Tag Archives: Liz Cheney

There Will Be Blood

What is so hard, what is so hard about saying that this is wrong?Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, on the floor of the House during the debate over censuring Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, for posting a violent video depicting him murdering Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden.


Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Someone will be killed. People will die. The eagerness of some Republicans to portray violence against members of the opposite party and the willingness of most of the rest of the party to condone those depictions, inevitably, will lead to violence. Violence begets violence. Of that, there is no question. And, when the inevitable occurs, blood will be on the hands of virtually every Republican, including those who lacked the courage to say: This is wrong!

Ocasio-Cortez’s question was directed at Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy, who once again demonstrated his willingness to tolerate violent and hateful speech and actions from members of his caucus. McCarthy has said nothing publicly about the cartoon Gosar posted on the Internet. McCarthy’s silence condones Gosar’s ugliness, encouraging the Arizonan and others to engage in more vileness while inviting actual violence. 

Make no mistake about it: Gosar’s posting endangers members of the Congress and the president of the United States. If anyone without the protection of a congressional seat posted a similar video, he or she would have had the Secret Service and the FBI at his or her doorstep in a split second. Threatening an official of the United States government is a felony. 

Gosar has not apologized for the video. He mocked what he called the “faux outrage,” which he finds “infantile.” He says,“The hyperventilating and shrill accusations that this cartoon is dangerous [is] laughable or intentionally hyperbolic.” In his defense on the House floor Wednesday, Gosar noted he took down the video — after three million views of it — and tried to portray himself as the victim. He vowed to “continue to speak out.” 

Only two Republicans — Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — voted with Democrats Wednesday to censure Gosar. No doubt many fear the anger of ultra-conservatives. Officials report that death threats against members of Congress have more than doubled in the last few years. Colorado Democrat Jason Crow says such threats “are unfortunately the reality of congressional life.” Ohio Republican Representative Anthony Gonzalez recently announced he would not seek reelection because of threats against him following his vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump. Gonzalez, who is 37, is leaving Congress after only two terms because of fears for the safety of his wife and young children.

Gonzalez is not exaggerating the danger. Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, received an obscene and violent voicemail in which the caller said, “I hope you die. I hope everybody in your fucking family dies.” Upton’s “crime”: He voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, along with 12 other House Republicans and 19 Republican Senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

It is, of course, extremely telling that what raises the ire of Republican right-wingers is not Gosar’s gross video but the votes of those 13 House Republicans. Apparently, doing the people’s business is now a crime on the right. Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene — who may be even nuttier than Gosar — said this about her colleagues: “Any Republican that votes yes to an infrastructure bill that helps Biden pass his agenda when bumbling Biden doesn’t even know what he’s doing, then that Republican is a traitor to our party, a traitor to their voters, and a traitor to our donors.” 

Nuttiness is endemic on the right these days. Gosar, for example, claims that Ashli Babbitt, the insurrectionist shot dead by Capitol Police on January 6, was “executed in cold blood” by an officer “lying in wait.” Gosar asserts, “Facts are coming to light that the FBI might have had a hand in planning and carrying out” the insurrection, though he fails to cite any of those “facts.” Gosar was one of more than 20 Republicans who voted against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the officers who defended the Capitol on January 6. Finally, Gosar has consorted with White nationalists.

And, Republicans are angry at their colleagues who voted for better roads and bridges! As Kinzinger tweeted: “So let me understand, Gosar’s creepy anime of murder and such is ok but [New York Republican Representative] John Katko is the sinner for negotiating and voting for infrastructure?”

In remarks on the floor Wednesday, McCarthy accused Democrats of making “rules for thee, but not for me.” McCarthy has his facts wrong. The last censure vote in the House was in 2010 when New York Democratic Representative Charlie Rangel was rebuked for ethics violations in a bipartisan vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a Democrat — read aloud the resolution censuring Rangel for bringing disgrace on the House. 

But, the debate over who is doing what to whom and who is or is not being consistent is beside the point. The important point is simple: Violence is unacceptable. Members of Congress cannot issue threats against their colleagues nor against the president (nor against anyone else, for that matter). Gosar is lucky he was only censured. He should be expelled and prosecuted for his felonious action.

Violence begets violence. Inevitable in this atmosphere is a shockingly violent act. When it happens, there will be blood not only on the hands of Paul Gosar and his ilk, but on all his enablers, whose ranks include Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and every member of the GOP caucus save the two who voted for Gosar’s censure. Sickeningly, even then, they likely will duck responsibility. When will Americans hold them accountable?

Posted November 19, 2021



It’s All About 2024

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Imagine this scenario: Joe Biden wins reelection in 2024 by 10-million votes and a significant margin in the Electoral College. Congress meets in the first week of January, 2025, to certify the electors. The House is controlled by Republicans because of gerrymandering and voter suppression laws passed after the previous presidential election (even though Democrats outpolled Republicans in the cumulative vote). The Senate is under Republican control due to the same voter suppression laws and the imbalance created by equal representation in the upper chamber (where small-population, ultra-red Wyoming has the same number of senators as large-population, very blue California). Both bodies throw out the electors from enough states to swing the election to Donald Trump.

Fanciful? Not really! Remember, 147 Republican members of Congress voted to decertify the electors from at least one state in the 2020 presidential election. None of them appeared troubled by the lack of evidence of fraud nor by the damage done to American democracy. And, the Republican Party four months later has made subscribing to the “Big Lie” a litmus test of fealty.

It may not even take decertification by Congress to overturn the results of a legitimate presidential election in the future. Some states are granting, or considering granting,  legislatures more power in overseeing elections, authority that would allow Republican-controlled legislatures to throw out the popular vote and appoint their own slate of presidential electors. Compliant Republicans in Congress would, no doubt, accept such bogus electors.

Or, as Lawrence Douglas posited in Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020, Republican-controlled state legislatures could refuse to accept absentee ballots and certify a presidential winner based only on same-day votes, while their Democratic governors accept the total-vote tally. The result? Some states send two slates of electors to Congress. Again, anti-democratic Republicans in Congress would not hesitate to certify the legislatively approved electors. 

All those committed to the Constitution and the rule of law should not be deceived. The Republican Party’s doubling down in its commitment to the “Big Lie” is an existential threat to democracy. Republican-controlled state legislatures are passing — or considering passing — laws that both suppress the vote and make it easier for state officials to nullify the votes of people whose votes Republicans do not want to count. This is alarming. The history of voting rights in America has — despite some periods of repression — been the continued expansion of the right to vote. Now, we are witnessing one of the two American political parties demonstrate a commitment to restrict the vote. 

Not only are Republicans attempting to insure that only the “right” people vote or only those people’s votes are counted, but the party is purging from its ranks those who will not go along with the “Big Lie.” Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming will be ousted soon from her party leadership post in the House because she voted to impeach Donald Trump for his complicity in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol and asserts the truth that Joe Biden is the rightful president of the United States. Cheney will be replaced by a compliant and, since the first Trump impeachment hearings, whole-hearted Trump supporting Elise Stefanik of New York.

The continual invocation of the “Big Lie” — as witnessed in the repetition of it by Trump and his sycophants as well as the absurd, scary, and dangerous shenanigans taking place in the secret recount of votes in Maricopa County, Arizona — is not about 2020, but 2024. The proto-fascists in the party — and there are many — are keeping alive the lie because it serves their purposes in undermining trust in elections and preparing the way for widespread acceptance of congressional and/or state legislative interference in future elections.

Republicans know their electoral future is bleak and that demographics and recent voting trends favor the Democrats. Biden won the popular vote in such formerly red states as Georgia and Arizona. Those states give every indication of turning purple in the future while Virginia is no longer purple but solidly blue. No Republican has won statewide election in Virginia since Bob McDonnell’s election as governor in 2009. Other states are likely to follow as Democrats continue to gain support in metropolitan and suburban areas.

Unable to win elections fairly, and unwilling either to challenge Trump’s outrageous lies and behavior or adopt genuinely popular policies, Republicans have decided to cheat and alter the playing field. Continued promulgation by Republicans of the “Big Lie” and the party’s willingness to engage in electoral cheating leave Democrats no choice but to pass the For the People Act of 2021 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Enactment of both laws will insure the continuation of free and fair elections in America.

But, to accomplish this, Democrats must repeal the filibuster in the Senate. Moderate Democrats in the Senate like Joe Manchin of West Virginia who refuse to support overturning the filibuster guarantee Republican success at electoral cheating. Their stubbornness gives Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a virtual veto over Democratic legislation, including laws to insure electoral security. 

Senator Manchin, Republicans tried to overturn the 2020 election. Already they are paving the way to succeed in their machinations in 2024. Senator, the fate of the filibuster may determine the fate of the next presidential election. It is, after all, all about 2024.

Posted May 11, 2021

Very Strange World

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

It is a very strange world, indeed, in which a progressive — like me — sings the praises of a conservative like Wyoming Republican Representative Liz Cheney. Very strange, but also a sign of how Donald Trump has perverted traditional political perceptions.

Cheney is about to be purged from the House Republican leadership for telling the truth and following her conscience. Those, apparently, are sins in today’s Republican Party. The truth, as Cheney correctly acknowledges, is that Donald Trump lost the presidential election last November and, then, “summoned” a mob to storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Her conscience commanded her to vote for Trump’s impeachment for his role on the insurrection, and it pushed her to continue to denounce the subservience of the vast majority of her Republican colleagues to Trump and his “Big Lie.”

Cheney has not relented in her criticism of Trump nor in her insistence that the Republican Party move on from his tarnished record. Although she survived a vote in early February to oust her as chair of the Republican conference, pressure from Trump, who called for her removal, and his lackeys has led to the nearly inevitable vote next week to replace her with someone more compliant. New York Representative Elise Stefanik is the leading candidate.

Cheney has been in the GOP’s crosshairs for weeks, but any possibility of her mustering enough support in the party’s House caucus to keep her post disappeared with publication Thursday of her op-ed in The Washington Post. In it, she castigated Trump for continuing to lie about the election results, accusing the former president of “seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has even done this.”

There is nothing conservative about such actions, Cheney asserted. “I am a conservative Republican,” she said, “and the most conservative of conservative values is reverence for the rule of law.” Trump’s attempt to undo the results of the 2020 election remind Cheney of what she witnessed in other countries “where changes in leadership come only with violence, where democracy takes hold only until the next violent upheaval.” Embracing Trump’s agenda, whatever the short-term political advantages might be, Cheney continues, “will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country.”

What is odd here is that most of Cheney’s Republican colleagues agreed with her about Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection. Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who now has joined the chorus to oust Cheney — said, a week after the insurrection, “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” But, McCarthy desperately wants to be speaker of the House, and he evidently has calculated that the path to his dream job is to have Trump’s help in securing a Republican House majority in the 2022 midterm elections. So, the pusillanimous McCarthy dutifully paid homage to Trump at Mar-a-Lago two weeks later, and, now, the Californian defends Trump by saying that in a call on the day of the riot Trump promised to “put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did, he put a video out later.” Trump’s action: A tepid video put out several hours later. 

McCarthy is not alone in his supineness. Except for the extreme crazies on the far right, every Republican must understand that Trump lost and that his complicity in the January 6 is clear. Yet, their craven pursuit of power leads them to bow to Trump and to ignore the real dangers he presents — as Cheney made clear — to American democracy. Because of the  calculation that loyalty to Trump is a political necessity, the Republican Party has abandoned its ideology and shucked its conservatism to adhere to the Trumpian cult of personality.

That the Republican Party no longer believes in conservatism is evident by its willingness to trade Cheney — who voted with Trump 93 percent of the time — for Stefanik — who backed the president only 78 percent or the time. Stefanik, who hails from an upstate New York district that was once solidly Democratic, had a reputation as something of a Republican moderate. But, she emerged as one of Trump’s most outspoken defenders during House Intelligence Committee hearings for Trump’s first impeachment in 2019. Now, she is an enthusiastic defender of the “Big Lie.”

Stefanik initially was reluctant to challenge Cheney, but she changed her mind when Trump enthusiastically supported her elevation to the leadership. Now, Stefanik is campaigning for the job, writing on Twitter, “We are unified and focused on FIRING [Speaker Nancy] PELOSI & WINNING in 2022.” Apparently, becoming a Trump acolyte leads politicians to write uncontrollably in capitals. 

Liz Cheney deserves praise from all who revere the U.S. Constitution and for her insistence on telling the truth. Those standards constitute a rather low bar, however, and the failure of the vast majority of Republicans to even meet those minimal standards jeopardizes American political stability. President Joe Biden recognizes that the nation needs a two-party system, saying: “It’s not healthy to have a one-party system. And, I think Republicans are further away from trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for than I thought they would be at this point.”

Liz Cheney is no unvarnished hero. She defended the torture program of George W. Bush’s administration (in which her father was the vice president who urged the efficacy of torture in combatting in terrorism). She refused to denounce the “birther” assertions regarding President Barack Obama, and she headed a group that attacked Obama’s Justice Department, calling it “DOJ: Department of Jihad.”

But, Cheney is on the side of the angels in this battle, proving that it is, indeed, a very strange world.

Posted May 7, 2021

QAnon and the New McCarthyism

mccarthyism (the kevin variant) n. 1. the behavior of a craven, amoral politician eager to advance his or her political career at the expense of the security and safety of the nation. 

2. The antithesis of patriotism.


“I think it would be helpful if you could hear exactly what she told all of us — denouncing Q-on, I don’t know if I say it right, I don’t even know what it is,” House Minority Leader  Kevin McCarthy (Q-Calif.) said after he defended the bigoted, conspiracy theorist freshman Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (Q-Ga.) for her heinous remarks and actions. His defense is a classic example of the new McCarthyism.

Nice try, Representative McCarthy, but pulling the old Trumpian dodge — “I know nothing about QAnon” — will not get you off the hook. Here is the problem with that formulation, Mr. Minority Leader: The rest of us know enough about QAnon and its loony conspiracies to condemn it. And, here is another problem, Mr. Craven Politician: You are on tape, on FOX News last August, condemning QAnon. “Let me be very clear: There is no place for QAnon in the Republican Party. I do not support it,” you said then. I know you do not have a reputation as the sharpest knife in the drawer, but surely, Mr. McCarthy, your memory is better than that. But, selective amnesia is a part of the new McCarthyism.

Of course, the gyrations of the Republican House leader on Greene reflect the state of today’s Republican Party. There may have been no place for QAnon in the Republican Party six months ago, but, today, McCarthy and the bulk of the Republican House caucus are more than willing to carve out a spot for her, with some members giving her a standing ovation at a contentious meeting Wednesday night. Think about that: Republicans in the House gave a standing ovation to a colleague who wants Speaker Nancy Pelosi assassinated. The reasons are simple: Greene mirrors the views of millions of voters to whom the party appeals, and she is close to former president Donald Trump. Greene may hold idiotic notions, but she is savvy enough to know when to invoke Trump’s name, which she did last weekend as the furor over her intensified. “I had a great call with my all time favorite POTUS, President Trump! I’m so grateful for his support,” the QAnon lawmaker tweeted. 

It is hard to see this McCarthyist cowardice as a winning strategy. Republican loyalty to Trump led to the party losing the White House, the House, and the Senate after controlling all three in 2017. Sure, a public vote to remove Greene from her committee assignments might result in a primary challenge against a member from someone even further out in la-la land, but what is the value in staving off a primary challenge only to lose in the general election?

Actually, many Senate Republicans understand the danger of hooking the party to QAnon. “Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and the country,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The second-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune of South Dakota, asked whether Republicans “want to be the party of limited government… or do they want to be the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon? (The Senator might want to withdraw the question as he might not want to hear the answer.) Utah Senator Mitt Romney said, “Our big tent is not large enough to both accommodate conservatives and kooks.” 

Many Senate Republicans know Greene spells disaster for the Republican Party. Already, the Democratic Party is running an advertising campaign making Greene the face of the GOP. But, Senate Republican condemnation of Greene rings hollow given the party’s past tolerance of Trump’s lies and embrace of conspiracy theories. Remember, Trump came to political prominence pushing “birtherism.” Along the way, he claimed Senator Ted Cruz’s father helped assassinate John Kennedy; Barack Obama founded the Islamic State; TV anchor Joe Scarborough, when a congressman, murdered one of his staffers, and many more “looney lies.” Trump’s penchant for conspiracy theories culminated in the big lie of a stolen election in 2020 that led to the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The dynamic in the House is different. Republicans in the lower chamber refused to take any action against Greene, settling, instead, for a tortured McCarthyist statement from their leader in which McCarthy said Greene’s “past comments now have much greater meaning. Marjorie recognized this in our conversation. I hold her to her word, as well as her actions going forward” before pivoting to attacking the Democrats for wanting to more effectively rebuke the Georgia representative. House Republicans assume a racist, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist who has not apologized for any of her assaults on decency will behave decorously in the future. Good luck with that!

Republicans also took up the future of Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the third-ranking House Republican. Cheney, a consistent conservative, ran afoul of the Trumpistas in the party for voting to impeach Trump for instigating the Capitol riot. Cheney survived by a vote of 145 to 61, but only, one suspects, because the vote was secret. On the open vote Thursday on removing Greene from House committees, only 11 Republicans voted in the affirmative. The vast majority of Republicans were unmoved by the emotional appeal of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer who displayed a picture of Greene posing with an assault rifle juxtaposed with photos of three progressive Democratic congresswomen of color above a caption, “The Squad’s Worst Nightmare.” “When you take this vote, imagine your faces on this poster,” Hoyer said to his Republican colleagues. “Imagine it’s a Democrat with an AR-15. Imagine what your response would be.”

The cowardice of the new McCarthyism is unfathomable. Just two years ago, McCarthy stripped Iowa Representative Steve King of his committee appointments because of his history of white supremacist remarks. Odious as King’s racism was, it seems tame compared to the egregious behavior of Marjorie Taylor Greene. But, according to the new McCarthyism, it is acceptable for members of the United States House of Representatives to threaten other members on the other side of the aisle with assault rifles.

Fortunately, at least for now, the Democrats have a majority in the House.

Posted February 5, 2021

Do the Right Thing

The 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach President Donald Trump Wednesday deserve credit for political courage.

The 197 who voted in the negative deserve continued scorn for their willingness to abet Trump in his heinous behavior.

It is that simple.

Trump is a recidivist who will say whatever he is told is necessary to avoid criminal and political liability, but once he believes he is in the clear — or his worst impulses get the better of him — he will revert to norm, which, in this case, means encouraging his supporters, once again, to attempt to overthrow the government of the United States. We have seen this movie before, most notably after White supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. So, yes, Trump released a clearly scripted video Wednesday evening urging his supporters to avoid violence, but he strikingly avoided accepting blame for inciting the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. The day before Wednesday’s impeachment vote, he called remarks to his supporters before the riot — urging them to march on the Capitol and show “strength” — “totally appropriate.” Who knows what he will say tomorrow?

Trump’s propensity to cause mayhem is one reason — in addition to sending a signal to other would-be dictators and supporting the rule of law — why the Senate must convict him of the House’s charge even after he leaves office next week. The constitutional penalties for conviction include removal from office and “disqualification” from ever holding federal office again. While Trump cannot be removed from office after January 20, he still could run for the presidency again. The Senate must insure that never happens. As noted constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe points out in The Washington Post, there are precedents in American history for convicting impeached officials — judges — after they left office. 

Trump is not the only Republican who needs to take responsibility for abetting insurrection. Complicit also are the nearly two-thirds of the Republican House caucus who voted on January 6 to overturn a free and fair election and the 197 Republicans who voted on January 13 not to impeach. A trial in the Senate, incidentally, will force Republican senators to go on record as supporting or opposing the Constitution and the rule of law. The public needs to know who among its leaders is patriotic and who would overthrow the government.

There are indications and rumors that some members of Congress actively aided the insurrectionists. Democratic representatives have accused unnamed Republicans of giving tours of the Capitol to insurrectionists the day before the siege. Representative Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat from New Jersey, said some of her GOP colleagues “incited this violent crowd.” Democrats are furious at gun-toting new Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado who tweeted the morning of the insurrection “Today is 1776” and, then, in the midst of the attack, revealed that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had left the floor of the House chamber. The House should expel these members, as well as Alabama’s Mo Brooks who told told the MAGA-clad thugs on the National Mall — before the riot — “today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”

The defense of the president offered by the 197 Republicans who voted against impeaching him ranged from the absurd to the pathetic to technicalities. There was the usual “whataboutism” offered by Ohio’s Jim Jordan — “they spied on his campaign” — and Florida’s Matt Gaetz — “Speaker Pelosi stood at the rostrum and tore through the president’s State of the Union speech” (oh my!). Jodey Arrington of Texas said the president showed “poor judgment” in his speech to the rally — as if Trump had told an off-color joke at a state dinner.  Most were oblivious to the cynicism of claiming impeachment would only further divide the nation, as if their repeated lies about a fraudulent election were not divisive. None praised the president, and Michael McCaul of Texas worried that he might regret his decision, saying future revelations might “put me on the wrong side of this debate.” Note to the representative: You already are on the wrong side!

Contrast the pusillanimity of the Republican majority with the brave 10 who voted to impeach. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House and no flaming liberal, said, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution…. The president of the United States summoned the mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.” Washington’s Dan Newhouse announced he was voting yes because “there is no excuse for President Trump’s actions.”  Another Washingtonian, Jaime Herrera Beutler, perhaps said it best. “I’m not afraid of losing my job, but I am afraid that my country will fail,” she told her colleagues.

Because of the actions of the president — who incited a violent insurrection against the government he leads — troops are bivouacking in the Capitol for the first time since Confederate armies threatened to cross the Potomac during the Civil War. This is all because a vain, narcissistic, ignorant man refused to recognize the results of a legitimate and free election, lying that he won but his victory was stolen. It is also because Republicans in a position to do something about Trump and his malignant actions refused to act for four years.

Republicans were furious in early 2020 when Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California, speaking at the Senate trial after Trump’s first impeachment, quoted an anonymous threat warning Republican senators that if they voted to acquit they would wind up with their “head on a pike.” It was meant metaphorically, of course, but Republicans in Congress were always afraid of Trump’s wrath and its influence on their constituents, which is why they repeatedly overlooked the president’s offenses and why it took courage for Beutler to say she was “not afraid of losing my job.” All the others, sadly, were afraid. Some Republicans, according to Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, were afraid for more than their jobs, fearing for their lives and the safety of their families if they voted to impeach the president. Representative Peter Meijer, a Michigan Republican, says some of those who voted to impeach are “altering our routines, working to get body armor… [because] our expectation is that someone may try to kill us.”

Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second ranking House Democrat, told Republicans, “It is never too late to do the right thing.” Only 10 in the House listened. Let us hope enough Republican senators heed Hoyer’s advice and do the right thing at the trial of Donald Trump.

Posted January 15, 2021



We Broke Iraq

We broke Iraq. We may not own it, but we bear great responsibility for that tragic, war-torn place.

It’s known as the Pottery Barn Rule — “You break it, you own it” — the aphorism Colin Powell uttered as the Bush administration planned its invasion of Iraq. The secretary of state meant that after the military invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, the United States would “own” all the problems of a fractured and ungovernable country.

Iraq is still fractured and ungovernable — eleven years later — and the United States still “owns” it. No one wants to get bogged down in another military adventure in Iraq, but President Obama had little choice but to order air strikes in northern Iraq, given our past involvement and the looming humanitarian crisis on Mount Sinjar (which appears to have eased) combined with the rapid advance of ISIS, a jihadist militia so extreme that even al-Qaeda is horrified.

As Obama wrestles with his options in Iraq — none good — it’s useful to consult history and remember who gave the world a battered Iraq, who “broke” that country in the first place: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Bush has maintained silence as Iraq descends into chaos resulting from his ill-advised adventurism. But the never-bashful Cheney continues to offer wrong opinions and faulty advice.

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Cheney and his daughter, Liz, wrote, “Rarely has a U.S. President been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” It takes incredible gall to write that sentence — given the history of Iraq since 2003 — and not be referring to George W. Bush.

But the Cheneys mean Obama, who they blame for the current Iraqi crisis. “When Mr. Obama and his team came into office in 2009,” they claim, “al-Qaeda in Iraq had been largely defeated, thanks primarily to the heroic efforts of U.S. armed forces during the surge. Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace. Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.”

That is a rewriting of history that would have made Soviet commissars proud.

The Bush-Cheney rationale for invading Iraq — shared by their war-mongering, neoconservative supporters — was based on a tissue of lies. Cheney assured us, “There is no doubt he [Saddam Hussein] now has weapons of mass destruction.” Cheney peddled a CIA-denied story that Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, had visited an Iraqi official in Prague, a thinly veiled attempt to establish a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda as justification for the invasion. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, but he was a secular brutal dictator, and anyone with the scantiest knowledge of radical Islam and Arab politics knows Saddam had no use for the jihadists, who hated him in turn.

Lack of a legitimate reason to invade Iraq did not deter the Bush-Cheney gang. The invasion quickly toppled Saddam’s Sunni dictatorship, which had imposed a tyranny over Iraq’s other major groups, the Shiite minority and the ethnic Kurds (who, though not Arab, are mostly Sunni Muslims). Bush and Cheney (and their neoconservative “experts”) overlooked the seething resentments that Saddam’s brutal rule had suppressed.

The Bush-Cheney occupying force imposed a government on defeated Iraq. Nouri al-Maliki emerged as the leader of supposedly “democratic” Iraq, but instead of ruling as a Jeffersonian Democrat, he inflicted a Shiite sectarian agenda that marginalized the Sunnis and the Kurds. The result is an Iraq that is, at best, effectively split into three self-governing regions which may soon morph into three distinct countries.

In his rewriting of history, Cheney says Obama “had only to negotiate an agreement” with Maliki as the Americans left. The former vice president fails to mention that it was Bush who signed the agreement mandating the departure of all American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. He also blames Obama for failing to leave behind “residual American forces,” which ignores Maliki’s refusal to grant the remaining American troops immunity from prosecution. Maliki — eager to consolidate his corrupt and sectarian rule — wanted all Americans gone; without an immunity agreement, Obama could not leave troops in the country.

The errors, deceits, and lies of the Bush-Cheney administration broke Iraq, leaving the rest of us with the responsibility of preventing genocide and utter chaos in that failed state. As Eugene Robinson writes, “The United States has a special responsibility to protect innocent civilians in Iraq — because, ultimately, it was our nation’s irresponsibility that put their lives at risk.”

Posted August 15, 2014