Skip to main content

Dick Cheney's amazing chutzpah on Iraq

By Paul Waldman
updated 1:53 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Kurdish Peshmerga forces stand guard at their position in the Omar Khaled village west of Mosul near Tal Afar on Sunday, August 24. They have been battling the militant group ISIS, which has taken over large swaths of northern and western Iraq as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate that stretches from Syria to Iraq. Kurdish Peshmerga forces stand guard at their position in the Omar Khaled village west of Mosul near Tal Afar on Sunday, August 24. They have been battling the militant group ISIS, which has taken over large swaths of northern and western Iraq as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate that stretches from Syria to Iraq.
HIDE CAPTION
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
Iraq under siege
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Waldman: Dick Cheney has some nerve slamming Obama on Iraq -- did he mean Bush?
  • He says Cheney was Iraq war's chief propagandist, insisted Hussein had WMDs
  • Waldman: Cheney fails to mention the loss of life, trillions spent in Iraq on his watch
  • Waldman: Where are his recommendations to solve Iraq? He blames Obama for his mess

Editor's note: Paul Waldman is a contributing editor at The American Prospect and the author of "Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success." Follow him on his blog and on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- You have to hand it to Dick Cheney. How many people, knowing what has happened in Iraq over the last 12 years, would dare to write an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal recently containing this line: "Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many" -- and not be talking about George W. Bush? The man has chutzpah.

The op-ed in question was co-written with Cheney's daughter Liz, former State Department worker and failed Senate candidate. The two are forming a new organization, the Alliance for a Strong America.

Paul Waldman
Paul Waldman

Of all the former Bush administration officials who have emerged in the last few days to blame the deteriorating situation in Iraq on Barack Obama, one might think Cheney would be among the last.

It's one thing to turn on your TV and hear that Obama is a dangerous weakling from people like Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol, the ones who told us that war with Iraq would be cheap and easy, then bring a wave of peace and democracy across the Middle East.

But Cheney?

Cheney was the war's chief propagandist, who told the American public more spectacular falsehoods than anyone, including Bush himself. Cheney was the one who told us in 2002 that "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."

He's the one who tried to convince us that Saddam Hussein might have helped engineer the September 11 attacks, and who said in 2005 that the insurgency in Iraq was "in its last throes." (The war went on for 6½ more years.)

Mukasey on mishandling of Iraq
Dick Cheney slams Obama on Iraq
Benghazi suspect; Cheney op-ed; Clinton

Cheney had a central role in bringing on a war in which 4,500 Americans gave their lives, tens of thousands more were gravely injured, we spent a couple of trillion dollars, and somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 Iraqis died.

Cheney's opinion appears to be that all that death and expense never really happened (he doesn't mention them), and that everything bad in Iraq can only be Obama's fault -- because the Bush administration did such a bang-up job there. "Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace," he writes. "Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory."

Would "some residual American forces" have been able to keep a lid on the unending Iraqi civil war that Bush and Cheney so effectively unleashed? We'll never really know, but here's what we do know: The agreement mandating that all American troops leave Iraq by the end of 2011 was signed by one George W. Bush, before Obama took office.

As negotiations over our departure proceeded in Obama's first term, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki -- eager to have the Americans gone so he could consolidate what would turn out to be a corrupt sectarian rule -- refused to grant American troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts. Without that immunity, there was simply no way American forces could remain there. We've heard many people say Obama "should have pushed harder," but nobody says exactly what that's supposed to mean, or why al-Maliki would have given in, especially considering how he's acted since.

And what does Cheney think we should do now? He doesn't seem to have any idea. The op-ed contains precisely zero recommendations about Iraq. Defeating al Qaeda, it says, "will require a strategy -- not a fantasy." But what is that strategy? "Sustained difficult military, intelligence and diplomatic efforts"? Oh, of course -- if only we had known!

At least he's not alone in his arrogance and befuddlement. None of Obama's other critics seem to have much of an idea what we should do in Iraq, or Syria, or anywhere else. They're happy to say that whatever Obama is doing isn't enough, and it isn't strong. But if you ask them to be specific about what different decisions they would make, you'll be met with hemming and hawing.

That's because there are only bad options for America in Iraq, as is often the case in the Middle East. If you delude yourself into thinking that wars are simple and easy, and all that matters is whether you're "strong," then sometimes things become quite clear. We'll just invade, we'll be "greeted as liberators" (that was Cheney, too), and everyone will live happily ever after.

And when what actually results is not that glorious and easy victory, but a tidal wave of violence and despair, then all you need to do is wait until after you leave office, when you can blame it all on someone else.

READ: Opinion--Ignore neo-cons, the last thing Iraq needs is more war

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 5:53 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 7:05 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT