A leopard proud of his spots

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, his wife Lynne, and their daughter Liz spoke on Monday at the Mayflower Hotel at an event hosted by Politico. The event was interrupted several times by members of Code Pink, who shouted, “Dick Cheney is a war criminal!” as they were dragged out of the auditorium.

The Vice President was unrepentant about the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. It was the right idea then, he said, and “in retrospect, it is the right idea now.” He added that the threat we face today is even greater than the threat we faced before 9-11. There is something more dangerous than box-cutter wielding terrorists, and that is a terrorist armed with weapons of mass destruction. According to RAND, Cheney said, there has been a 58% increase in al Qaeda type groups since 2010. The Islamic State, for instance, has attracted thousands of adherents over the last few weeks.

Cheney, who would “not going to into what [Iraq] did or did not have” in terms of WMDs in 2003, said that the proliferation of these weapons continues to be the greatest threat to our national security. After we invaded Iraq, he noted, Gaddafi immediately relinquished his WMDs. America’s current isolationism has made the situation more dangerous than ever. Pakistan has between 50 and 100 nuclear weapons, which could easily fall into the hands of terrorists. Today, our number one threat is a terror organization that controls large swaths of territory, which could allow it to develop its own WMDs.

Cheney blamed much of the situation on President Obama. The President, he said, denies that a problem exists. He claimed in 2011 that al Qaeda was dead. That is not to say that al Qaeda wouldn’t otherwise exist, but his isolationism has “left our allies out to dry.” Cheney admitted that Obama is responding to general battle fatigue in the US, as many people are “tired of war.” “It has been a long time since 9/11,” he added. However, “we cannot conclude but that ISIS and other groups” pose a direct threat to the United States.

He named two chief culprits for the chaos in Iraq. The first is Maliki, who failed to maintain the coalition the US built. Maliki purged many of the best generals because they happened to be Sunni. The second is Obama, whose unwillingness to maintain a military presence in Iraq led directly to the current situation. He accused Obama of knowingly allowing the Status of Forces negotiations agreement to break down. By 2009, he claimed, the terrorists in Iraq had been defeated. We allowed them to come back.

He commended Secretary of State John Kerry on securing a recount for Afghan elections. However, many of our allies do not believe in our ability to influence events. Israelis and Saudis are closer to each other than either one is to the US.

While Cheney declined to endorse any presidential candidates, he said he was worried about the growing isolationist strain in the Republican Party. His daughter Liz said of Senator Rand Paul, who is currently eyeing the nomination in 2016, that his foreign policy agenda “leaves something to be desired.” The Vice President added, “Anyone who thinks we can retreat behind our oceans” is out of their minds.

In a 2009 speech, Rand Paul accused Cheney of invading Iraq to line Halliburton’s coffers. He said that Cheney initially opposed the invasion, “saying it would be a bad idea. And that’s why the first Bush didn’t go into Baghdad. Dick Cheney then goes to work for Halliburton. Makes hundreds of millions of dollars, their CEO. Next thing you know, he’s back in government and it’s a good idea to go into Iraq.” Cheney called these accusations “totally fallacious.”

After the event, a throng of Code Pink protesters greeted guests outsides the hotel. One demonstrator, donning prison stripes and a papier-mâché Cheney mask, shouted derisively, “I admit, I was a little short on my prediction when I told you that we would make a stable democracy in Iraq!”

Eleven years after America’s invasion of Iraq, much of the debate remains unchanged. A leopard, it seems, does not easily change its spots.

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