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Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

The importance of what Cheney got right

The abrupt reappearance of Dick Cheney on the national scene is as good a time as any to note how the former two-term vice president is like pregnancy:

Just as it’s famously impossible to be “a little bit pregnant,” so too there is no halfway about George W. Bush’s right-hand man. Cheney inspires strong feelings, rightly so, having been central to White House decision making throughout the United States’ “war on terror” in response to the attacks of 9/11.

Mostly, of course, Americans hold him responsible for the activities — for better or worse — surrounding the invasion and troubled occupation of Iraq. On that front, even folks who admit thinking at the time invading was the right course of action resent everything Cheney misinterpreted, from boasting our troops “would be greeted as liberators” to declaring the Iraqi insurgency “in its last throes” in 2005.

Even now, as some tear their hair, Cheney stands by the choice to invade, recently telling a PBS audience, “I think we did what we had to do. And you don’t get to go back and say, well, we would have — what if we’d ignored all the intelligence?”

But you don’t have to agree with him on any of that to understand, even concede, that he is absolutely correct when he says, “[T]he bottom line was, when we left office, Iraq was in good shape. And now we’re in a situation where obviously we’ve got another big problem.”

This is where former President Bill Clinton, for all his other self-serving revisions of history in an interview that aired Sunday on “Meet the Press,” is aggressively mistaken. “Mr. Cheney has been incredibly adroit for the last six years or so attacking the administration for not doing an adequate job of cleaning up the mess that he made. I think it’s unseemly.” What’s truly unseemly is Clinton’s mangling of the truth.

If the Bush administration got nothing else right regarding Iraq, it at least heeded Colin Powell’s Maxim of War-Making: “You break it, you own it.”

We broke it, all right. Then, through investment of precious American blood and treasure, we did our best to patch it up, which it was — elections held, regions stabilized, U.S. troops patrolling amid increasing calm — when Bush choppered out of Washington in January 2009, and Cheney sneaked off to some undisclosed location.

But long before the welds cooled and the cement dried, President Obama resolved to strip away the scaffolding supporting an uneasy quasi-ceasefire.

Choosing to amend in ways untenable to the new Iraqi government the essence of a status-of-forces framework Bush wrapped for him like an inauguration gift, and ignoring the Pentagon, Obama sealed our bug out and Iraq’s current crisis.

Of all the promises Obama made — “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan, period”; “Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected”; “I will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days” — the one that threw away reform-minded Iraqis’ best chance to solidify and grow its nascent republican (note the lower-case “R”) government is the one he keeps.

Now there’s deadly sectarian chaos, and this is somehow Cheney’s fault? Sorry. That’s far more than a little bit wrong.

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