Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s September 10, 2014 speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) was particularly bad from both a timing and protocol perspective given that the President was going to lay out his strategy to confront ISIS that same day. But more importantly, the many factual errors and misleading statements about the Obama administration in his speech did not contribute to a “fair and balanced” debate about the foreign policy challenges facing this country. The abundant factual errors and misleading statements in Cheney’s speech are very serious. Jarring to the ear, they should remind us of Cheney’s lack of foreign policy skill and his poisonous decisions over the past decades. Let me mention but a few.
The most obvious was Cheney’s praise of President’s Nixon for making the tough choice of “standing by Israel in the Six Day War,” and implying that Obama was not doing so. Unfortunately for Cheney, the Six Day War actually occurred two years before Nixon took office, in 1967. Nixon was president during the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt in 1973, but Cheney’s recollection of staunch support for Israel is mistaken. Nixon’s National Security advisor, Henry Kissinger, persuaded Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir not to launch a preemptive strike against the Egyptian forces massing on Israelis’ border, as well as slowing our resupply of Israel during the battle. By contrast, Obama rushed extra funds to Israel for its Iron Dome anti-missile system during its recent conflict with Gaza.
Cheney is also wrong in trying to blame Obama for his “arbitrary and hasty withdrawal of residual forces from Iraq.” It was President Bush and Vice President Cheney himself, who in December 2008 signed the Framework Agreement with the Iraqi government, requiring all American troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Since this original agreement was ratified by the Iraqi Parliament, any modifications to the Bush-Cheney agreement would also have to be ratified by the Iraqi Parliament — something US military lawyers also insisted on. Obama was willing to leave 10,000 troops in Iraq. But when Maliki told Obama that there were not enough votes in the Iraqi Parliament, all the troops had to leave.
Cheney is also wrong to blame Obama for the establishment of the Islamic State’s self-styled caliphate in Iraq. It is Malikis dictatorial and narrow-minded governing style and politicization of the Iraqi security forces that created distrust among the Sunnis and weakened the Iraqi Army, allowing ISIL to seize the territory they now control. Maliki was Bush and Cheney’s handpicked candidate for Prime Minister.
Cheney’s comments about the defense budget are also way off the mark. According to him, the Nation’s Armed services constantly are being “subjected to irrational budget cuts having nothing to do with strategy.” However, this has nothing to do with Obama. The caps on the defense budget are mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, pushed by the Republicans after they took control of the House in 2010 in order to reduce the deficit. In fact for the past two years, Obama has sought to mitigate the impact of the cuts by proposing over $115 billion in additions to the regular defense budget over the next five years, and used the Overseas Contingency Budget (OCO) to fund about $30 billion in regular budget items.
But Cheney’s most egregious mistake is to ignore the fact that the chaos in the Middle East is a direct result of the mindless, needless, senseless invasion and occupation of Iraq that he helped engineer. He seems to forget that there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003 he pushed for. There would be no ISIS without the U.S. invasion. Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, was a nobody until we imprisoned and tortured him.
Cheney is also wrong in arguing that Obama has a distrust of American power. I guess he missed the hundreds of drone strikes and Special Forces troops that Obama has launched against Al Qaeda and terrorist leaders throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In addition to Osama bin Laden, Obama’s use of American power and the American military took out the head of the Al-Shabab terrorist group behind the Kenyan mall shootings.
Cheney’s hypocrisy is best summed up in his comments about our Armed Forces. He credits them with maintaining the structure of our security that has been in place and defended by the United States since World War II. However, Cheney’s public support rings hollow. During the war in Vietnam — which claimed the lives of over 60,000 young Americans — Cheney dodged the draft, racking up five deferments. His praise for the armed forces now stands in contrast to his actions then.
Cheney’s factual errors, misleading statements and hypocrisy are a continuation of his eight years as vice president. Blaming Obama for everything that is not right in the world does not help this country deal with the challenges it faces in the Middle East. As a starting point, Cheney should have acknowledged his own errors in the Middle East that destabilized the region in the first place.