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Cheney's chutzpah and the public debate over Iraq

Do read the new column from E. J. Dionne about "Dick Cheney's Chutzpah," because it's as angry as even-tempered E. J. ever gets. And with good reason. In a field crowded with shameless hawks, cheering for more military action in Iraq while ignoring the consequences of their past enthusiasm for war, Dick Cheney stands out as perhaps the most shameless of all. He and his daughter Liz wrote an op-ed for yesterday's Wall Street Journal, published with a subheadline that left even the most cynical liberals sputtering:

(To be fair, it does say "rarely," which you might read as a concession that it has happened before.)

Is Dick Cheney in any position to be lecturing Barack Obama about fecklesness in foreign policy? Of course not. But his motives for doing so are clear enough. He, like many of the other neocons and Bush-era hawks now pointing fingers at Obama, has a reputation to think about, and a deep investment in shifting the blame for the mess in Iraq onto someone else's shoulders. Embracing a revisionist history of Bush-era foreign policy could have dreadful consequences for most Americans, and especially for the men and women in the military -- not to mention for the people of Iraq and neighboring countries. But it can only be good for Dick Cheney. Here's Dionne on how they'd like the debate to be rigged:

Thanks to the Cheney op-ed, we can see how Obama’s hawkish critics are out to create a double standard. Whenever they are called out for how mistaken they were about Iraq in the first place, they piously lecture against “relitigating the past” and say we must instead look forward. At the same time, many of them feel perfectly free to trash the president in extreme and even vile terms.

A lot of liberals and media types have spoken up in exasperation after watching unreformed and unreflective hawks like John McCain, Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, and so on appear on the Sunday-morning shows and on op-ed pages as if they were still respected authorities, with no hard questions about the disastrously wrong predictions they made so confidently before the (last) invasion of Iraq. James Fallows says: "we are talking about people in public life—writers, politicians, academics—who got the biggest strategic call in many decades completely wrong.... we now live with (and many, many people have died because of) the consequences of their gross misjudgments a dozen years ago. In the circumstances, they might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while." (He links to a lot of other people making similar arguments, including our own Andrew Bacevich -- and, yes, go read that now if you haven't already.)

Meanwhile, at Salon, Jim Newell makes the important point that these people -- the "extremist neocon dunces" -- are not just discredited, they are also very far out of the mainstream: a second reason they shouldn't have such prominence in debates over how to clean up the mess they won't admit to having helped make.

Maybe a hawk arguing for airstrikes against Iraq might qualify as representing a legitimate “side” in the debate, making a case on behalf of a significant — but not that large, honestly — subset of the American people. But ground troops, with an open-ended commitment? This is a yahoo opinion. The opinion of a nut. The guy out on the street, screaming about how outer space aliens did 9/11. You don’t ever see that guy on “Meet the Press.” And yet there’s probably a greater audience of people out there who believe outer space aliens did 9/11 than there is of people who believe reinvading Iraq is a legitimate option right now.

Jonathan Chait, who favored the war in 2002 and later repented, now protests that this "shut up and go away" imperative is an excuse for liberals not to take up the harder questions about what to do.  Fair enough. My own opinion is that those of us reluctant to rush into another bombing-and-possibly-ground-troops situation should be less focused on getting someone like Bill Kristol to go away than we should on getting journalists to do their jobs better this time around. So talk to Kristol, by all means, but when you do, be sure to ask him what he has to say for himself now that he has been proven wrong so many times over. That sort of reckoning could contribute positively to figuring out what course of action might prove less disastrous now. Watching journalists fail to do that, however, is like watching a horror movie for a lot of people who remember the runup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Then, people who opposed the invasion or questioned the administration's case for war were marginalized and attacked, while people like Kristol and McCain and Wolfowitz dedicated themselves to making a case for war that turned out to be, at best, misbegotten, and at worst an outright pack of lies. So you can hardly blame them for being horrified that it seems like the same thing could happen all over again. [Update: read Paul Waldman on that point:

Is there a bit of over-enthusiasm with which people like me are attacking the return of the Iraq War caucus? Maybe. Part of it comes from the fact that a decade ago, those of us who were right about the whole thing were practically called traitors because we doubted that Iraq would turn out to be a splendid little war. And part of it comes from the fact that the band of morons who sold and executed the worst foreign policy disaster in American history not only didn't receive the opprobrium they deserved, they all did quite well for themselves.]

Chait is right that "ignore the hawks" is not a sufficient approach to debating what Obama should do. "Grill the hawks" would be much better. But best would be to seek out the people who were right, or at least not completely wrong, last time around.

If David Frum has a good idea this time, but no one will listen to it? I can live with that, as long as it's because the media is busy talking to other people who also have good ideas and the benefit of less tarnished credibility.

Meanwhile, Cheney met hard questioning on, of all places, Fox News, where Megyn Kelly wondered if maybe he wasn't the best person to be blaming Obama for the mess in Iraq. And she had done her homework -- this was no generalized, gentle "Wouldn't you say mistakes were made?" line of questioning. She quoted him. She had specific errors in mind. "Now," she concluded, "with almost a trillion dollars spent there, with 4,500 American lives lost there, what do you say to those who say you were so wrong about so much at the expense of so many?"

Attention, television journalists: this is what you should be doing. But please also note how Cheney responded: "I just fundamentally disagree.... You've got to go back and look at the track record. We inherited a situation where there was no doubt in anybody's mind about the extent of Saddam's involvement in weapons of mass destruction."

That is simply false. A lot of somebodies had doubts in their minds. In the run-up to the invasion, they were derided and shouted down and ignored. What possible excuse could there be for allowing that to happen again?

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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Liz and Dick (not Burton) did a video; he is wearing a cowboy hat and she has a mean look on her face. The first thing that came to my mind was Grant Wood's "American Gothic" painting (although the two persons are reversed).

It's hard to say that their comments are deliberate lies. I think that they truly believe what they are saying. That makes them persons with  no self-awareness and no conscience.

Just shows the great human capacity and willingness to embrace self deception.

Considering that the iraq war was sold to the American people as much by pundits and "journalists" on Fox as by Cheney and the Neo Con's,that a  Fox journalist  can now ask "tough" questions[no ,mention of the iraqi lives lost,I guess they still don't count to Fox reporters] is as much a way to deflect from their failure of responsibilty to do more then tow the  line as Cheney/Bush  was to establish the  line. Pots calling kettles black,IMO.

HT to Rachel Maddow - on Liz Cheney:

Bet you didn't know that Liz Cheney worked for Bush in 2006 plotting secret conflicts with Iran and Syria (modeled on the *highly successful* Iraqi adventure).


Bill Mazzella

That is exactly what I thought.

That and how nice it must be to be the Cheneys.

It all is actually quite amazing, those people and their "chutzpah". 


It is one thing to argue that Obama and his team have not figured a sucessful strategy for dealing with the Middle East generally and Syria and Iraq in particular, though I would argue that eliminating Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, which in fact did exist unlike Saddam's, deserves more credit than it gets, but wholey a different story for one of the architects of the mess Obama has preumably failed to resolve to complain about it.  Chutzpah is right.  At least young Bush has had the common decency to stay mostly out of sight.  This clown lied, and now lies about the lies he told in the past.  His response to Megyn Kelly ignoring the facts and stating that somehow things he knew but others didn't justified his actions is just dispicable.  Dick Cheney  is a nasty little man who has no interest in the truth and is unable or unwilling to admit he screwed up and we have paid a severe price and will likely continue to pay a severe price for the arrogance of the likes of Cheney and his ilk.

I suppose the past will be relitigated, and I'm sorry to see Rupert Murdoch's media outlets give such a big megaphone to the neocons.  But I'm not confident that this President is going to handle this situation effectively.  


The thing that's extraordinary about Dick Cheney is that even at this point he seems to think that he has somehow been right all along, miraculously right even about the existence of non-existetnt WMDs.  How does he manage such self-decption?  Or should the quesiton be how can he NOT realize that he was palpably wrong?  How is such self-deception about blatant facts even possible?

The psychiatrists define craziness as having lost touch with reality.  By this definition, Dick Cheney is literally crazy. 

Dick Cheney never served on active duty, yet he's a hawk when it comes to war.  His most notorious action while holding a hunting rifle was accidently shooting his buddy!  Go figure.

"American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq." -- President Obama today. He announced air strikes in the next breath. News flash: Fighter-bomber pilots are engaged in combat. He also said he is going to put up to 300 combat troops into Iraq, not to fight but to figure out if there is any chance of training the Iraqi army. News flash: We trained that army before we left. He hopes Maliki will form a unity government. News flash: Ha ha ha ha.

Our current policy seems to be the half-Lindsay. Just enough to, hopefully, keep McCain at bay.

Bad as it is, our previous policy was worse. OK? OK. But that is not the policy we are messing up the Middle East with now.

JP or Tom Blackburn - care to educate or let us in on how you propose we handle affiars in Iraq? Syria?

It is always easy to say that you doubt or don't like what Obama is doing?  All that does is align you with the likes of Lindsey Graham or John McCain who never miss a chance to bellyache but have either always been wrong or never make a solid proposal in terms of what is actually happening.

Sometimes, world affiars actually have to be considered when they happen and we do have to react  - it is just reality.

Did Bush/Cheney get rid of chemical weapons in Syria? (oh yeah, they invaded the wrong country in that search)

Did Bush/Cheney stop Iran from building and developing nuclear weapons? 

Did Bush/Cheney stop the arming and build up in Lebanon of Hezbollah?

Did Bush/Cheney have amy succes such as Libya without Kaddafi (and no US troops on the ground)

Did Bush/Cheney catch the 9/11 mastermind?  (oh yeah, they lost interest)

Why did Bush/Chevey reduce and stop US success against the Taliban and terrorism in Afghanistan?  (oh yeah, they had to start a war on false pretenses in Iraq)....not much is reported about this failure that we continue to live with now

What did Bush/Chevey do to resolve the disputes between Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Alawites, etc.?  (oh yeah, thier surge provided unlimited funding and arms to groups that are now killing each other)

What has been the legacy of Guatanamo in the Middle East?

Bill - Re-litigate away.  I opposed Bush's Iraq War, and I'm betting that Tom Blackburn did, too.  Being against it propelled President Obama all the way to the White House.  Now that he's on that side of the desk where the buck stops, he needs to be for something.  Does he have a policy?  What is it?  Is this it?  Sounds like the kind of thing that Dick Cheney might rubberstamp.


Sometimes, world affiars actually have to be considered when they happen and we do have to react  - it is just reality.

Bill, I agree with the implications of every one of your questions.

What I don't agree with is the American exceptionalist presumption that we "have to react." The Sunnis in Iraq have had enough of that tinpot wannabe dictator the Bushies accepted when Ahmed Chalibi, their first choice, imploded. The Kurds can take care of themselves. So let the Sunnis and Shias have at it. And try to keep Obama's 300 shut-up-Johns from getting into a firefight wherein we have to send 500,000 more troops to get them out, as we had to do with our "advisors" (remember?) in Vietnam.

Look at Megyn Kelly destroy Bush. She may be helping him redeem himself at the end witht "game changer" BS. But for this even to repeated and put in the face of Chaney by Kelly of Fox News might be a game changer in itself. Fascinating stuff.

The sad news is that Chaney, a practiced liar, gets a forum again. 


JP - policy....well, only the Iraqis can settle this;  the Baghdad government must be inclusive; US can't overthrow or pick this inclusive government; Iran will not be a part of the solution; US will not involve ground troops (beyond targeted special forces); US (Kerry) will involve and listen to our European and Middle East allies on a comprehensive approach and solution.

Waiting to see if financial pressure is not used to push Sunni/Shia engagement politically;  looks like Iran has already agreed to the negotiated process to move forward on changing/neutralizing their current nuclear plants.  Guessing that Kurdish, Turkish, Jordanian, Saudi pressure won't be used to try to limit bloodshed and move to negotiations.  Finally, guessing that Obama will, at least, temporarily adopt the earlier Biden approach.

re-litigate - yep, you used the Cheney approach from FOX News - avoids the difficult questions and allows the incompetent to continue to weigh in as experts.  Sure, question Obama but let's not buy in to the Cheney, Bremer, Wolfiwitz neo-cons.


Folks who are interested in US policy may find this article of interest.  The high points of our policy as it is evolving now seem to be: make Maliki go away; work with Iran and Sunni neighbors to come up with a more inclusive government; support the Iraqi army against ISIS.



Along the same lines:  Charles Blow, "The Gall of Dick Cheney:"



Antonyms for self-aware:






Yes, I'd say these fit the bill.

That apple sure didn't fall very far from that tree. Cannot think of two more repugnent individuals being heard by the heart of our nation. I certainly hope the nation does not listen.

 We're not sending combat troops, but special military advisors to Iraq. What do military advisors actually do? 

Irene, Mr. Obama said the "up to 300" advisers will "assess" how we can best train, advise and support Iraqi security forces."

We had a yearrs-long training effort for the Iraqi army. Presumably some of those old trainers will be trying to light a fire under those they trained. The problem has been that we can show them how to fire a rifle (as if they didn"t know), but tribal loyalties determine whether they fire the rifle in a given threat or bury it for another day. The support part of the mission would include calling in air strikes, which Mr. Obama somehow doesn't seem to consider combat.

It was also unclear whether the advisers are part of or in addition to the additional troops sent in to protect the embassy. The embassy, you may recall, is slightly larger than the state of Texas because once upon a time Cheney and Wolfie planned ultimately to run the whole "Middle East" from Gibraltar to the Indus River from it. Protecting it the way the Republicans say they would have protected Benghazi could include combat up to and not excluding atomic weapons.

Basically, though, to answer your question, these military advisers make Sen. McCain use more words when he criticizes Obama. Instead of "no boots on the ground" he will have to say "not enough boots on the ground." That is why I called them shut-up-Johns. For historical comparisons, it was around 700 "advisers," sent as "shut-up-Barrys," that got us involved in Vietnam.


I think Robert Welch's famous rebuke of Joe McCarthy really could be applied to Dick Cheney.

"You have done enough.  Have you no sense of decency, Sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency left?"


I have to accept that in a society like ours that values free speech that seriously demented Dick Cheney and his loathsome daughter Liz have every right to say what ever they want to say.  Have at it.

What I can't abide is that the media pays any attention to them!  Both of them should be consigned to the bloggerverse where I suppose that their kind can be sequestered in an appropriate social vacuum.

I just wish that some politician would have the courage to propose a draft law that would require all the sons, daughters and close relatives of every federal official - in all three branches - to be the first to serve on the frontlines whenever we commit troops to combat around the world.

No more wars fought by the poor and working class alone.  Liz and Mary Cheney need to stap on a helmet and start toting a rifle if America is going to send their legions abroad to maintain the empire.

You'll be amazed at the immediate change of heart from the likes of their draft dodging father and fellow neo-cons if they all had some skin in the game. 

There's a good reason "Cheney met hard questioning on, of all places, Fox News, where Megyn Kelly wondered if maybe he wasn't the best person to be blaming Obama for the mess in Iraq."

Cheney would never appear anywhere but the official propaganda channel of the Republican party. When he was travelling during his years as vice president, all of the hotels where he stayed had to have the TV sets in his rooms pre-set to that network. He actually bragged about this in an interview. It reminds me of Antonin Scalia, who recently pointed out that he doesn't read the New York Times but gets most of his news from the Wall Street Journal and talk radio shows he listens to on his way to work.

God save us all from the conservative "mind."

@ Jim Dunn

It was Joseph Welch who chopped off Joe McCarthy at the knees.

There was a Robert Welch, but he was the founder of the John Birch Society.  He's more likely to be Dick Cheney's kind of people than Joseph Welch.

Liz and Mary Cheney need to stap on a helmet and start toting a rifle.

Mary most likely is capable of doing so.  Liz otoh would probably worry about how it would photograph and what it would do to her nails.

I wouldn't want to see Liz toting a gun.  She is too much like her father. She may hit the wrong target.

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