I think Ali and Yglesias say most of what needs to be said about Hague-bait Dick Cheney going on TV to engage in the same sort of fear-mongering that characterized his vice-presidency, but Cheney’s assertion that “we’ve accomplished nearly everything we set out to do” in Iraq deserves some attention.
Cheney told CNN’s John King said that “if you hark back and look at the biggest threat we faced after 9/11, it was the idea of a rogue state or a terrorist-sponsoring state with weapons of mass destruction — say, nukes, for example — and providing those to terrorist organizations.”
What happened in Iraq is we’ve eliminated that possibility. We got rid of one of the worst dictators in the 20th century. We got rid of his government. There is no prospect that Iraq is going to become a place where once again they produce weapons of mass destruction or support terrorists.
I think this argument — thanks to the invasion of Iraq there is no prospect that Saddam will provide WMD he didn’t have to terrorists with whom he had no substantial relationship — is ridiculous enough even without even considering all of the other costs of the war, both in lives, dollars, as well as American security more broadly. Specifically, though, it seems like King missed a real opportunity here to ask about Afghanistan.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are casualties of the Iraq war. Unlike (pre-invasion) Iraq, the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 did and do operate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unlike Iraq, Pakistan — which is increasingly threatened by an Islamic extremist insurgency — does possess nuclear weapons. There’s no question that, even in 2003, the situation in these two countries represented a far greater threat to the United States than did Iraq. And yet Bush and Cheney chose to invade Iraq, based upon the determination that, in Cheney’s words, “this is a war..”
Up until 9/11, it was treated as a law enforcement problem. You go find the bad guy, put him on trial, put him in jail. The FBI would go to Oklahoma City and find the identification tag off the truck and go find the guy that rented the truck and put him in jail.
Once you go into a wartime situation and it’s a strategic threat, then you use all of your assets to go after the enemy. You go after the state sponsors of terror, places where they’ve got sanctuary.
We can see disastrous consequences of the conception of anti-terrorism that gave primacy to state sponsors over non-state actors: The Bush administration destroyed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and considered the job essentially finished, even though Osama bin Laden was allowed to escape. They secured the commitment of the unpopular Musharraf regime to fight terrorism, and checked that box. Then they turned to Iraq, leaving Pakistan and Afghanistan to fester. These costs are not theoretical.
The determination that we were in a war — while domestically politically advantageous — led to the Bush administration emphasizing military solutions to what is a primarily an intelligence and yes, law enforcement issue, at the expense of other tools of U.S. power. Moeover, by casting US anti-terrorism efforts as a “war,” Bush and Cheney helped affirm Al Qaeda’s status as the vanguard of the global Islamic resistance, needlessly forcing governments throughout the Islamic world into the politically difficult position of either supporting or rejecting that resistance.
As Congressman — and former Admiral — Joe Sestak told King later in the program, “The Bush administration may have created, after six, seven long years, some stability with Iraq, but they have not kept the most precious constitutional duty of the presidency in highest regard, which is to enhance the security of America.” To use one of Cheney’s favorite phrases, the fact is that when you strip away the tough talk and the ersatz gravitas, Bush and Cheney just weren’t up to the challenge of national security in the 21st century, which is why he now has to rely on a combination of unfalsifiable assertions and counterfactuals to argue for his administration’s success.