To say that former Vice-President Dick "Torture is Fine By Me" Cheney’s remarks about President Barack Obama’s handling of the war in Afghanistan were pathetic would be to stretch the bounds of human sympathy. Mr. Cheney has a pension which is as much sympathy as he deserves, perhaps more. For seven and one-half years of the Bush-Cheney years after September 11, 2001, the focus of American arms and diplomacy was Iraq not Afghanistan, and largely because Mr. Cheney wished it to be so. Now, having ignored Afghanistan for so long, he has the gall to criticize President Obama for taking his time, trying to figure out what the hell is going on in that part of the world.
The issues in Afghanistan are grave in the extreme. For starters, it is not at all clear that there is a legitimate government in Kabul with which we can work. President Karzai, who was once the very epitome of Islamic moderation, has let his regime descend in to the all too familiar rut of corruption and mismanagement. The recent elections were marred by all manner of shenanigans and the President’s brother is reportedly up to his eyeballs in the opium trade. In short, there are no longer any good options in Afghanistan.
Against this backdrop, President Obama is trying to devise a strategy that is worthy of the brave American and NATO soldiers called to implement that strategy. Cheney dismissed this process of considering options, analyzing intelligence, and hearing from experts with conflicting opinions as "dithering." If only Cheney and the President he served had dithered a bit longer about Iraq, but in their different ways, neither Bush nor Cheney showed much in the way of patience for clashing opinions.
Last night, I watched Frank Gaffney, whose organization - the Center for Security Policy - sponsored the Cheney speech, defend the speech and the award they gave to Cheney. (They also gave an award to convicted felon Scooter "Where’s My Pardon?" Libby.) Gaffney told Ron Reagan that his father would be ashamed of him, which was an odd charge seeing as the deceased conservative icon, his protestations on behalf of the American family notwithstanding, and his children did not have the kind of close relationship that might breed a sentiment so strong as shame. That said, Reagan the younger is obnoxious in the way only a talk-radio host can be obnoxious.
But, what really shocked was the articulation of a new neo-con mantra: Who lost Afghanistan? This, of course, is an update of an old mantra: Who lost China? Both mantras suffer from a cultural myopia about the centrality of U.S. policy to human history. Chiang Kai-Shek and his corrupt regime "lost" China just as Hamid Karzai and his corrupt regime are in danger of "losing" Afghanistan. No amount of U.S. intervention would have kept the Chinese Communists from gaining control over their own country. The question facing President Obama is similar: Will any amount of U.S. force keep the Taliban from re-gaining control over large swaths of Afghanistan? To the extent that this is still a question it is because Cheney and his friends took their eye off the ball in Afghanistan these many years. His credibility on the subject is zilch.
There is a purpose to the neo-con "Who lost Afghanistan?" mantra and it has nothing to do with the Taliban. It has to do with the desire to make the President appear powerless or feckless or both, which has obvious partisan purposes. Of course, these neo-cons are also the ones who were quick to charge those who disagreed with them with aiding and abetting the enemies of America. Which is it? Depends on whether their guy is in the White House or not. They are shameless as well as clueless. The only good thing to be said about Cheney’s speech is that by reminding the nation of his own tenure, I suspect he gives congressional Democrats a leg up in next year’s mid-terms. Whatever anyone’s doubts about the policies of the Obama administration, nothing would be worse than a return to Bush-Cheney.