by Jim Lobe
Derek has already covered this week’s Dick Cheney’s speech to the admiring throng at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), whose “scholars,” such as Richard Perle, Michael “Flypaper” Ledeen, Danielle Pletka and favored guests, notably Ahmad Chalabi, did so much to march us into the worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam. (Since then, of course, Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton, who made their own critical contributions, as did Cheney, an AEI trustee, to getting us into war from within the administration, have joined the neoconservative think tank.)
Others have also written about Cheney’s appearance, including Paul Pillar (“The Latest Cost of Islamophobia”), Michael Hirsh (“Cheney in Wonderland”) Defense News (“For Dick Cheney, Every Day is Sept 12”), and so far, perhaps, most humorously the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank (“For Blind Dick Cheney, The Answer’s Always Simple: War” was the print edition title), who concluded thusly:
Of course, it could be argued that the spread of jihadist movements has less to do with Obama than with destabilization caused by the Bush-Cheney wars. But Cheney, so expert on Obama’s failings, remains blind to his own. “A policy of non-intervention can be just as dogmatic as its opposite,” he said, “and this president has seemed at times only more sure of himself as he is disproved by events.”
A sense of self-awareness would have led Cheney to drop that line.
Of course, a sense of self-awareness—and an absence of doubt, or admission of, let alone regret for, past mistakes of historic dimensions—is something that both many, if not most neocons, as well as Cheney (who certainly shares many of the same imperialistic views of the neoconservatives but, unlike his daughter Liz, may not be quite as attached to Israel as they are), lack.
It’s in that connection that I wanted to focus briefly on what he said about Iran and the certainty with which he said it:
We all know, for example, what the mullahs in Iran want most of all—to acquire nuclear weapons.
Now, while I concede that Iran may indeed want a nuclear weapons capacity and perhaps even actual nukes if they feel sufficiently threatened by leaders like Cheney (fatwas notwithstanding), how can Cheney know that that’s what they want “most of all”—as opposed, say, to a new regional security structure in which they feel that their interests are fully recognized and, well, made more “secure.” Or an end to sanctions? Or greater integration into the global economy? The answer to those questions is what is clearly being hotly debated in Iran, including among “the mullahs,” a turn of phrase that helps illustrate the Islamophobia reflected in Cheney’s speech.
Moreover, Cheney’s certainty is very much questioned not only by the US intelligence community (whose normal review processes the former vice president and his fellow-hawks tried successfully to manipulate and subvert, in part by helping introduce disinformation from Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress), which since 2007 has determined that Tehran has not yet decided to acquire a nuclear weapon. It’s also questioned even by the Israeli intelligence community, which has reached a similar conclusion. Still, Cheney knows better.
I raise this because I was reminded of the certainties Cheney offered about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program—and his ground-breaking role—in spreading that bit of disinformation, primarily because I wrote about it in a longish essay entitled “Dating Cheney’s Nuclear Drumbeat.”
What I found in researching that piece was that, contrary to the perception of the time, the administration did not start talking about Saddam’s phantom nuclear program in his VFW speech in Nashville on August 26, 2002—as it was revving up for its fall PR campaign to get Congress to give it approval. It started instead back on March 24, 2002, when he appeared on three Sunday talk shows. Here are the quotes:
There’s good reason to believe that he continues to aggressively pursue the development of a nuclear weapon. Now will he have one in a year, five years? I can’t be that precise. [NBC’s “Meet the Press.]
“The notion of a Saddam Hussein with his great oil wealth, with his inventory that he already has of biological and chemical weapons, that he might actually acquire a nuclear weapon is, I think, a frightening proposition for anybody who thinks about it. [CBS’s “Face the Nation.]
This is a man of great evil, as the President said. And he is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time. [CNN’s “Late Edition”.]
These are the first such assertions by a senior administration official speaking on record, and note how confident he is about a program that did not exist. Indeed, as I explained at length in the essay (much of which was devoted to the Plame/Wilson case and its timing), the only public evidence available at the time for the existence of a nuclear program consisted of the testimony of a Chalabi-provided “defector” whose claims to have personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for all kinds of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, in underground wells, private villas, and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad were faithfully passed along by the New York Times’ Judith Miller. We also know in retrospect that the infamous forged Niger yellowcake documents appeared somehow on Cheney’s desk in either December 2001 or January 2002. It was those documents that resulted in the Wilson mission to Niger which, of course, concluded that the alleged deal the documents purported to describe did not exist. In any event, if you want more detail, please read the original essay.
Now, I readily concede that Iran has real nuclear facilities (openly declared and subject to inspection) not phantom ones that Cheney was so, so certain about just six months after 9/11. My point here is that, given his past record, Cheney’s certainties or lack of doubts about just about anything having to do with the Middle East, let alone nuclear weapons and the greatest desires of Shia Muslim clerics living half a world away—should be subject to a high degree of skepticism.
So what did Cheney recommend in his AEI speech that the US do about Iran? No surprise there:
We should make clear that a nuclear-armed Iran is an existential threat to Israel, and to other nations in the region as well. We should refuse to accept any deal that allows them to continue to spin centrifuges and enrich uranium [Do I hear Bibi Netanyahu?] The regime in Tehran must be made to understand that the United States will not allow that to happen, and that we will take military action if necessary to stop it.
(What precisely that last “it” is, he doesn’t clarify, but grammatically it seems that Cheney believes that the US should take military action to prevent the US from accepting any such deal, or am I missing something?)
Photo: Former Vice President Dick Cheney (far right) with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush