under her old boss Richard Armitage, then Colin Powell’s deputy secretary of State. She was given a wide berth to run a new aid program called the Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative. On the surface, it was a typical State Department program meant to foster goodwill overseas, but Cheney and her allies saw it as part of the burgeoning “Freedom Agenda,” the pro-democracy banner of neoconservatism.
Though outwardly genial and easygoing, Liz inspired suspicion among her colleagues, who considered her the eyes and ears of the vice-president in the department. Her job gave her a level of clearance for CIA intelligence that allowed her to have conversations with her father about national security, and Liz played information arbiter in internecine government combat. When David Wurmser, a special assistant to John Bolton at the State Department, was asked to fly to Kuwait on the eve of the Iraq War to brief Army general Jay Garner on the search for WMDs, Liz Cheney called Wurmser to warn him that her boss Armitage was going to block his efforts. “She would be very discreet,” says Wurmser. “There was clearly an effort to stop [Bolton], and she thought that was necessary to convey.”
Indeed, as the search for weapons of mass destruction fizzled, Liz’s relationship with Armitage, who was critical of the administration’s case for war, grew tense. At one point, Liz asked Armitage why State Department officials were leaking negative information about her father in the press. “My response was, ‘There’s no one leaking. They’re talking on the record,’ ” he recalls.
While Karl Rove admits in his new memoir that Bush would probably never have invaded Iraq had he known there were no WMDs, the backup rationale of liberating Iraq was good enough for the Cheneys. For Liz, the virtue of the cause was only proved by how unpopular it was, casting the Cheneys as a virtuous minority against the visionless masses. “She almost thrives in an atmosphere where the overall philosophy is discredited and she is a lonely voice,” says a State Department official who worked with her. Still, she was increasingly frustrated by her father’s treatment in the press—and his somewhat cartoonish reputation as a snarling, power-hungry operator willing to bend laws to execute his foreign-policy fantasies.
Liz was galvanized by the Bush-Cheney win in 2004, seeing it as a powerful affirmation of the Cheney cause. In 2005, she won a promotion to principal deputy assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs. Her flagship program, Forum for the Future, was to be held in Bahrain in November of that year, with Cheney negotiating an agreement among key Middle Eastern states on democratic principles.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned a secret detour to Baghdad during the trip to Bahrain. And Cheney saw her chance to finally visit the country her father had invaded. According to Glenn Kessler’s book on Rice, The Confidante, Liz insisted on coming along, strong-arming her female Secret Service agent, gamely donning a helmet and body armor, and hopping on a helicopter. Her friend Jim Wilkinson, Rice’s then–senior adviser, saw Cheney’s move as “courageous and the right thing to do,” but others on that trip did not. “She was full of herself and full of her sense of being the vice-president’s daughter,” a critic recounts.
The next day, when she returned to Bahrain from the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, the Secret Service was furious that she had evaded them. Her parents were reportedly surprised as well. Late to her own conference, Cheney found that chaos had erupted while she was gone: Representatives from Egypt were departing in a huff, unhappy with the resolution Cheney had drafted in advance. Cheney’s critics saw her as naïve and unprepared, though her allies say the Egyptians were never going to cooperate anyway.
With conditions in Iraq deteriorating, the Bush White House began to pivot away from pro-democracy rhetoric and toward diplomacy with Iran and North Korea, marginalizing Cheney and the neocons. Liz saw the writing on the wall, and left the State Department to have her fifth baby, whom she named Richard. But her identity had been forged in the ideological battle at State. People who knew her in the nineties say they didn’t recognize her by the time the administration ended—the same thing people said of her father, whose hard-right conservatism, contained while he worked for more centrist Republicans, seemed unleashed by 9/11. “She became her father’s daughter,” says Armitage.
As his vice-presidency drew to a close, Dick Cheney began to appear to friends as quieter, grimmer, angrier. There was speculation that health problems had affected his temperament. Tom Ricks, the author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, says several congressmen recalled visiting Cheney and observing how “he sat and stared at the table and didn’t seem to acknowledge their presence.” (In 2008, doctors discovered that Cheney was experiencing a recurrence of atrial fibrillation, and he underwent a procedure to restore his heart to a normal rhythm.) Meanwhile, a rift between the Cheney and Bush camps over Scooter Libby’s role in the CIA-leak investigation was rendering Cheney less and less powerful. Cheney’s role had traditionally been “taking arrows so the boss doesn’t,” according to one former Bush official, but the Libby affair was causing those arrows to hit the boss.