As Iraq continues its tumultuous journey into the post-Saddam era, I can't help but think back to a now-famous assertion made by former Vice-President Dick Cheney. Appearing on the March 16, 2003 edition of Meet the Press, Cheney and host Tim Russert were discussing what kind of reception our troops would get from the Iraqi population.
"I really do believe," Cheney predicted, "that we will be greeted as liberators."
Liberators. The word conjures up images of Paris in 1944, grateful crowds lining the sidewalks, tossing flowers and cheering as smiling American soldiers paraded through the city.
Promoters of the war loved to invoke World War Two as they pushed back against anyone who opposed the idea of invading a country that hadn't attacked us. Saddam was like Hitler, they said, and it was foolish to negotiate with him. Chamberlain tried to negotiate with Hitler at Munich and it didn't work. Trying to use diplomacy with dictators is just appeasement.
So here we are, six years later and a trillion dollars poorer, and still no cheering crowds for our military personnel. Oh, there were celebrations in Baghdad all right, happy crowds were dancing in the streets on June 30th and proclaiming victory. But to those revelers, 'victory' meant foreign troops were pulling out of the cities as part of the deal the Bush administration finalized with the Iraqi government last December.
Yes, President Maliki did issue a few statements of gratitude to the coalition forces in some of his official remarks during the festivities, but the emphasis that day was on Iraqis feeling empowered.
And why not? It's their country, and they want to be in charge. Dick Cheney may have thought we'd be welcomed as liberators, but anyone who compared the Middle East of 2003 to Europe before World War Two was off the rails. Different time, different culture, different everything.
But it all seemed totally reasonable to the Bush team. Just launch a U.S. military force into the heart of the Islamic world, with no support from any of the neighboring countries, depose an evil tyrant and help the locals set up a model democracy that will transform the entire region.
The one country happy to see this plan unfold was, of course, Iran, since it allowed them to sit back and relax while we took out their number one enemy. But it's easy to put a positive spin on this fact.
I watched a TV interview with Cheney a few years ago in which he stated emphatically that even though we hadn't found any weapons of mass destruction, the decision to remove Saddam was correct because if we hadn't done it he would have started a nuclear arms race with Iran. There's something perversely amusing about this assertion. When the pre-invasion rationale falls apart, war hawks have a tendency to abandon factual debate and enter the realm of clairvoyance.
I would never claim to know the future with the confidence Mr. Cheney displays, but it does seem possible that Iran and Iraq might become friendly enough to make their nuclear relationship cooperative not competitive.
Relations between the two former adversaries got a nice warm boost earlier this month when Iraq took over custody of five Iranians the U.S. had seized in the northern city of Irbil 2007. Iran claimed they were diplomats; American commanders said they were members of the Iranian Quds force who were funding and training Shiite militias.
Whoever they may be, the five detainees were promptly allowed to hop a plane back home where they received -- what else? -- a triumphant reception from cheering crowds at the Tehran airport.
Sorry, war hawks. Whatever happens in Iraq from now on is up to them, not us. If they decide our troops don't deserve any parades on the way out, so it goes. This is definitely not the glorious scenario you eagerly promoted to the American public.
But hey -- you'll always have Paris.