Responding to a Dick Cheney editorial almost feels like comedy writing.
Cheney's recent Wall Street Journal editorial
(cowritten with Liz Cheney) expresses his view that America used to fight for freedom and democracy all over the world, until Obama took office. As witness his nuclear deal with Iran, which is just "appeasement" of a dangerous tyrant.
The comedy part is that this is the same Dick Cheney who served as vice president under George W. Bush. The same Cheney who argued that if we were 99 percent convinced that Iraq didn't have any WMDs, that wasn't safe enough and we had to attack. Bush and Cheney's response to 9/11 was to lead us into a pointless war that had nothing to do with that attack, against a WMD threat that didn't exist. After such a spectacular display of incompetence, isn't it funny -- in a black-humored way -- that anyone still listens to Cheney as if his judgment were worth anything? If he were wrong about the need to attack Saddam, why should we think he's getting it right this time?
But as the WSJ chose to publish his blather, I feel the need to respond. The main part of Cheney's argument is that before Obama, the United States had a glorious history of fighting for freedom--against the Axis, against the USSR, with the Marshall Plan and the Berlin Airlift. All of which the country certainly deserves credit for.
What Cheney leaves out is that we've fought against freedom too, particularly other nations freedom to elect governments we don't approve of. We overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran for being too left-wing; we replaced the elected government of Guatemala with a right-wing dictatorship, then supported the tyrants through years of death squads and genocide. Saddam Hussein was our trusted ally for decades, before he made the mistake of waging war on someone we didn't want him to.
The United States supported the French imperial government in Vietnam and backed murderous right-wing dictatorships in Chile and Argentina. We sided with El Salvador's right-wing leader when death squads were gunning down priests and nuns, and backed South Africa's white-supremacist government against black Africans who wanted equal rights. Even World War II wasn't a shining hour--we did business with Nazi Germany right up until they declared war on us.
Cheney's refers to us as an "exceptional" nation but in foreign policy we've done the same thing as pretty much every nation, looking out for our own interest. That isn't a bad or immoral thing in itself, except that our leaders so often define "looking out for our interests" as "screwing other nations over." So no, negotiating with Iran hardly represents a massive violation of American norms.
Cheney also raises the argument that Obama is appeasing Iran the way British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain once appeased Hitler. This is a war-hawk cliche: any time someone suggests anything short of nuking whoever the hawks have branded the evil tyrant of the week, it's appeasement.
In reality, sometimes negotiating is the right thing to do. President Reagan's negotiations with the USSR helped bring the Cold War to an end--which a number of conservatives called appeasement at the time. The Bush White House said not going to war with Iraq would be appeasement; in hindsight, non-war would have been better for us and better for the Mideast. Hell, even in foresight, there were people who saw that it would turn out badly.
It would be nice if we had a way to remove all the tyrants in the world ("Superman, I need you to bring the dictator of Evilstan before a war crimes tribunal.") but in the real world that's not an option. Even Cheney doesn't advocate going to war with every repressive government -- China, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and so on. Sometimes negotiation is the best alternative.
The Iran deal may prove to be a bad call. But that's true of taking a hard line, or going all the way to military action (has Cheney forgotten how badly the last war he advocated for turned out?). Still, if Cheney thinks Obama is making a mistake, that's probably the best evidence the president is on the right track.