Why is anyone still listening to Dick Cheney?
Former President George W. Bush has had the good grace to go into seclusion and not stand on the sidelines second-guessing every move made by his successor. Cheney, by contrast, has taken it upon himself to serve as the chief critic of the Obama administration and chief defender of the Bush administration, even if it requires rewriting history.
Cheney, of course, is fighting to rescue not only Bush's legacy but also his own. That will be a difficult, if not impossible, task.
It is a legacy that includes his involvement in promoting a war in Iraq with cherry-picked intelligence warning of weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist. His legacy includes Abu Ghraib and a policy that condoned torture of terrorist suspects; the Valerie Plame scandal; unwarranted surveillance of U.S. citizens; and, just before leaving office, the collapse of the global economy.
Cheney has his work cut out for him in whitewashing that record. But give him points for trying.
One might have thought that Cheney would quietly slink back to Wyoming and go fly fishing for the rest of his days. Instead, by force of will and a canny knack for saying things many Republicans still want to hear, he has become one of the leading spokesmen for his party and one of the most abrasive critics of the Obama administration.
On Wednesday, Cheney was guest at the Center for Security Policy, a conservative Washington think tank. In his address, he expressed his concerns about what he calls the nation's foreign policy drift.
Among other things, the speech was highly critical of Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan. Cheney stated, for example, that "having announced his Afghanistan strategy last March, President Obama now seems afraid to make a decision and unable to provide his commander on the ground with the troops he needs to complete his mission."
"It's time for President Obama to make good on his promise. The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger," Cheney later added. "Make no mistake, signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries. Waffling, while our troops on the ground face an emboldened enemy, endangers them and hurts our cause."
That's provocative stuff, calling the president a fraidy-cat and accusing him of "dithering."
But, of course, we must consider the source. These darts are thrown by a highly prominent member of an administration that invaded Afghanistan and then proceeded to virtually ignore it for seven years while pursuing the misadventure in Iraq.
This is the same administration that turned to such stellar tacticians as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to run things in Iraq after the initial invasion.
Gen. George W. Casey succeeded Sanchez, who lasted only a year in Iraq after presiding over the Abu Ghraib fiasco. Casey served from mid 2004 to early 2007 before being promoted up and out to the post of chief of staff of the Army. Here is his learned assessment of the situation in Iraq in October 2005: "The people of Iraq think of themselves as Iraqis. And people are not interested, necessarily, in fragmentation of the country and I don't see that coming."
Neither, apparently, did Cheney.
President Bush found himself in a situation similar to Obama's in 2006, when he had to decide whether to send more troops into Iraq to support what eventually would be the surge that helped secure much of Sunni-controlled Iraq. Gen. John P. Abizaid, Bush's top Middle East commander, was a leading skeptic of the surge.
At a December 2006 news conference, Bush said he agreed with generals "that there's got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished" before sending an additional 15,000 to 30,000 troops to the war zone in Iraq. A senior aide, according to the Washington Post, later stated that Bush would not let the military decide the matter.
"He's never left the decision to commanders," said the aide.
Cheney, no doubt, was secretly fuming about the president's dithering.
Obama inherited the war in Afghanistan, which now has lasted twice as long as World War II. And now that it's his war, he is pursuing a comprehensive strategy that includes not only military power but also intensive diplomatic efforts throughout the region.
Obama is listening to a wide range of advisers with often conflicting advice, and he deserves credit for trying to get it right before sending more American troops into that perilous corner of the world. It is doubtful, however, that he puts much stock in the armchair quarterbacking of the former vice president.
Which again begs the question: Why is anyone still listening to Dick Cheney?
ABOUT THE WRITER
James Werrell is the Rock Hil Herald's opinion page editor. He can be reached by e-mail, at email@example.com.