It’s hard to escape the feeling of deja vu. Fifteen years ago, a confused Republican president listened to misguided hawks, rejected diplomacy, and put the United States on a path to a dangerous military conflict in the Middle East. That’s also what’s happening now.
The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart noted this week that the parallels between 2002 and 2018 are uncanny: “In both cases, American leaders feared that a longtime Middle Eastern adversary was breaking free of the fetters that had previously restrained it. In both cases, American leaders pursued a more confrontational policy, which they buttressed with frightening statements about the regime’s nuclear program. In both cases, international inspectors contradicted those alarmist claims. In both cases, America’s European allies defended the inspectors and warned of the chaos America’s confrontational policy might bring. In both cases, hawks in America and Israel responded by trying to discredit the inspection regime. And in both cases, two leaders of that effort were John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu.”
With those identical voices ascendant again, I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising that former Vice President Dick Cheney is re-entering the conversation. He was on Fox Business this morning, reading from a familiar script, insisting that the United States maintain an indefinite military presence in the Middle East, and warning of possible proliferation of “weapons of mass destruction.”
That’s right, Dick Cheney still feels comfortable claiming credibility, not only on national security policy in the Middle East, but also on WMD.
In the same interview, Cheney even offered fresh support for torture. Politico reported:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney said the U.S. should restart its enhanced interrogation techniques – often considered torture – after the issue was thrust to the forefront during Gina Haspel’s confirmation fight to become CIA director.
“If it were my call, I would not discontinue those programs,” he said in an interview that aired Thursday morning on Fox Business. “I’d have them active and ready to go, and I’d go back and study them and learn.”
The former vice president went on to say that he doesn’t believe Bush-era torture techniques constituted torture, adding, “People want to go back and try to rewrite history, but if it were my call, I’d do it again.”
I won’t try to explain why anyone would find Cheney’s judgment credible, but I am curious if Donald Trump is watching all of this unfold.
To hear the current president tell it, the architects and proponents of the war in Iraq were idiots. Before and after his election, Trump publicly mocked both U.S. intelligence professionals and the Bush/Cheney administration for its disastrous war, promising an entirely different approach (even while lying about his previous position on the Iraqi invasion). To hear this president tell it, those responsible for Iraq are not to be listened to.
And yet, Trump now seems to have aligned himself with those he thinks were wrong. He agrees with Netanyahu and Bolton on Iran, and he agrees with Cheney on torture. Heck, Trump is even on board with premature declarations of “Mission Accomplished.”
There’s no reason to think the sequel to this story will be any better than the original.