June 19, 2014–Dick Cheney has struck again. Together with daughter Liz–a fellow-traveler in the classic mold–Cheney has published a piece in the Wall Street Journal in which he charged, “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” In the June 18 op-ed article, the former vice-president goes on to accuse Barack Obama of “abandoning” Iraq and “snatching” defeat from the jaws of victory. What?
Several things are going on here that cannot be permitted to pass without comment. I’ll leave the obvious to the side for a moment to say this– for two decades in the 20th Century American politics were roiled by the issue of “who lost China?” It was a false charge, devised for the purpose of forcing politicians to take public stands on foreign intervention, posed from a conservative point of view. The stalking horse in Mr. Cheney’s latest foray is his barely disguised effort to revive the same kind of political charge. Cheney cannot be allowed to get away with this.
The former vice-president obviously thinks by resurrecting this device he can put Democrats in a bind while redefining his own role in the Iraq debacle in a more positive light. Cheney has long believed himself a circusmaster, able to pull bunny rabbits out of the most threadbare of tophats. That’s what he did when he played George W. Bush’s piano keys and got the United States into Iraq in the first place, when he served the first president Bush as secretary of defense, when he sat in Congress and obstructed investigations of the Iran-Contra Affair, and when he held a White House portfolio for Gerald R. Ford and sought to evade and minimize investigations of U.S. intelligence agencies, ignited by charges of domestic spying and assassination plotting, all the way back in 1975. You can read all these stories in The Family Jewels. In honor of Cheney the circusmaster I will shortly be posting a new product for the “Downloadable” section of this website, one that will show Mr. Cheney, in his own handwriting, crafting the White House strategy against the Family Jewels investigations.
But there is more to it than that. Richard Cheney’s interventions have had a mad wizard quality to them, preoccupied with short-term tactical goals, which have resulted in long-term negatives for his country. Derailment of inquiries into the intelligence agencies in 1975, and White House staffs in the late 80s arguably made possible the manipulations by which Dick Cheney himself maneuvered his president, after the September 11 attacks, into one of the most disastrous episodes in U.S. history. There were small things to go with the big ones. In the Iraq and Afghan wars one of the most useful American weapons had been the CV-22 transport aircraft. As defense secretary for the first president Bush, Dick Cheney cancelled the V-22 program, losing eight years and untold millions of dollars in extra development costs.
But let’s return to the present, and take Dick Cheney up on his own words. In point of fact it is Cheney, not Barack Obama, who has been wrong about nearly everything he has claimed over the past decade. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, the alleged presence of which Cheney used to justify an unprovoked invasion. The war did not end in a few weeks as Mr. Cheney said it would. The invasion did not implant the new democracies in the Middle East that Cheney expected would eventuate. Iraqis stopped regarding Americans as liberators very quickly contrary to Mr. Cheney’s expectations. The Maliki government of Iraq was not the broad-based popular unity government that Cheney and his cohorts professed. The war in Afghanistan burbled along and then escalated because Cheney and his cohorts ignored it in favor of their myopic focus on Iraq. Intelligence work on “the dark side,” as Mr. Cheney insisted would defeat Al Qaeda, did not. CIA torture, which Cheney defended vociferously, has had marginal if any impact on U.S. Intelligence. NSA eavesdropping, which Cheney has said he would do again, in an instant, has had little intelligence impact, threatened the constitutional rights of everyone, and caused great damage to American foreign relations, hence U.S. national security. This is not even the complete list but it is sufficient. Never has one man been so wrong, about so much, at the expense of so many. Richard Cheney is a clown.
So to Iraq. The war in Iraq was not a United States victory. Anyone who imagines it was is deluded. The line about snatching defeat from the hands of victory, increasingly to be heard from the neocons, is an attempt to redefine the conflict’s result in the guise of discussing current policy. It is not for the U.S. to snatch anything from the present situation in Iraq. Conversely, it is very much the case that Maliki policies have undermined his own legitimacy and created the situation in which he is vulnerable.
Let’s consider two more things: One, defeat in Iraq was the product of decisions taken or not taken by the administration of which Dick Cheney was a major player. The U.S. barely avoided a rout, and salvaged an orderly withdrawal, which Barack Obama completed. Further, for the sake of this analysis suppose Obama does what Cheney wants and goes back into Iraq, only to stand at Maliki’s side as he is defeated or yields to an Iranian proconsul–the most likely outcome. That result would be snatching defeat from whatever Iraq is now. That’s number two. Playing that game might open the door to a “Who Lost Iraq” competition. Dick Cheney must think he really is a circusmaster. But he must know that Barack is never going to play. This is not about U.S. interests, foreign policy or national security. It’s all about scoring points. That’s exactly why Dick Cheney is such a clown.
[NOTE: June 21: Documents on Mr. Cheney’s attempt to restrict the Church committee inquiry are now posted in “Products” under the “Downloadable” section of the website. There is a related set of documents, posted on March 15, 2014, under the title “Church Committee Access to CIA Documents.”]