Last Throes of Cheney’s Credibility

030507 article conason Last Throes of Cheney’s CredibilityAmericans frustrated with the Democratic Congressional leaders for dithering over Iraq should never forget who actually drove us into the Iraqi quagmire. Even those Democrats who voted for the President’s war resolution in 2002 did so only after the President publicly and repeatedly promised—with the deepest insincerity—that he would only invade Iraq as a “last resort.”

Responsibility for that lie and many others rests squarely with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, their aides and enablers, who have spent nearly four years, thousands of lives, and hundreds of billions of dollars to create catastrophe. Today, every policy alternative, including a phased withdrawal, is likely to impose costly consequences on us, on the Iraqis, on the region, and on the world.

So perhaps the Democrats deserve more than a month or two to determine how we might best extricate our troops from that complex and perilous situation.

Besides, as the White House has loudly proclaimed, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney will ignore any Congressional action that would cut short their bloody misadventure. Rather than engage in honest debate over a saner course in Iraq, the Vice President has resorted to the same discredited rhetoric used by him and his allies from the beginning.

Seeking to intimidate the Congressional leaders last week, he recited the misleading old formula conflating war in Iraq with the struggle against Al Qaeda. His theories on that subject have been blown up with the same force and frequency as those daily explosions on Baghdad’s streets. Only a few days ago, the Pentagon Inspector General issued a devastating report describing how Mr. Cheney’s agents in the Defense Department distorted intelligence to “prove” the mythical linkage between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

Moreover, every credible analysis of the Iraq insurgency estimates that only a tiny fraction of the fighters are linked to Al Qaeda in any significant way. While the jihadist movement is growing, Mr. bin Laden and his lieutenants can profit from our mistakes without leaving their strongholds thousands of miles away.

But Mr. Cheney cares nothing for those facts. As the official who most vehemently assured us of the certain existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he remains immune to the kind of embarrassment that would have required an honorable man to resign from office long ago.

During his latest foreign trip, he warned Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Jack Murtha (D-Penn.) that the redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq would “validate the Al Qaeda strategy,” as if Mr. bin Laden somehow lured the United States into invading Mesopotamia. Reiterating the point later, he added: “Al Qaeda functions on the basis that they think they can break our will. That’s their fundamental underlying strategy: that if they can kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in Iraq, then we’ll quit and go home.”

Actually, we now know that the occupation of Iraq—the Cheney strategy—has strengthened Al Qaeda immeasurably by recruiting thousands of young Muslims to its cause. We know that because the National Intelligence Estimate prepared for the Bush administration a year ago said so. According to The Washington Post, a newspaper whose editorial page supports the war, officials familiar with the classified document said the N.I.E. concluded that “rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position.”

As if to underline his cluelessness, the Vice President visited Pakistan and Afghanistan soon after his remarks about Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Murtha. In Pakistan, he demanded that President Pervez Musharraf strike the border strongholds of the Taliban, which poses a real threat to the weak Western-backed regime in Kabul.

Specifically, Mr. Cheney warned Mr. Musharraf that if the Pakistanis failed to deal swiftly with their old friends in the Taliban and Al Qaeda, he couldn’t promise to protect Pakistan from reprisals by the Congressional Democrats. Oblivious to the contradiction in his own statements, he then flew on to Bagram Airbase outside Kabul—where he came dangerously close to obliteration by a Taliban suicide bomber. Having neglected Afghanistan to pursue pre-emptive war in Iraq, the Bush-Cheney administration ensured safe havens and recruiting grounds for terrorists in both countries.

Those twin failures reflect the broader collapse of Middle East policy under the intellectual stewardship of Mr. Cheney. Thanks to his belligerent outlook, we have abandoned the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, encouraged both Shiite and Sunni extremism, promoted the prestige of the Iranian mullahs, diminished our own capacity for military action in the region, and made democracy synonymous with irreparable destruction.

No wonder the Vice President thinks things are going so well.

In their arrogance, both he and Mr. Bush seem confident that they will prevail over any Democratic effort to force them to change course. Short of an unlikely impeachment, they may be right. They can repeat their canned denunciations of their critics and their fanciful formulations about the war on terror. They can pretend that their confused, incompetent policies demonstrate resolve and integrity. They can mock the “nonbinding” resolutions that do nothing to deter their reckless escalation.

They should understand, however, what even an act of symbolic legislation against the war represents: the complete and irreparable forfeiture of the people’s confidence in the Bush White House.