Cheneys: Obama is 'so wrong' on Iraq

Former Vice-president Dick Cheney speaks in Washington, DC on 12 May, 2014. Image copyright Getty Images

"Rarely has a US president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many."

This line appears near the top of an opinion piece in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal written by former Vice-President Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz Cheney. In the column, they level a 1,000-word broadside against President Barack Obama's Iraq policy, accusing him of "abandoning Iraq" and "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory".

The "so wrong" line, however, has generated most of the headlines, including hoots of derision from the left.

"Yes, the failed former vice president, a man whose catastrophic failures and misjudgements are the stuff of legend, has decided the president cleaning up Cheney's messes has been wrong about everything - according to the man who was wrong about everything," writes MSNBC's Steve Benen.

Such responses, of course, are entirely predictable. National Journal's Matt Berman calls the column by the Cheneys a classic example of "op-ed trolling" - a controversial statement designed to generate attention.

"The piece is perfectly calibrated red meat for everyone," he writes. "Conservatives can love it for its pure rage at the Obama administration. Progressives can love it, because who doesn't enjoy a good hate-read?"

Having grabbed the spotlight, the Cheneys set out to make their case against Mr Obama's failure to address the growing insurgency led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS):

Watching the black-clad ISIS jihadists take territory once secured by American blood is final proof, if any were needed, that America's enemies are not "decimated". They are emboldened and on the march.

The insurgency presents "a strategic threat to the security of the United States" - which the president's inaction is allowing to grow.

They say that despite this "clear and president danger", Mr Obama "doesn't seem to care", spending more time golfing and focusing on climate change.

When Mr Cheney left office, they write, al-Qaeda in Iraq had been "largely defeated", thanks to the US military surge orchestrated by President George W Bush. Mr Obama "had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Would a continued US presence in Iraq have prevented the latest outbreak of violence?

They then pivot to roundly criticise Mr Obama's foreign policy, saying it is full of "empty rhetoric", with no cohesive strategy:

American freedom will not be secured by empty threats, meaningless red lines, leading from behind, appeasing our enemies, abandoning our allies or apologising for our great nation -all hallmarks to date of the Obama doctrine.

They close by quoting President Ronald Reagan and saying Mr Obama is on track to be known as the man who "betrayed our past and squandered our freedom".

New York magazine's Jonathan Chait calls the column "a masterpiece of insinuation without accusation". Although Ms Cheney has had no compunction about implying that Mr Obama is a traitor, the elder Cheney "is invested enough in his own credibility to feel the need to position himself a few inches away from the lunatic fringe the rest of his family is happy to occupy".

Perhaps the reason why Mr Cheney has felt compelled to join his firebrand daughter in launching such a full-throated attack is because the recent events in Iraq, and how they are resolved, are the stuff of political epitaphs.

If Iraq is headed toward the brink of collapse, the US public - and, later, historians - will be looking to assign responsibility. It's why so many of the original architects of the 2003 Iraq invasion have preceded Mr Cheney in defending their actions and blaming Mr Obama for what they see as a too-hasty withdrawal from the embattled nation.

The response from the left - at least for those who have moved beyond howling at the mere thought of former Bush administration officials commenting on the Iraq situation - is to say that Iraq was destined for this chaos whether or not US troops were still there.

"There is simply no reason to believe that the presence of American soldiers in Iraq makes a durable political settlement more likely, and there never has been," writes Vox's Matthew Yglesias. "If eight years weren't enough, why would one more - or two more or twenty more - be the key to success?"

Georgetown Prof Colin H Kahl writes for Politico that it is unfair to hold Mr Obama's inability to reach an agreement to maintain US forces in Iraq against him.

"Iraqi domestic politics made it impossible to reach a deal," he writes. "Iraqi public opinion surveys consistently showed that the US military presence was deeply unpopular (only in Iraqi Kurdistan did a majority of people want American GIs to stay)."

The Iraqi government would never agree to immunity from prosecution for US troops stationed on its soil.

"It was simply too toxic, politically, for Iraqi politicians to accept," he writes.

Mr Kahl concludes by telling bickering pundits and policymakers that "our national interests should compel us to put aside the 'who lost Iraq' debate and focus instead on how best to save it."

The blame game is one of the favourite US political sports, however, and there are no time-outs.