“I did what I did,” Dick Cheney says in a documentary to be shown Friday night on Showtime, “and it’s all part of the public record and I feel very good about it. If I had it to do over again, I’d do it in a minute.”
History, however, will register a much different verdict. It will record that while Cheney won the battle, he lost the wars, both foreign and domestic, with consequences that continue to reverberate and may do so for decades to come.
Yes, in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, Cheney was able to maneuver a pliable, inexperienced and maybe somewhat frightened president into an unnecessary invasion of Iraq, an act of war that had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks that inspired it. That war, which began 10 years ago next week, led to the deaths of more than 4,000 American soldiers, the psychic and physical wounding of tens of thousands more and the expenditure of well over a trillion dollars, and for what?
Saddam Hussein is gone. But today, Iraq is all but a client state of neighboring Iran, and has been assisting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in his effort to remain in power. Despite our investment of blood and treasure, we have little or no influence over Iraq’s policies or practices, and American oil companies have been largely shut out.
“Ten years after the US-led invasion that toppled the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, Iraq remains mired in human rights abuses. Thousands of Iraqis are detained without trial or serving prison sentences imposed after unfair trials, torture remains rife and continues to be committed with impunity, and the new Iraq is one of the world’s leading executioners.”
By insisting on fighting on two fronts at once, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, thus dividing our manpower, financial resources and attention, Cheney also helped to ensure that we achieved real victory in neither. We will never know whether a full commitment to Afghanistan in the early years would have paid off with success; we know only that the odds of ultimate success having followed the path we did are very long.
The third war that Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and others lost was right here at home. The invasion of Iraq was to mark the return of a muscular and militaristic foreign policy, freed of the constraints once placed upon it by the now collapsed Soviet Union. Those regimes, such as Saddam’s Iraq, that did not do our bidding would be subject to removal, and a Pax Americana, like the Pax Romana of the Roman empire, would be imposed upon the world.
That was the theory. In practice, the invasion of Iraq, driven by false promises of easy conquest and false threats of WMD, yellowcake, mushroom clouds and unmanned aerial vehicles, exposed the strategic overreach and arrogance implicit in such a policy. By his second term, a chastened President Bush had largely pushed Cheney aside, but that recognition of his vice president’s malignant influence came too late to save his presidency, or more importantly to extract his country from the consequences of his mistakes.
Today, the neocon ambitions of Cheney and his friends have been discredited. The lessons of Vietnam have been refreshed rather than overturned, and support is growing even within the Republican Party for a less expensive military and a more circumspect use of force overseas. The remaining advocates of a Cheney-esque foreign policy — men such as John McCain and William Kristol — are left to stamp their feet in frustration.
Cheney may indeed do it all over again if given the chance. But having learned the hard way, the American people are no longer willing to give him and others like him that opportunity.
– Jay Bookman