Dick Cheney may not be a very nice person, but he is a pretty smart political operative. And so he has been all over the news for the past few weeks trying to promote the narrative that he and his neoconservative allies need for the long haul. He understands the importance of molding public opinion, especially at key junctures brought on by world events.
I know that there will be objections that someone who was a principal architect of the Iraq war cannot be that smart. The war was based on false pretenses, left 4,487 American soldiers dead and tens of thousands wounded. More than a million Iraqis died, and 12 years later even the elite media can see that the war never really ended, and that it has contributed greatly to the spread of violence and instability in the region, including of course in Syria.
But this is not Cheney's principal concern, if it bothers him at all. First, as Paul Krugman and others have pointed out, the invasion of Iraq accomplished one of its principal objectives, which was to ensure that Republicans would win both houses of Congress in 2002. In the summer of that year, there was a good chance that they would lose at least one chamber due to the jobless recovery from the recession, corporate scandals, and the Democrats' advantage on Social Security and Medicare. The run-up to the Iraq war took all of those issues out of the news from August to November, and played to his party's strengths: fear, hatred, and war. They won the Congress, taking the Senate from the Democrats and expanding their majority in the House.
This domestic political victory was reversed four years later, to a large extent as a result of mass disgust with the war. But the Cheney team -- with help from many of their political opponents -- still managed to solidify and maintain the "War on Terror" as the dominant narrative presented to Americans as an explanation of U.S. foreign and "national security" policy.
That is the narrative that Cheney wants to preserve and deepen with his latest media blitz and new organization. It's true, as much of the media has noticed, that he also wants to defend his own legacy and shift the blame to the Obama administration for the current conflagration and disintegration of Iraq. In his warped view, everything was going fine in Iraq until Obama decided to take all of the troops out in December 2011. (Never mind that Bush had agreed to the 2011 deadline, and that the Iraqi government was as unenthusiastic about an agreement for U.S. troops to remain as the Obama Administration was.)
But this tale is not going to get very far outside of the party faithful. Even Megyn Kelly took Cheney (and daughter Liz) to task when they presented it on Fox News.
The more toxic elixir that he is peddling is the one that he seized upon within days of the 9/11 attacks. He was very quick to see that 9/11 would provide an opportunity not only for justifying the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that followed, but also a new over-arching theme to promote militarism and war that had been missing (and missed, by some) since the end of the Cold War. The "War on Terror" is "a long-term proposition," he announced, that "will probably take years."
Thirteen years later, the American public is very sick and tired of war; but for Cheney, it's just getting started.
Cheney also predicted after 9/11 that "In this conflict, for the first time in our history, we will probably suffer more casualties here at home than will our troops overseas." In fact, only about 19 people have been killed by terrorism in the United States in the nearly 13 years since 9/11. But this didn't matter. It was the ideology, not the reality, that carried the day.
Cheney is once again predicting doom, including attacks "far deadlier" than 9/11 in the years ahead.
But the irony is that he is fighting to make this come true. There are hundreds of jihadis who traveled from Europe and even the U.S. to fight in Syria and Iraq. They went there because they saw this fight as pivotal. What will they do if the U.S. and its allies attack their armies with air strikes? They may well decide that the fight needs to be brought home. And they have Western passports.
There are tens of millions of Americans who understand that terrorism is the result of U.S. military actions overseas, and not the cause. But too many of their "centrist" political leaders, and almost all of the media, have accepted the most dangerous part of the Cheney story -- the inverted causality of the "war on terror."
But politics intrudes, and sometimes for the best. A bipartisan letter to President Obama led by Virginia Republican Scott Rigell and California Democrat Barbara Lee is demanding that he respect the Constitution and get congressional authorization for any use of military force. It is gathering support from members of Congress and also, on a petition, from citizens who don't want another war. Some will remember that this is how President Obama's planned bombing of Syria was stopped - when he could not get support in Congress. It was the first time in memory that a planned U.S. military strike was stopped before it was started.
We are facing another crucial, life-and-death test of which narrative will prevail.
This was published by Truthout on July 2, 2014.