Wednesday, June 3, 2015
To read this article in Slate, Cheneyism is alive and well. Long considered the Bush Doctrine, the National Security Strategy developed during his administration was largely the creation of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. They had revived the hawkish foreign policy of the Reagan administration after what many Republicans considered to be the soft policy of Clinton, who preferred to maintain a no-fly zone over Iraq rather than oust the embattled strongman once and for all.
The aggressive foreign policy of the Reagan administration had largely been to fund what was regarded as sympathetic insurgency movements in Central America, using whatever hook or crook necessary. We were still fighting Communism at the time, and we wanted to get rid of the socialist government in Nicaragua, among others. This led to the notorious Iran-Contra affair, which resulted in several top ranking Reagan officials being indicted, notably Ollie North.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, many former socialist countries shifted to more market-driven economies. The emphasis turned to the Middle East and Central Asia. Could we remake these countries in our image, as we believed we did in Central and South America? Of course, Saddam had been an American plant decades before, providing the kind of non-secular government we wanted in the region, but like most dictators he had grown too big for his britches and needed to be cut down to a more manageable size.
Many pundits like to say that the last straw was when Saddam threatened George H.W. Bush. Here was his son now in office, with two long-standing Republican foreign policy advisers beside him ready to exact their revenge. The Bush administation was glowing from its victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan, which had pushed Dubya's approval rating through the roof. This administration wanted badly to finish the job Pere Bush had started by pinning Saddam in Baghdad, where he was appealing to every country in the world to lift the sanctions that kept him in check. Dick and Rummy weren't about to let Saddam off the hook, so they crafted an elaborate "White Paper" that tied Saddam to every terror operation in the region, with a secret stash of WMD's to be used against the United States and Israel.
This was the defining moment of the Bush Doctrine, the right for pre-emptive action against a country the Bush administration believed to be a clear and present danger to the United States. The only justification it needed was dubious intelligence, not UN approval, which the previous Bush administration had sought when it presented a war resolution to drive Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991.
Dick and Rummy knew better than to seek UN approval first, as the principal opponents to their war sat on the Security Council -- France and Russia. Both countries were anxious to ease sanctions as they wanted to renew trade ties with Iraq. The only stern European allies the US had left were Great Britain and Spain. Both government heads staked their reputations on the war effort, only to see their power greatly diminished as a result of their decision to support the US in its war in Iraq. Aznar's Popular Front was voted out of parliament in Spain in the subsequent election. Tony Blair was forced to cede control of the Labour Party to Gordon Brown. Bush also watched his popularity plummet as the war dragged on with no resolution in sight, but had managed to secure a second term thanks to the scare tactics of Cheney and GOP campaign strategists.
This new foreign policy wrought huge damage to the American reputation abroad. Bush was widely regarded as a "war criminal" as more ugly stories emerged from Iraq, notably Abu Ghraib. But, what galled the world most was the detention facility in Guantanamo, and the renditions carried out in Eastern European countries, which redefined American hubris, not to mention flew in the face of the Geneva Convention.
It seemed that by 2006, Americans had grown weary of war and our fallen stature abroad. The dollar had tanked against most foreign currencies, and our economy appeared to be teetering on the edge of collapse. Democrats swept Congress setting up a presidential election like no other in 2008, where a young Barack Obama stood in sharp contrast to the Bush Doctrine, represented by the Republican nominee John McCain, an old Cold Warrior.
The victory of Obama was seen as a repudiation of the Bush Doctrine. So much so that he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in his first year of office, a pre-emptive award if you will, for what the Nobel committee believed would be a kinder, friendlier United States, which Bush's father had promised 20 years before on the campaign trail.
As it turned out, the Bush Doctrine stayed in place, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan lingered on, and Guantanamo notoriously remained. Obama sought a transition, not a sea change, from the previous administration's foreign policy, much to the disgruntlement of those who supported him. Now, it was Barack forced to defend drone attacks, NSA spying, and the continued detention of foreign nationals at Guantanamo, many now in their second decade of confinement.
You get the feeling Cheney and other Republican Hawks didn't want bin Laden dead, as a "War on Terror" needs an easily identifiable arch villain, like in comic books, and Osama fit the bill. ISIS is more a hydra-headed organization that is hard to quantify, much less qualify. It represents more an existential threat to the US rather than a real one, which the Bush administration had successfully been able to project in Saddam and Osama.
Now, we see Republicans going after Iran in much the same way Cheneyism went after Iraq. Americans have a natural aversion to Iran, especially the Ayatollah, which is still seen as Khomeini, who had held America hostage for over 400 days between 1979 and 1981. It doesn't matter that Iran has no connection to ISIS, anymore than it mattered that Saddam had no connection with al Qaeda.
The key is to play on American's deep-seated fears, and this is what Republicans plan to do this election cycle. Who better to revive all those fears than Dick Cheney, who has been fighting existential demons for decades like a fearless vampire killer. None of the young Republicans running for office have this experience, so they turn to their equivalent of Van Helsing to speak for them, echoing his words on the campaign trail.