Former Vice President Dick Cheney has been popping off lately about how President Obama is to blame for the current crisis in Iraq.
Cheney sees the alarming territorial gains by Sunni Muslim insurgents and al Qaeda jihadists, and the growing and regrettable influence of the clerics of Iran over the Shiite government of Iraq, and blames it all on the Obama administration.
Dick Cheney is wrong about Barack Obama and Iraq now -- big time -- just as he was in 2002 when he and President George W. Bush deliberately distorted classified intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and misled the Congress and the country into the Iraq War under false pretenses.
Cheney and Bush are responsible for our invasion of Iraq, the greatest foreign policy blunder in our national history. They made mistake after mistake in Iraq in 2002 and 2003, and those failures, not President Obama, are directly responsible for the government dysfunction, sectarian unrest and growing civil war we see today in that divided country.
First, the President and Vice President intentionally lied to Congress and the American people when seeking congressional authority to invade Iraq. They stated publicly with complete certainty that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, was getting more, and was willing to use them, and thus posed an imminent threat to the United States. But the classified intelligence being given to the White House at that time was full of reservations, doubts and caveats about the status of Saddam's weapons. Had Congress seen the classified intelligence before the vote to authorize war, instead of months afterward, I believe Congress would have voted against the war and for continued international sanctions and enhanced inspections. We would have avoided the American debacle in Iraq.
I was a member of Congress then, and I regret to this day that I believed the White House lies that convinced me to support the war in order to disarm Saddam Hussein. The fact is that when we invaded Iraq, Saddam Hussein was already disarmed.
But Cheney and Bush were just getting started with their mistakes. They believed the blowhard Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi who swore that Shiite Iraqis would embrace us as liberators, that Sunnis should be marginalized in society, that the Iraqi army should be disbanded and former Ba'ath party members should be expelled from government (although they were the ones who could make the trains run on time).
For nine years we functioned not as liberators, as Cheney infamously promised, but as occupiers of a dangerously splintered country with a deadly insurgency. America's cost: 4,500 dead, 30,000 wounded and maimed, $758 billion in direct military spending, $2 trillion in total expenditures. And our misadventure in Iraq has surely created more terrorists and extremists than we ever brought to justice.
Cheney and Bush believed that Iraq was ripe for a modern, pluralistic democracy, and the hostile clerics running Iran would be the next to fall. Those were two more sadly mistaken beliefs.
The fact is that Iraq has never recovered from the poor policy choices imposed by Dick Cheney and George Bush, as foreign policy experts like Trudy Rubin and others have noted. The Iraqi army can barely function, as seen in their recent retreat in the face of the initial onslaught of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Civil Iraqi society is hamstrung by incompetent and corrupt managers. Our ouster of Hussein gave rise to an often vindictive Shiite majority rule in Iraq and directly expanded Iran's influence over their former adversary. Disaffected Sunni militants joined with al Qaeda offshoots and gave ISIS its golden opportunity.
Now, in the face of all of this abject failure, Dick Cheney is saying that it is actually President Obama's fault. Really? Let's review Cheney's brazen hypocrisy.
In a recent opinion column in the Wall Street Journal, Cheney wrote, "When Mr. Obama" came into office in 2009, al Qaeda in Iraq had been largely defeated." This totally ignores the fact that al Qaeda did not exist at all in Iraq before the Bush invasion. Saddam was a murderous tyrant, but he was contained by international sanctions and possessed only conventional weapons, and the vacuum caused by his overthrow and the subsequent government dysfunction gave al Qaeda a foothold in Iraq for the first time.
Cheney wasn't finished. He wrote, "Now, in a move that defies credulity, [Obama] toys with the idea of ushering Iran into Iraq." But it was Bush-Cheney policies that led to the vastly increased influence of the Shiite Iranian clerics over the dysfunctional Shiite Iraqi government. Dick Cheney, not Barack Obama, opened the door in Iraq for the hard-line clerics of Iran to enter.
Then Cheney went on Fox News and told Sean Hannity, "When we left, Iraq was in pretty good shape, we had the situation pretty well squared away when we departed." Baloney. Iraq has been a mess from the time Dick Cheney started calling the shots there.
Commenting on the recent gains of ISIS, Cheney told Hannity, "The Iraqi military just collapsed" so now we have a terrible, difficult relationship on our hands "primarily because of both Maliki and Obama." But it was Cheney and Bush that disbanded the Iraqi army in 2003, and it has never recovered. And it was the heavy-handed, punitive policies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki toward the Sunni minority and the Kurds that caused increased sectarian violence and unrest in Iraq. Maliki was handpicked by the Bush administration in May 2006 to succeed the failed Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, thirty-one months before Barrack Obama became president.
Cheney topped off his interview with Sean Hannity with the following: "President Obama is on track to securing his legacy as the man who betrayed our past and squandered our freedom." Maybe the right-wing Obama haters admire this overblown rhetoric, but it is unseemly for a former Vice President, regardless of party.