President Obama has sensibly resisted attempts to draw him into the civil war in Syria and to militarize confrontations with Iran and Russia, but former Vice President Dick Cheney, who personifies everything that’s wrong with American foreign policy, recently surfaced to accuse the President of projecting “weakness” abroad and “crippling” the US military.
In an Aug. 10 interview with radio host John Catsimatidis, Cheney said he traces “most” of the problems of Washington to the current administration. He cleared his nominal former boss, George W. Bush, of responsibility for the actions a decade ago that led to the series of bad choices Obama now faces. “They can’t blame George Bush any more,” Cheney said. Of Obama, he said, “I think he’s been a failure as a president. I think the scandals, with respect to the Veterans Administration, with respect to the IRS, these are bad situations.” But “even worse,” he said, are cuts in the military budget.
This is the sort of claptrap you get when you don’t prosecute war criminals, but it reflects the Republican party line.
First of all, the VA “scandal” was that Congresses under the Bush and Obama administrations didn’t appropriate enough money to take care of the wounded warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. And the IRS “scandal” was that the tax agency had required politics-oriented groups on the left and the right to comply with the law, which limits political activity of organizations seeking non-profit and tax-exempt status.
As for the military cutbacks, that’s what you should get when you wind down two wars. And the cuts have been modest: defense and international security assistance still amounted to $643 billion, or 19% of the federal budget, for fiscal year 2013. The US still spends more than the next eight countries combined, according to 2013 figures compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (Runner-up China spends $188 billion on its military, Russia $878 billion and Saudi Arabia $67 billion, though the Saudi total also includes police.)
Anyway, Obama withdrew troops from Iraq in 2011 under the terms drawn up under Bush’s administration. The Bush hawks, who ran the Mideast into the ditch but all found employment in private industry and/or “think tanks” and have never been far from the TV chat show cameras, yelled bloody murder that Obama had let us down.
The mess in the Mideast shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody, as it was predicted a decade ago. In a Jan. 16, 2003, column, Molly Ivins wrote, “I assume we can defeat Hussein without great cost to our side (God forgive me if that is hubris). The problem is what happens after we win. The country is 20% Kurd, 20% Sunni and 60% Shi’ite. Can you say, ‘Horrible three-way civil war?’”
But Bill Kristol, right-wing ideologue and chairman of the Project for a New American Century, which promoted the string of regime changes in the Mideast that started with the fall of Saddam Hussein, in 2003 dismissed concerns that sectarian differences would be a serious problem. “On this issue of the Shia in Iraq, I think there’s been a certain amount of, frankly, a kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq’s always been very secular.”
In our March 1, 2003, editorial, “Inspect, Don’t Invade,” while UN inspectors were still in Iraq, we wrote, “We wish we could believe that invading Iraq would solve the problems. More likely the bombing of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq to clear the way for the invasion will kill tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi people, create hundreds of thousands of refugees, plunge the Middle East into chaos and expand the radical Islamic jihad against the western world.”
But Bush and Cheney bulled ahead anyway. US troops routed the Iraqi military and secured its oilfields but let the rest of the country go to hell. On March 31, 2003, Egypt’s then-President Hosni Mubarak said the US-led war on Iraq would produce “one hundred new bin Ladens,” driving more Muslims to anti-Western militancy. “When it is over, if it is over, this war will have horrible consequences,” Mubarak told Egyptian soldiers in the city of Suez, while hundreds of Arab volunteers were streaming to Iraq pledging to join in “martyrdom operations” against US and British forces
Lou Dubose noted in the Aug. 1 Washington Spectator that Peter Galbraith—a former US ambassador to Croatia and adviser to the government of Iraqi Kurdistan—in Jan. 11, 2007, testimony at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a foreign-policy catastrophe and the tragic and unjustifiable destruction of a country; the toxic politics of Nouri al-Maliki’s government; and the sectarian fault lines that effectively divided Iraq into three countries.
“The alternative to partition,” he said, “is a continued US-led effort at nation-building that has not worked for the last four years and, in my view, has no prospect for success. That, Mr. Chairman, is a formula for war without an end.”
Now forced nation-building of Iraq at US gunpoint is the option that Republicans are blasting Obama for not pursuing.
Even Hillary Clinton criticized President Obama’s foreign policy in an interview published Aug. 10 in The Atlantic. She said the failure to help build up a credible fighting force among the protesters against Assad in Syria “left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” She added, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”
“Don’t do stupid stuff” might not be an organizing principle, but it is a pretty good prime directive. And Obama has been smart, at least compared with what the Bushites did from 2001 to 2009 and what John McCain proposed to do. We have our criticisms of specific Obama policies, but if McCain (or Mitt Romney) had become president we might well be at war with Iran and/or Russia, arming Syrian rebel groups that turned out to have terrorist ties.