Dick Cheney's Op-Ed And The Return Of The Neocon

Originally published on June 18, 2014 9:56 pm

Architects and proponents of the Iraq War are now back with criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy.

Leading the group is former Vice President Dick Cheney, who co-wrote an op-ed with his daughter Liz Cheney in today’s Wall Street Journal. The subtitle reads, “Rarely has a U.S. President been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.”

Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, discusses what neoconservatives are saying about President Obama and Iraq with Here & Now’s Robin Young.


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Former Vice President Dick Cheney, one of the main architects of the Iraq war, wrote a blistering op-ed in today's "Wall Street Journal" eviscerating President Obama's handling of Iraq and his foreign policy in general. One line reads rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many. Well, it's a line that's launched a thousand retorts including this from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: Being on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is being on the right side of history. But other backers of the Iraq war, the so-called neocons, have also been speaking out on the current crisis in Iraq. Here's Bill Kristol, editor of the Conservative Weekly Standard on ABC's "This Week."


BILL KRISTOL: It is a disaster, Donna's right. It's a disaster unfortunately made possible or certainly made more likely by our ridiculous and total withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. President Obama said two days before election day in 2012, Al Qaida's on the path to defeat. The war in Iraq is over. That was enough to get him reelected, but how does it look today?

YOUNG: And here's Paul Wolfowitz on ABC's "Meet the Press." He was George Bush's Deputy Defense Secretary and was asked if he and others in the Bush administration underestimated the level of sectarian hatred in Iraq.


PAUL WOLFOWITZ: This is more than just an obscure Shia-Sunni conflict this is Al Qaida, and Al Qaida is not on the road to defeat. Al Qaida's on the march, not just in Iraq - in Syria and Libya and we have real enemies in the United States and what we should be looking for are friends.

YOUNG: By the way, NPR and other news outlets are reporting that the militants in Iraq are not al-Qaida. So what to make of this? Gideon Rose is with us from the studios of the Council of Foreign Relations. He's the editor of Foreign Policy Affairs. And, Gideon, those opposed to going into Iraq in the first place have been screaming about this return of the neocons but just stay with Dick Cheney's op-ed today. Your thoughts when you saw that?

GIDEON ROSE: Well, it almost read like it was a parody because it was so unself-reflective and so over the top that it was, as if it was generated by some kind of Obama-attack computer rather than the former vice president of the United States. But the interesting thing to me about all this is how distanced it all seems from the actual policy debates. I mean, a decade and change ago Iraq was at the center of U.S. foreign policy and the people in charge and in power running Iraq policy were considered major authoritative experts. And with the collapse of the war over so many years- not only has - and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from combat - not only has Iraq moved to a certain extent to the periphery, but the people who were essentially involved in Iraq policy have moved into retirement or the sidelines, and I don't think anybody is really taking them a whole - very seriously these days.

YOUNG: Well, but they are being invited onto a lot of talk shows. James Fallows says that he's - had just written a sincere call for respect for, as he said, those who had set the stage for today's disaster -respect for their silence as their successors try to choose the least terrible options. But then he writes in the Atlantic that he had to write today that he had to withdraw that call for respect of him, because of the Cheney op-ed. And he points out how there were voices in the run-up to the war saying that Iraq would be destabilized if Saddam Hussein was removed and Cheney poignantly said, I think the opposite will happen. So you say people are ignoring them, but people are not ignoring them - their being invited to air their views.

ROSE: I said people are ignoring them. I don't think the media is ignoring them. The fact is that what you've seen is that we used to have something resembling a real political debate in this country over policies, and what you have now is a sort of media scrum every day in which the partisan defenders of each side duke it out. And I think that the former Iraq policy officials and the neocons are being brought out on various media outlets now as today's version of the anti-Obama attack-points this week, but not actually part of a real foreign policy debate over what to happen next.

YOUNG: Yeah. So the neocons are back trying to make the case that President Obama spoiled what would have been a success in Iraq. But on the other hand, you have conservative radio host Glenn Beck, uber conservative, making this pretty astonishing statement yesterday, saying that liberals were right on Iraq.


GLENN BECK: They said we couldn't force freedom on people. You know what, let me lead with my mistakes. You're right. Liberals you were right. We shouldn't have. Now, if you believed those things, let me say you were right. If you were just using it for political purposes, well, then I can't - we don't have anything in common.

YOUNG: But Gideon that - liberals, you were right we should not have gone into Iraq from Glenn Beck. Are you surprised at that?

ROSE: Well, you know, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance - and different people have gone through those stages at different rates. Some are still in the denial aspect, some have moved on to bargaining or anger. Many are still in depression. And it seems like Beck has moved on to acceptance. And it's amusing to me that he would be out in front of that pack, but the Republican Party in particular has never really dealt with Iraq. They've put it behind them but they haven't addressed the question of whether it was a good idea and if not, what were the problems with it. And that's fascinating because it has allowed people like Rand Paul, who have a more libertarian approach to foreign policy, to gain more space in Republican debates than they would otherwise, precisely because the center of the Republican Party no longer really knows what to do about Iraq. So you have neocons and libertarians, but with nobody sort of in the middle.

YOUNG: Well, you have David Frum, who again was a staunch supporter of the war whose writing today, I don't support - supporting the Iraqi government, this Iraqi government - they are not our friends. So he, again, a strong supporter of the invasion but not a supporter as many of the neocons now are, of going in and helping the Maliki government. The Atlantic's James Fallow, as I mentioned him before, he also writes - we all make mistakes but we're talking about people in public life, writers, politicians academics who got the biggest strategy call in many decades completely wrong. They helped create the disaster Iraqis and others are now dealing with. They've earned the right not to be listened to. Do you agree with that - that neocons should not be invited to the debate at the table?

ROSE: I think it really depends - I think you have to press a little more closely in a more fine-grained way. Anybody who was saying that let's say the 9/11 attacks were linked to al-Qaida - that person should not part of mainstream debate anymore because it was just a crazy conspiracy theory - never had any basis in the truth. Anybody who was saying that - sorry the 9/11 attacks were linked to Iraq rather than al-Qaida.

YOUNG: Right. Right, right, right.

ROSE: And of course there were a lot of people who were. Those should be kicked out of debate. People who were saying that Iraq had weapons of mass distraction or had unconcealed weapons programs, that was actually conventional wisdom in security bureaucracies in America and other countries. So it proved to be wrong but wasn't necessarily rules for being read out of debate. The people who said, you could invade Iraq cheaply, easily, and quickly and walk away from it without consequence - that was the most serious of the policy failures that people in power actually made and I think, therefore, I would draw a big distinction between someone that would say like a Donald Rumsfeld...

YOUNG: You've got to wrap it up.

ROSE: ...And someone like Ken Pollack or Fred Kagan.

YOUNG: Gideon Rose of the Council of Foreign Relations. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.