Vice President Richard Cheney is a “frightening presence in the White House.”

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is a “right-wing neoconservative hawk.”

These are not the observations of Ted Kennedy or Ralph Nader. It’s former Nevada U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan who spoke them. The conservative Democat, long known for circumspect language, has been using some strong verbiage to describe these key members of the Bush team.

And, he says, they’re not serving George Bush or the nation well.

Bryan’s comments predate the controversy over Rumsfeld and the prisoner abuse scandal. Earlier this year, in an RN&R interview on another subject, Bryan made some comments on Cheney and Rumsfeld that were so harsh, for him, that we stored them for later use. With Rumsfeld the focus of the abuse scandal, we checked back with Bryan and interviewed him again on the subject.

In the first interview, Bryan described the two men, particularly Cheney, as dogmatic and rigid.

“He served with great distinction as secretary of defense [in the first Bush administration] … ,” Bryan said of Cheney. “I thought he did an admirable job. He has since become such a right-wing ideologue that I’m not sure he isn’t a handicap now. I frankly have been shocked by how far to the right he is. I view him as a very frightening presence in the White House.”

This week, Bryan said he was taken aback by Rumsfeld’s initial reaction to the prisoner abuse reports: “Rumsfeld was totally dismissive—kind of a boys-will-be-boys kind of thing.” He said that Rumsfeld bears a major share of the responsibility for abandonment of the Powell Doctrine.

Named for Colin Powell, this doctrine was designed to avoid the mistakes of Vietnam by using force as a last resort and only in the event of a clear threat to U.S. security, never entering a war without overwhelming force, never entering a war without strong public support, and having a clear exit strategy before going in.

Rumsfeld substituted what has been called the Rumsfeld doctrine—the belief that the United States was better off in a war with smaller, faster, precision forces than with the Powell Doctrine.

Bryan says that is a fancy way of “doing it on the cheap” and has been a disaster in Iraq. Worse, he says, the Bush administration has penalized those who disagreed.

“They’ve dealt very harshly with those who disagree. … They made it known that the career of the Army chief of staff, General [Eric] Shinseki, was over because he gave them the advice he did.” During the early run-up to the war, Shinseki said “several hundred thousand” soldiers would be needed to win the war, occupy Iraq, and provide stability and security during occupation. The administration rejected that view. Shinseki is now retired.

“There’s no question he’s an intelligent man,” Bryan says of Rumsfeld. “If not out of the mainstream, he would certainly be within the right-wing neoconservative hawks.”

Republican National Commit-teeman Joe Brown of Las Vegas took issue with Bryan’s comments.

“I disagree very strongly with it,” Brown says. “I think Cheney and Rumsfeld have provided stable leadership to the president and have been right on course these last three yards, certainly ever since 9/11.”

Referring to the prisoner abuse, Brown said, “It’s a terrible thing, but I think we’re making a far greater situation out of it than it is, and to blame Rumsfeld is preposterous.”

Avatar photo

Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...