Former Vice President Dick Cheney stepped up his offensive against President Barack Obama today by accusing the commander-in-chief of underestimating the terrorist threat and not doing enough to confront it.
“We’re in for big trouble in the years ahead because of his refusal to recognize reality and because of his continual emphasis upon getting the U.S. basically to withdraw from that part of the world,” Cheney, a Republican, said of the Middle East and Afghanistan, in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” program.
Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he doesn’t blame Obama for the current turmoil in Iraq, pointing the finger partly at those who originally supported the war. Paul and Cheney’s conflicting views show a schism in their party over the Mideast and on foreign policy in general.
Cheney, one of the key architects of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq that ousted Saddam Hussein, has increased his criticism and visibility as Iraq teeters on the brink of civil war. Obama withdrew all troops from the country in 2011 after failing to reach a security agreement with the Iraqi government for an extended U.S. military presence.
Even as he attacked Obama, who is deploying 300 special operations forces to gather intelligence on Iraq, Cheney declined to outline a specific military strategy. He didn’t say whether he favors air strikes or more extensive action.
“When we’re arguing over 300 advisers when the request had been for 20,000 in order to do the job right, I’m not sure we’ve really addressed the problem,” he said.
While advocating training and weapons for “the resistance up in Syria,” Cheney said, “At this point there are no good, easy answers in Iraq.”
White House officials have shrugged off the criticism and Democratic lawmakers such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have faulted Cheney for misjudgments on the war.
Cheney had said he had no doubt Saddam was reconstituting chemical and biological weapons. The former vice president in 2003 said the U.S. would be “greeted as liberators” and that several hundred thousand troops wouldn’t be needed to provide security once the conflict ends.
Asked about such claims in today’s broadcast, Cheney made no apologies.
“I was a strong supporter then of going into Iraq,” he said. “I’m a strong supporter now. Everybody knows what my position is. There’s nothing to be argued about there. But if we spend our time debating what happened 11 or 12 years ago, we’re going to miss the threat that is growing and that we do face.”
Paul urged a more cautious approach to any U.S. military involvement in Iraq.
“Am I willing to send my son to retake back a city, Mosul, that they weren’t willing to defend themselves?” Paul said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program, referring to Iraqi forces. “I’m not willing to send my son into that mess.”
The country is at risk of “civil war with feckless people on one side that aren’t necessarily great allies of ours, who are allies of Iran, and on the other side, allies of al-Qaeda,” he said.
A faction led by Cheney and other architects of the Iraq war such as former United Nations ambassador John Bolton have argued for a muscular U.S. response to the advances of Islamic Sunni militants in Iraq.
A wing most notably represented by Paul, a prospective 2016 presidential candidate, says the U.S. should withdraw financial and military aid from corrupt, Islamic governments and rebel groups in the region, including in Iraq.
On foreign policy more broadly, Paul has argued for a less interventionist approach by the U.S. than many Republicans support, pushing for more discernment in distinguishing between the country’s vital and peripheral interests. His father, former U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, made a similar case in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination.
Cheney called Paul “basically an isolationist. That didn’t work in the 1930’s. It sure as heck won’t work in the aftermath of 9/11, when 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters came all the way from Afghanistan and killed 3,000 of our citizens.”
Paul said the Sunni militants in Iraq have been strengthened by U.S. efforts to bolster the opposition in Syria seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
“They would not be empowered and in Iraq if we were not providing safe haven in Syria by arming their allies,” he said.
Cheney and his daughter, Liz Cheney, a former State Department official, have formed a new nonprofit group called the Alliance for a Strong America aimed at “reversing the dangerous policies of the Obama administration,” according to the group’s website.
The two penned a June 17 op-ed column for the Wall Street Journal that heaped scorn on Obama, belittling his foreign policy and pinning Iraq’s collapse on his failure to reach an agreement with the Iraqi government to keep a residual force there.
As vice president under former president George W. Bush, Cheney was one of the administration’s leading advocates for the invasion of Iraq by the U.S., based on erroneous claims that Saddam was developing weapons of mass destruction. The article didn’t mention the failure to find such weapons.
The invasion cost the U.S. the lives of more than 6,000 soldiers and contractors and about $1.7 trillion through fiscal 2013, according to Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.
Paul wrote in a June 19 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. has no need to “choose a side” in Iraq and that intervention, particularly air strikes, may benefit the government of Iran, a U.S. adversary. Paul also took a swipe at Republicans advocating a military response, without naming them.
“Many of those clamoring for military action now are the same people who made every false assumption imaginable about the cost, challenge and purpose of the Iraq war,” Paul wrote. “They have been so wrong for so long. Why should we listen to them again?”
Paul posed his opposition to intervention in the Middle East in religious terms in a June 20 speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition “Road to Majority” conference in Washington. Both the Shiite Muslim-led government in Iraq and Islamic rebel forces in Syria that have been funded by the U.S. are guilty of persecuting Christians, he said.
“There’s a war on Christianity going on, and sometimes you’re being asked to pay for it,” Paul said. “I say not one penny to any country that persecutes Christians.”