Harry Reid: ‘Being on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is being on the right side of history’


Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) speaks to reporters on on Capitol Tuesday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Updated 2:32 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) intensified the political rhetoric surrounding the deterioration of security in Iraq on Wednesday by blasting Republican lawmakers and former vice president Richard B. Cheney for suggesting that President Obama should have kept U.S. forces in the country.

In a sharply worded address from the Senate floor, Reid responded to comments by Cheney, who wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other conservative commentators who have faulted Obama for failing to broker an agreement to keep U.S. forces in the country beyond a 2011 pullout date.

"Being on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is being on the right side of history," Reid said as he recounted Cheney's comments from the morning newspaper.

In the op-ed, the former vice president and his daughter, Liz Cheney, wrote, "Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many." They added later that "Iraq is at risk of falling to a radical Islamic terror group and Mr. Obama is talking climate change. Terrorists take control of more territory and resources than ever before in history, and he goes golfing. He seems blithely unaware, or indifferent to the fact, that a resurgent al-Qaeda presents a clear and present danger to the United States of America."

On Tuesday, McConnell told reporters that Obama "should've left a deployment behind, not for combat purposes but for training and for counterterrorism. Having made the decision not to do that, we're left with entirely predictable consequences."

In response, Reid suggested that McConnell and his Republican conference are out of step with most Americans who opposed the Iraq war and are opposed to new military action in the country.

"Do the Republicans and their leader believe that servicemen and women in Kentucky and the other 49 states in this great country should be inserted in the middle of their civil war? I don't think so," Reid said. He noted that the eight-year war cost thousands of Iraqi and American lives and "has spawned a new breed of terrorism now."

After supporting George W. Bush's calls for military action in Iraq, Reid later sparred regularly with Bush and Cheney in hopes of withdrawing troops and bringing the war to a close. On Wednesday, Reid said that he remains opposed to sending troops back.

"This is an Iraqi civil war and it is time for the Iraqis to resolve it themselves," he said. "Those who attack President Obama for bringing our troops home from Iraq are wrong and out of step with the American people. After a decade of war, the American people have had enough. American families have had enough. I do not support in any way putting our men and women in the midst of this civil war in Iraq. It is not in the national security interests of our country. It's not worth the blood of the American soldiers, it's not worth the monetary costs to the American taxpayer."

McConnell spoke immediately after Reid on the Senate floor but made no comments on Iraq.

Later, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) interrupted an ongoing debate on a spending measure and spent 30 minutes railing against Obama's decision not to immediately reengage U.S. forces in the region.

"The administration and its defenders are now scrambling to pin the blame of this catastrophic failure on anyone but themselves," McCain said. The Obama White House can try to blame the Bush administration for the situation, "but the administration cannot escape its own responsibility for the current disaster," he said.

Repeating comments he's made in the last several days, McCain said the U.S. should have maintained a "residual force" presence in Iraq in order to launch military operations against al-Qaeda across the region. Keeping troops in the country "could have provided a platform for greater diplomatic engagement and intelligence cooperation with our partners. It could have made Iraqi leaders think twice," he said.

Both senators agreed that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki needs to be removed from power.

"I would not send $1 to Iraq. I would not send one soldier to Iraq, one airman to Iraq until we understand over time that Maliki's got to go," Graham said.

As McCain and Graham concluded, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said he agreed: "Maliki needs to go. Otherwise, I think Iraq is going to blow apart."

Across the Capitol, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) gave a measured critique of the administration's handling of Iraq, saying in advance of an afternoon meeting at the White House with Obama that he wants to hear the president "guarantee some success" in keeping the troubled nation secure.

"I'm looking for an overall strategy from the president," Boehner told reporters after the weekly closed-door huddle of House Republicans. He declined to wade into more specifics on policy proposals.

Reid, McConnell, Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are scheduled to meet with Obama for the first face-to-face "big four" meeting with the president since April 3, when they discussed the situation in Ukraine.

The congressional reaction comments came as the Pentagon’s top leaders testified Wednesday that a U.S. campaign of airstrikes in Iraq would be fraught with complications, both political and military, and suggested that a rush to take such action could backfire.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Iraqi government has requested that Washington provide “air power” as it tries to take back territory seized in recent weeks by fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other insurgents.

Dempsey told a panel from the Senate Appropriations Committee that the Obama administration was still weighing how to respond. But he emphasized that airstrikes would be extremely complicated. “It’s not as easy as looking at an iPhone video of a convoy and then immediately striking,” he said.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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