One of the most mind-boggling things I’ve ever witnessed politically is Dick Cheney’s current desire to tell the world “I told you so” on Iraq. He was welcomed as a hero at the American Enterprise Institute to make that argument and the Wall Street Journal dutifully tagged along, saying:
They saw how the early mistakes in Iraq led to chaos until the 2007 surge saved the day and left Mr. Obama with an opportunity he squandered … one way to start undoing the damage [around the world] would be to concede that Dick Cheney was right all along.
My former colleague Dave Weigel lets out a well-justified guffaw:
Boy, the phrase “all along” is asked to do some heavy from-the-knees lifting there. All along? The timer starts four years after the start of the Iraq war, and two years after Cheney insisted, pre-surge, that Iraqi insurgent groups were in their “last throes”?
Yes, that’s the new rule. We are to analyze the situation of 2014 by crediting the Bush administration not for the Iraq war, but for post-surge Iraq.
And ignore the fact that Obama had little choice but to honor the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq that Bush and Cheney negotiated and signed before he took office, which demanded that we withdraw our troops by the end of 2011. And ignore the fact that the ones who actually were right all along were those who said, before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, that it would lead to massive sectarian strife and civil war once we withdrew, leaving us in the untenable position of either staying there forever or watching the country descend into worse violence after we left.
What kind of government? Should it be a Sunni government or Shi’i government or a Kurdish government or Ba’athist regime? Or maybe we want to bring in some of the Islamic fundamentalists? How long would we have had to stay in Baghdad to keep that government in place? What would happen to the government once U.S. forces withdrew? How many casualties should the United States accept in that effort to try to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable? I think it is vitally important for a President to know when to use military force. I think it is also very important for him to know when not to commit U.S. military force. And it’s my view that the President got it right both times, that it would have been a mistake for us to get bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq.
Cheney was right in 1991. After that, he was wrong about pretty much everything.