US Vice-President Dick Cheney is at the centre of controversy over the decision to invade Iraq and the alleged torture of terrorism suspects, but like the eye of the storm, he remains unperturbed.
The point man for the administration of US President George W. Bush which is caught up in Iraq, Cheney is leading a counter-offensive against anybody who demands the withdrawal of the US military from Iraq.
Together with Bush, he often plays the role of a "bad cop," says Eric Davis, professor of political sciences from Middlebury University.
Cheney "is taking deflected criticism for Bush," points out Stephen Hess, a political science expert with the Brookings Institution in Washington.
For about a month, the Democrats have been denouncing the Bush administration and the vice-president for "manipulations" of intelligence reports to persuade the public that the Iraq war was justified.
In the latest salvo in an increasingly acrimonious debate over pre-war intelligence, Cheney accused critics on Monday of "corrupt and shameless" revisionism in suggesting the White House misled the nation in a rush to war,
Cheney also denounced proposals for a quick US withdrawal from Iraq as "a dangerous illusion" and shrugged off the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. "We never had the burden of proof," he said on Monday, adding that it had been up to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to prove to the world that he did not have such weapons.
Criticism has intensified since late October when Cheney's chief of staff Lewis Libby was indicted for perjury and resigned amid a scandal over the outing of a CIA agent in the press.
Cheney's popularity is currently lower than Bush's (less than 40 percent), and for several weeks his name has been linked to the defence of torture as a tool in the counterterrorism campaign.
Former CIA Director Stansfield Turner on Thursday accused the vice-president of supervising the politics of torture with regard to terrorism suspects.
With the president travelling in Asia, Cheney raised his profile last week as the Republican-controlled Congress demanded that the White House account for the war in Iraq.
"The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory or their backbone but we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history," Cheney said.
The vice-president called Democratic criticism "irresponsible" and "dishonest."
The following day, Democratic Representative John Murtha, who had already made the headlines by calling for an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, found a chink in the vice-president's armour:
"I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done," said the highly decorated Viet Nam War veteran who up to now had backed the Iraq war.
As a student and newlywed in the 1960s, Cheney received five draft deferments and avoided going to Viet Nam.
A key Democrat on military issues with close ties to the Pentagon, Murtha set off a firestorm last week when he proposed all of the around 160,000 US troops now in Iraq be pulled out over the next six months.
Congressional Republicans denounced him and White House spokesman Scott McClellan, travelling with the president in Asia, branded him as an ultraliberal comparable to activist filmmaker Michael Moore.
Later, Bush and other administration officials toned down their criticism, fearful of a backlash in support of Murtha. Bush on Sunday called Murtha "a fine man" and long-time supporter of the military.
However, Cheney said: "Those who advocate a sudden withdrawal from Iraq should answer a few simple questions," such as whether the United States would be "better off or worse off" with terror leaders such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri in control of Iraq.
Murtha retorted: "I'm trying to prevent another Viet Nam" and predicted Cheney would eventually see it that way, too. "This war cannot be won militarily, ... cannot be won on the ground," he said.
Source: China Daily