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.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.