Dick Cheney Doesn't Want You To Reflect on the Iraq War, So You Know It's a Good Idea To

Nearly a quarter century of American mistakes in Iraq


Now's not the time to re-litigate the Iraq War, we're told — mostly by people whose bright idea it was in the first place.

If we "spend our time debating what happened 11 or 12 years ago," says former Vice President Dick Cheney, we're "missing the boat."

Contra Cheney, it's important to examine our past mistakes, lest we get snookered into repeating them. Going back 11 or 12 years isn't enough — it's past time to reevaluate the Gulf War of 1991, the "famous victory" that helped get us into this mess.

"History will say we got this one right," former President George H.W. Bush declared in 2011. True enough, as the conventional wisdom evaluates our two Gulf Wars very differently: a "war of necessity" vs. a foolish "war of choice," a "good war," and its pointless and bloody sequel 12 years later.

But both wars were wars of choice — and bad choices at that.

After Saddam Hussein seized Kuwait in August 1990, it was natural to wonder whether restoring the Kuwaiti prince and protecting the Saudi monarchy was worth American blood and treasure.

But we were after much loftier goals, the first Bush administration insisted. Repulsing Saddam could, Bush 41 told Congress on September 11, 1990, usher in a "New World Order" — "a new era, freer from the threat of terror, … more secure in the quest for peace."

Then-Secretary of State James Baker offered a homelier rationale, all but embracing the left wing charge that the administration was bent on waging war for oil.

"We cannot permit a dictator … to sit astride [the Gulf's] economic lifeline," Baker contended, "if you want to sum it up in one word, it's 'jobs.'"

But, as David Henderson, former senior energy economist with Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers, explained in the run-up to the war, the "vaunted 'oil weapon' is a dud."

Avoiding war would, Henderson calculated, cost the U.S. economy "at most one half of one percent of GNP" — or an extra 24 cents per gallon at the pump.

Henderson's figures looked at the absolute worst-case scenario, which included an Iraqi conquest of Saudi Arabia.

At the time, the Pentagon claimed satellite photographs showed a quarter of a million Iraqi troops poised to roll across the Saudi border.

Reporter Jean Heller of the St. Petersburg Times decided to check. She purchased commercial satellite photos of the border region, which showed empty desert.

When she contacted the office of then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney for evidence to the contrary, "trust us," was the best the Pentagon could do.

"It was a pretty serious fib," Heller said later, putting it mildly.

The first Bush administration stopped short of Baghdad, convinced it wouldn't be prudent to become "an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land."

Still, Desert Storm pulled us into a deepening entanglement, including 12 years of debilitating sanctions and no-fly zones, punctuated by punitive air raids like 1998's "Operation Desert Fox."

Our Iraqi containment policy, including the long-term presence of U.S. troops on Saudi soil, became a rallying cry for Al Qaeda, among "Osama bin Laden's principal recruiting devices," as Paul Wolfowitz put it in 2003.

It's entirely possible that we'd still have faced a significant threat from Islamic terrorism even if we'd skipped the first Gulf War.

But today, with the Sunni radicals of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) declaring the restoration of the caliphate and menacing Baghdad, it's hard to imagine we'd be doing worse.

Our "Twenty Years War" in Iraq is now going on a quarter century, and Bush 41's vision of "a new era, more secure in the quest for peace" is nowhere in sight.

This column originally appeared in The Washington Examiner.


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  1. OK, then, let’s ignore what Cheney did – let’s start by ignoring Cheney himself and not providing him a platform!

    1. The very reason Cheney has a platform is because of what he did, including what he did 12 or so years ago.

      1. And he’s like flypaper for the “what about BOOSH?” crowd.

    2. Cheney is a big reason why the Kurds are able to stand up and defend themselves. The Kurds are liberty personified. Good for Dick Cheney.

  2. Bush 41’s vision of “a new era, more secure in the quest for peace” is nowhere in sight.

    Well, he *said* he wasn’t good with “the vision thing”.

    1. Well, this 1/1000ths point of light didn’t really care for Bush I. I voted for Bush II once, and when he gave us the squinty eyed “mission accomplished” line and Medicare Part D, I haven’t voted for anybody since, for anything. Cheney was just along for the ride, so it seemed.

      1. Oh, of course, back in my College Republican days, Bush I and wife came to my State and I shook hands with both and had a brief conversation with Mrs. Bush. I remember thinking I’d rather vote for her than George.

  3. You forgot the best part!

    U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – What solutions would be acceptab le?

    Saddam Hussein – If we could keep the whole of the Shatt al Arab – our strategic goal in our war with Iran – we will make concessions (to the Kuwaitis). But, if we are forced to choose between keeping half of the Shatt and the whole of Iraq (i.e., in Saddam s view, including Kuwait ) then we will give up all of the Shatt to defend our claims on Kuwait to keep the whole of Iraq in the shape we wish it to be. (pause) What is the United States’ opinion on this?

    U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – We have no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960’s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America. (Saddam smiles)

  4. If we “spend our time debating what happened 11 or 12 years ago,” says former Vice President Dick Cheney, we’re “missing the boat.”

    I remember another old white guy saying something along the lines of “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

    Avoiding war would, Henderson calculated, cost the U.S. economy “at most one half of one percent of GNP” ? or an extra 24 cents per gallon at the pump.

    He only says that because he’s not man enough to sustain a raging, concrete-chiseling warboner like a good TOP MAN is supposed to.

  5. Poor Dick. 2003 Dick should have listened to 1994 Dick.

    “Because if we had gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn’t have been anybody else with us. It would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq. Once you got to Iraq and took it over and took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world. And if you take down the central government in Iraq, you could easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off. Part of it the Syrians would like to have, the west. Part of eastern Iraq the Iranians would like to claim. Fought over for eight years. In the north, you’ve got the Kurds. And if the Kurds spin loose and join with Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.”

  6. We fell victim to one of the classic blunders.

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