Published on Sunday, November 27, 2005 by the Miami Herald
Cheney Led Cheerleaders of Iraq Invasion
by Carl Hiaasen
The loudest cheerleader for invading Iraq is on the stump once again, defending the bloody, bogged-down occupation and lambasting its critics.
Getting a war lecture from Dick Cheney is like getting dating advice from Michael Jackson.
The last time the United States went to battle, Cheney stayed far out of harm's way. His only wounds from Vietnam were the paper cuts he got from opening his five -- count 'em, five -- draft deferment notices.
''I had other priorities in the '60s other than military service,'' he explained to a reporter in 1989.
Thousands of other young men applied for student deferments in the Vietnam era, or received draft lottery numbers that were never called (mine was 44). However, none grew up to be vice president of the nation, peddling a contrived war that somebody else's kids would have to fight.
Nobody pushed harder than Cheney for a military strike against Saddam Hussein. Nobody was more cocksure about the presence of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear components. Nobody was more emphatic about a secret alliance between al Qaeda and Baghdad.
And nobody was more consistently wrong.
Cheney stuck to his dour WMD speech long after it was embarrassingly clear that no such weapons were in Iraq, and long after others in the administration had abandoned the argument.
The 9/11 Commission, the CIA and intelligence panels found no credible evidence of an Iraqi connection to al Qaeda, yet that never stopped Cheney from repeatedly suggesting otherwise.
One thing about the vice president: He doesn't let the facts steer him ''off message.'' Only five months ago, he surprised even fellow hawks like Donald Rumsfeld by matter-of-factly stating that the Iraqi insurgency was in ``its final throes.''
Wrong again, Dicky boy. Iraq remains a bloodbath, with insurgents killing more than 160 people in the past two weeks alone.
Polls show that an increasing majority of Americans say the war was a mistake, for reasons transcending the $5-billion-per-month tab. As of mid-week, the U.S. military death toll stood at 2,100, with no end in sight.
The Shiites and Sunnis continue slaughtering each other, and the country remains so dangerous that candidates in the Dec. 15 national elections move from town to town in armored military convoys. No one's safe from assassination, even Saddam Hussein's defense lawyers.
Back home, prosecutors have accused two Americans -- one a convicted fraud artist -- of using bribery and kickbacks to plunder U.S. funds earmarked for reconstruction services in Iraq.
At the same time, the Justice Department is finally examining the award to Halliburton -- the vice president's corporate alma mater -- of a no-bid, multibillion-dollar contract to repair Iraqi oil fields.
Day after day, the news gets worse.
After such a heavy cost -- so many heroic soldiers and innocent civilians killed or injured, so many billions spent -- the United State is more despised than ever by the radical Muslim world.
After all this, Iraq -- which had no al Qaeda presence when Saddam Hussein was in power -- is now a hotbed recruiting center for the fanatical terrorist group.
After all this, Osama bin Laden -- the most wanted man on the planet, the monster who financed and helped mastermind the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centers -- is still on the loose.
It's no wonder people feel weary and disillusioned.
For a time, Cheney's office was Smear Central for retribution against critics of the Bush war policy. Some of the fun has gone out of that sport since his right-hand man, Scooter Libby, got busted.
Last week, the vice president carefully went out of his way to exempt from scorn Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat and Vietnam combat veteran who has called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.
''A good man, a Marine, a patriot,'' Cheney said of Murtha.
Only days earlier, a White House spokesman had lashed out at Murtha, comparing him to rabble-rousing filmmaker Michael Moore. The attacks stopped when somebody figured out that the public wouldn't stand for another vicious Swift-Boating of a war veteran.
There's no easy answer for how to get unstuck from Iraq, but there's room for open and honest debate. Unfortunately, no one has less credibility on the subject than Cheney.
The last time he was right was 1991, after the first Gulf war, when he defended the first President Bush's decision not to bomb Saddam out of power and install a new Iraqi government.
Such an invasion, Cheney warned then, would have gotten the United States ``bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq.''
A veritable voice of reason, he said, ``How many casualties should the United States accept in that effort to try to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?''
Good question, Dick.
It's the same one now being asked by solid Americans in all parties and all walks of life, people who don't need pious war lectures from a paper-cut expert.
© 2005 Miami Herald