Week in Review: Cheney, Hamas

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The week's events include Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident and general capacity for controversy. Also on the agenda: the rise of the militant Islamist group Hamas, now the majority party in the Palestinian government.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Vice President DICK CHENEY: The image of him falling is something I'll never, never be able to get out of my mind. I fired and there's Harry falling. And it was, I'd have to say, one of the worst days of my life.

SIMON: Vice President Dick Cheney speaking on the Fox News Network for the first time about his accidental shooting of a fellow hunter, his friend, Texas attorney Harry Whittington, four days after the incident. Mr. Whittington was discharged from a Corpus Christi area hospital yesterday after being hit in the neck and chest with birdshot last Saturday during a hunting excursion with the Vice President. But it's Mr. Cheney's political health and wisdom that's now being questioned.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Good morning, Dan.

DAN SCHORR reporting:

Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And of course the Vice President has come under fire this week. Bad choice of words, but there you go. Not so much for the shooting itself, because clearly this man was a friend and it was an accident, but for not reporting right away. Now, is this furor so much inside the Beltway caterwauling or a real problem for the Vice President and the Administration?

SCHORR: Oh, I think it is a real problem. He has not been very popular, even in the White House, partly because of his very secretive manner which evidenced itself here again when he held up giving a report for four days. People think of him as the one who was in court refusing to tell who had helped to write the energy policy for the president. They remembered also that his chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was the one who outed the CIA secret person. And I think this is all on top of that.

What's interesting is that Peggy Noonan, a very, very conservative speechwriter and columnist, has an article in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that maybe it's time to find a new vice president.

Maybe that's just a joke.

SIMON: Is there something symptomatic about more Republicans pressing Mr. Cheney to be more open in his response? And as you suggest, Peggy Noonan, who was one of President Reagan's most notably eloquent speechwriters, actually uttering those words aloud. Because there's just two years left in the term, there have been questions about Mr. Cheney's health almost since the beginning. As you've noted, his chief aide will be standing trial.

SCHORR: That's right.

SIMON: Some people inevitably will suggest that talk of resignation must be in the air.

SCHORR: Well, but so far, that's just talk.

SIMON: Yeah.

SCHORR: I mean I cannot conceive, if I'm wrong, I apologize, I cannot conceive at this point of the vice president resigning under pressure. He might resign if he has another bad bout of health or something.

But I think it's mainly people who want him out who are the ones who quickly see resignation in the wind. He cannot resign, or will not resign, as long as the president is willing to support him. And the president did come out and support him and said he had done just fine.

SIMON: There were some other divisions in the ranks of the Republican majority in the Senate this week, some sharp questions for the attorney general about the National Security Agency eavesdropping program. And this week, Senate Republicans were really quite stern in their questioning of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff over the response of his agency in response to the events of Hurricane Katrina.

SCHORR: Yes. Well, I think Chertoff carried himself off pretty well in an almost impossible situation. It is likely that it was a terrible idea in the first place to create this new Homeland Security Department, lumping together a lot of disparate agencies. But now that they're there, he's got to stand up and take it. And he took the heat pretty well. He didn't fold under pressure. It didn't help any. It's still a terrible thing that happened there with FEMA not ready, others not ready. But it's very difficult to make him the butt of all of this.

SIMON: Hmm. Want to, of course, obviously, go to foreign news. Democracy is on the march, but the direction sometimes hard to figure. The new Hamas-run Parliament...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: ...opened in Ramallah today. Mahmoud Abbas called on Hamas to continue negotiations with Israel. Most of the legislators that our man Eric Westervelt, on the ground there in Ramallah, were able to speak with didn't seem to share that idea. What do you project is likely the U.S. and Israeli response over these next few weeks, when there are real questions about how much money is going to be funneled to the Palestinian Authority, for example?

SCHORR: Well, we already know the response of Israel. Israel will not deal with Hamas, as long as Hamas does not apologize and withdraw the idea of abolishing the State of Israel. The United States supports Israel pretty much on this, will not deal with a Hamas government, at least not a Hamas government that is not taking up the promise not to, not to try to abolish the State of Israel. And I don't know where it goes. I'm not sure anybody knows where it goes. Hamas is sticking to its guns. And I mean guns, I guess.

SIMON: Yeah.

SCHORR: Is sticking, is sticking to its guns. I don't see a way out, other than in more tension.

SIMON: Friday President Bush said that the United Nations had to double the size of the commitment, that NATO had to double the size of its commitment to the peacekeeping forces on the ground in Darfur, in Sudan, because of what has been characterized as the genocide that continues there. Is another U.S. military commitment in the offing?

SCHORR: Yes. You know, 200,000 people killed, two million people driven into exile. And President Bush, who campaigned against the idea of nation building, is now going to try, or help to try to repair a nation. I think it is simply that, as with President Reagan and others, they reach this point in their careers where they're thinking more of their legacy than what is happening here on the ground. And I suspect that what's finally happened with our President Bush: I cannot be seen in history as being like, say, President Clinton, who would not send troops to Rwanda. We can do better. I will have to do better.

I think it is a dramatic thing that he's now said NATO more troops. He didn't say U.S. more troops. But NATO more troops must mean U.S. more troops. And it's a big change.

SIMON: Secretary of State Rice wants $85 million to help promote democracy in Iran. She called for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to that. Now, this is aid to human rights and labor groups, but also intensified broadcasting. Is this a regime change? Softer, gentler?

SCHORR: Oh, wash out your mouth. We don't use regime change any more. Those are the words that died in Iraq with the $100 million or so trying to change the regime, and eventually had to do it the old fashioned way, with an invasion. Yeah.

SIMON: The heads of the major Internet search engines were brought before Congress and really got some intense questioning over their agreement to censorship of the Web, as they do business in China. And even some of the search engines have helped the Chinese government trace down some dissidents.

SCHORR: Yeah.

SIMON: Who's changing who? Is China changing them? Or is free information changing China?

SCHORR: Free information threatens, threatens China. And the Chinese government is moving in to meet that threat. And so the search engines have to be changed in order to meet, for example, Tiananmen Square. Put up Tiananmen Square for Google and what you'll get will be standing there on a peaceful day outside Tiananmen Square.

SIMON: Yeah.

SCHORR: Business is business. And Google is a very business-like company.

SIMON: Yeah. Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

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