I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Fighting to make Iran and Al Qaeda stronger

Dick Cheney bravely ventured outside of the green media zone yesterday and gave an hour-long interview to Tim Russert on Meet the Press -- a rare trip for the Vice President, whose "interviews" are typically conducted within the protected confines of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.

Shockingly, Russert dispensed with giddy banter and solemn reverence and instead was actually adversarial in his questioning, even confrontational, thus reminding us of what our country has largely (and destructively) lacked over the last five years -- national journalists performing their most basic function. Russert is among the most guilty in that regard -- and perhaps it takes one of the most unpopular political figures of our generation, defending a war that most of the country has turned against -- but yesterday, at least, Russert asked real questions and challenged the Vice President's evasive and misleading answers.

Literally, virtually every exchange illustrates the hard-core, deliberate deceit which has driven this war -- the Vice President's capacity to insist on obvious falsehoods without blinking is unparalleled even for this administration, which is really saying something -- but I think this exchange is the most significant in terms of underscoring the core incoherence and real danger to the U.S. posed by the invasion of Iraq:

MR. RUSSERT: Have we, have we created a fundamentalist Islamic regime in Iraq?


MR. RUSSERT: The prime minister of Iraq is going where tomorrow? Iran.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Mm-hmm. It’s a neighbor.

MR. RUSSERT: If, if you go to southern [Iraq], Richard Engel, our correspondent, has been there for three years, they answer the phone in the hotels in Persian. Iran has built an airport in Najaf. They built a railroad in Najaf in Iraq. Who has more influence with Iraq? Iran or the U.S.?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think the U.S. does today, but there’s no question but what the new government of Iraq has to get along with its neighbors. It also visits the Saudis. It also has had sessions with the other governments in the region. Their people need to work with the Turks, with the Syrians, with the Jordanians and with others. We have encouraged the states in the region to come together to help the new government in Iraq. It is a Shia government, no question about it. They’ve got close ties. Iran was the place where most of the leadership took refuge during the period of time when Saddam Hussein was in power, because it was the only place they could go.

But the fact of the matter is, you’re a lot better off today. You don’t have a government in Baghdad that’s pursuing weapons of mass destruction, you don’t have a government in Baghdad that is a state sponsor of terror. You don’t have a government in Baghdad that is doing all those things that Saddam Hussein did for so long. So we’re safer.

MR. RUSSERT: But you’ve also lost—you’ve also lost a buffer to Iran, and that’s what I’m going to come back and talk about, if I could.


At this point, that is the most incomprehensible and just tragically stupid aspect of this war. Just last week -- last week -- the administration's newly released National Strategy for Combating Terrorism claimed that "Iran remains the most active state sponsor of international terrorism." But the government in Iraq which we are struggling and fighting to stabilize and strengthen is already one that has -- to use the Vice President's own words -- "close ties" to Iran, our arch enemy. And those ties with Iran are obviously only going to strengthen if and when we ever reduce our presence there, let alone if we ever leave ("'Who has more influence with Iraq? Iran or the U.S.?' VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think the U.S. does today'").

That means that we are essentially fighting for Iran. And the longer we stay and the more we fight and drain all of our resources in order to stabilize the Iraqi Government, the more we do to promote the interests of the country which the administration says is the greatest threat to American interests. Every time the administration or its supporters talk about the dangers posed by Iran, Democrats ought to immediately point out that nothing has strengthened Iran more than our invasion of Iraq, which has replaced a regime that was hostile to Iran with one that is subservient to it.

It's actually unfathomable -- for a country to fight a protracted and bloody war where the sole beneficiary is that country's worst enemy, where the principal result is to depose a government that was extremely hostile to that enemy and replace it with a government that is extremely sympathetic to -- actually controlled by -- that enemy. Without hyperbole, it is difficult to imagine anything more disastrous and counter-productive to American national security.

It may not be entirely accurate to say that Iran is the sole beneficiary of our invasion of Iraq, since there may be another one. As Thomas Ricks reports today in the Washington Post:

The chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq recently filed an unusual secret report concluding that the prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there, said several military officers and intelligence officials familiar with its contents. . . .

One Army officer summarized it as arguing that in Anbar province, "We haven't been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically -- and that's where wars are won and lost." . . .

Devlin reports that there are no functioning Iraqi government institutions in Anbar, leaving a vacuum that has been filled by the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has become the province's most significant political force, said the Army officer, who has read the report.

Al Qaeda thrives where there is anarchy and chaos, and by transforming Iraq into a cauldron of chaos -- which our own military says, at least with respect to some parts of that country, "there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there" -- we have transformed Iraq from a place where Al Qaeda could not operate into one where they are the most dominant force.

Democrats should not be afraid of having the administration focus on the terrorist threat as much as possible -- to the contrary, Democrats should be doing that -- because the administration's signature policy (the invasion of Iraq) has been uniquely beneficial to Al Qaeda on so many levels, by draining away of our resources, creating an invaluable recruitment tool, increasing anti-American resentment throughout the region, forcing us to neglect Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden, and creating a vaccum for Al Qeada to fill in Iraq.

Put another way, the two largest beneficiaries of this war -- arguably the only two -- are our two greatest enemies, Iran and Al Qaeda. And when confronted with those facts, the only thing the Vice President does is recite outright fantasy:

You don’t have a government in Baghdad that’s pursuing weapons of mass destruction, you don’t have a government in Baghdad that is a state sponsor of terror. You don’t have a government in Baghdad that is doing all those things that Saddam Hussein did for so long. So we’re safer.

The country which the President says is the greatest threat to world peace now controls much of Iraq. Al Qaeda controls other parts. But the Vice President tells us that we are nonetheless "safer" as a result of the war because of all those WMDs which Saddam was developing and all of that work he was doing with Al Qaeda has been eliminated. In other words, the most powerful official in our government spouts and/or believes pure fiction -- fantasy -- when it comes to the most dangerous and volatile situation our country faces.

That's not just non-serious. It is actually disturbed -- to wave away the incalculable disaster we created by telling us things are good because we got rid of Saddam's WMDs and made sure he no longer works with Al Qaeda. There is simply no greater priority than preventing this mindset -- which grows more deranged by the day -- from being able to operate for the next two years with a free hand.

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