Maybe listening to Dick Cheney on Iraq isn’t a good idea

June 18

Today, on the Senate floor, Harry Reid said: “Being on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is being on the right side of history.”

Reid was responding to Cheney’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal with his daughter Liz attacking the Obama administration’s policies in the Middle East and elsewhere, a piece that has already generated much discussion. The Cheneys have also formed an organization, the Alliance for a Strong America, to advocate Cheneyite policies (you can tell it’ll be strong and resolute, because in the announcement video, Dick is wearing a cowboy hat).

The Cheneys’ op ed and new organization capture a key facet of conservatives’ approach to the foreign policies of the Obama era: They ply their ideas from a strange place where history started in January 2009.

The Cheneys offer no discussion of the disastrous decision to invade Iraq in the first place (though they still surely believe the war was a great idea, they apparently realize most Americans don’t agree). But anything that happened afterward can only be Obama’s fault. They write, “Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace. Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.”

Yes, he “had only” to do that, and everything would have turned out fine. But who was it who signed the agreement mandating the removal of all American forces from Iraq by the end of 2011? It was George W. Bush. When the time arrived, the Maliki government was determined to get all American troops out, and refused to negotiate a new agreement without putting American troops at the mercy of the Iraqi justice system — something no American president would ever have accepted.

Obama faces an almost impossible situation. Short of an outright invasion, whatever we choose to do military is only going to have a limited impact on how this all ends. Some argue that Obama should have tried harder to negotiate a new agreement, to keep a small force there. The administration claims that would have been fruitless, because Maliki wouldn’t have allowed it. But this is all a counter-factual — and it should be noted that even if we had left a smaller force there, it still might not have been enough to determine the course of events.  The big picture is that, if you were for withdrawal, you were inevitably going to be for giving up our influence over the country’s future.

Maybe that’s why the Cheneys’ op ed is silent on what they would do differently in Iraq today. The op-ed contains nothing even approaching a specific suggestion for what , other than to say that defeating terrorists “will require a strategy — not a fantasy. It will require sustained difficult military, intelligence and diplomatic efforts — not empty misleading rhetoric. It will require rebuilding America’s military capacity — reversing the Obama policies that have weakened our armed forces and reduced our ability to influence events around the world.”

So to recap: we need a strategy, and though they won’t tell us what that strategy might be, it should involve military, intelligence, and diplomatic efforts, and rebuilding the military. Apart from the absurd claim that the armed forces have been “weakened” (we’re still spending over $600 billion a year on the military even with the war in Iraq behind us and Afghanistan winding down), the Cheneys are about as clear on what we should do now as they were on how invading Iraq was supposed to spread peace and democracy across the Middle East.

Watch closely as Republicans troop to the TV studios in the coming days, because they’ll be saying much the same thing. They won’t bring up what a disaster the war was; they’ll hope you forget that they supported it, and they won’t mention that it was Bush who signed the agreement to remove all the troops from Iraq. They will say almost nothing about what they would do differently now, other than to say we have to be “strong” and “send the right message” to the terrorists.

When it comes to being wrong about Iraq, Dick Cheney has been in a class by himself. It was Cheney who said, “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”

It was Cheney who said: “it’s been pretty well confirmed” that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta “did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service.”

It was Cheney who said: “we do know, with absolute certainty, that [Saddam Hussein] is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon”

It was Cheney who said in 2005: “I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.”

All those things, and many more, were false. There is not a single person in America — not Bill Kristol, not Paul Wolfowitz, not Don Rumsfeld, no pundit, not even President Bush himself — who has been more wrong and more shamelessly dishonest on the topic of Iraq than Dick Cheney.

And now, as the cascade of misery and death and chaos he did so much to unleash rages anew, Cheney has the unadulterated gall to come before the country and tell us that it’s all someone else’s fault, and if we would only listen to him then we could keep America safe forever. How dumb would we have to be to listen?

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