[another excellent Tom Tomorrow cartoon]
Last month, the Vice President from those missing years, Dick Cheney, interjected himself into President Obama’s deliberations over Afghanistan, accusing him of “dithering.” Emerging from his undisclosed lair, the Dark One sneered:
"The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger."
(He went on to attack President Obama for scrutiny of the Dark One’s torture practices.)
The usual practice in presidential transitions is that the outgoing administration gets out of town immediately after the inauguration and allows the new administration to enact its own policies without gratuitous hectoring from the previous regime. Cheney, who was uncommunicative to an extraordinary degree while in office (going so far as to appeal to the Supreme Court to avoid having to reveal the names of the industry task force he put together to determine energy policy), all of a sudden can’t keep his mouth shut now that someone else has to deal with the catastrophe his team left behind.
Let’s review: The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, trillion dollar deficits, and two wars going badly.
The proper response would have been to slither back under a rock somewhere. But if Cheney were to insist upon saying something the proper response would have been along the lines of: “I’m sorry. Really. I’m very, very sorry for the state of the country. If there is anything – ANYTHING – I can do to help, please let me know. Not that there is any reason you SHOULD seek my assistance. But if you do, I will just be here under this rock.”
As an example of how it should be done: Vice president Gore – part of the team that produced unprecedented economic growth including the creation of over 22 million jobs in eight years, that left behind record budget surpluses, reduced federal civilian employment by over 400,000, led a NATO force that deposed a brutal dictator in Serbia without the loss of a single American life, and … (well, you get the idea) – gracefully left DC and stayed quiet for a respectable period of time despite having garnered over 500,000 more votes than George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election. And, it is worth pointing out, neither Gore nor Clinton nor any other member of their administration made any attempt to turn the Bush administration’s massive intelligence failure resulting in the 9/11 attacks into a partisan issue. (You might recall from distant history that in May of 2001, Bush named a terrorism task force headed by none other than Dick Cheney. According to the 9-11 Commission, the Cheney Task Force, “was just getting underway when the 9/11 attack occurred.” Which is another way of saying that they never met. They were “dithering,” as some might say.)
[Rather than following the example of Cheney between Bush administrations, retiring to a CEO gig at a company at the center of the military/industrial complex – like, say, Haliburton – Gore headed to Silicon Valley and joined the Google team long before their IPO and joined the Apple board when its share price was $7.47 – it closed today a few cents under $200. That is the kind of mojo that produced record budget surpluses.]
The war in Afghanistan (at least the latest iteration of the war that has been going on for over 30 years), which began over eight years ago (98 months), is now the third longest war in US history after Vietnam (116 months) and the Revolutionary War (100 months). And in both of those other wars the insurgents won – not a good omen. World War II, by contrast, only took 45 months. But, wait. I thought we WON the war in Afghanistan back in … 2002? I know because in September of 2002, George W. Bush assured us that, “The Taliban’s ability to brutalize the Afghan people and to harbor and support terrorists has been virtually eliminated.” He took it even further in September of 2004, boasting that the “Taliban no longer is in existence”. No longer in existence. Pretty definitive. No wonder, then, that when Gen. David D. McKiernan, then the top U.S. commander in Kabul, asked for another 30,000 troops, the Bush administration denied them. They chose to … dither. For eight years. While pursuing a trillion dollar war of choice in Iraq.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a report today that said what we already knew: Osama bin Laden was "within the grasp" of US forces in Afghanistan in late 2001 but escaped because the military’s call for reinforcements was denied by the Bush administration:
"The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism, leaving the American people more vulnerable to terrorism, laying the foundation for today's protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan."
Not that Cheney needs anything of real substance to launch a partisan attack on President Obama. He even took it upon himself to attack President Obama for showing too much deference to the Emperor of Japan, calling the president’s bow to the 75-year old man, “a sign of weakness” and “fundamentally harmful” to the US. Does that mean Japan now goes on Cheney’s list of further wars after Iran? Because everyone knows that the proper response of a US president to a Japanese leader is to throw up on him.
(Joe Klein had a good comment in TIME: “Was his deep bow indicative of anything other than his physical fitness? (My midsection, sadly, prevents the appearance of obsequiousness in such circumstances.)”)
Contrast President Obama’s diplomatic gesture with the sobriety and dignity Cheney showed when seated among heads of state and other dignitaries, including French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
So now President Obama is left to deal with the tragic mess in Afghanistan – on top of the worst economy in 70 years and that other war that Cheney was so eager to start. There are no good options in Afghanistan. For better or worse (worse, I fear), President Obama has already more than doubled the number of US troops in that country. He is to be commended for taking his time to challenge the options he was being given and to determine a strategy going forward before further escalating the US commitment in that country. I don’t like what I have been reading about what he will be announcing tomorrow evening. I would prefer we get out as soon as practical (more on that in due course). I REALLY don’t like the idea of further escalation in that graveyard of empires. But I will hear out President Obama with an open mind tomorrow evening knowing that he has been struggling with the difficult hand he has been dealt and that he has given genuine thought to the challenges we face there.
Rather than just cringe before the macho swagger of Republican critics like Dick Cheney who don’t have the basic decency to support their successors who are left to struggle with the unprecedented combination of catastrophes they left behind.