Cheney's big flip-flop on Iraq

Published September 30, 2004 8:10PM (EDT)

Throughout the presidential race the Bush campaign has ceaselessly ridiculed John Kerry for allegedly changing his position on the Iraq war and other issues of national security, including the funding of U.S. military weapons systems. No one in the administration has been more ruthless (or disingenuous) than Vice President Cheney in the attempts to portray Kerry as a "flip-flopper" who would leave the U.S. vulnerable to future attack.

But while Bush and Cheney keep pounding the podium and claiming that Kerry was both for and against the war on Iraq, Cheney himself was adamantly against going after Saddam in 1992. Yesterday the Seattle Post-Intelligencer dug up the text of a speech Cheney gave in Seattle in August 1992, while serving as secretary of defense for the first President Bush. Back then Cheney argued that taking over Iraq wouldn't be worth the cost in U.S. lives, and would lead to a quagmire. In light of the turmoil there now, the irony of his words is as rich as vast fields of Iraqi crude. Ditto regarding Cheney's timing on the threat Saddam may have posed: The Iraqi dictator, as we now know, was much closer to wielding nuclear weapons at the time of the first Gulf War -- when Cheney said Baghdad was a no-go -- than when the Bush administration launched the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

"[T]he question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth?" Cheney asked during the 1992 speech. "And the answer is not very damned many. So I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq."

What, back then, did Cheney think those problems would look like?

"Once we had rounded him up and gotten rid of his government, then the question is what do you put in its place?" Cheney asked. "You know, you then have accepted the responsibility for governing Iraq."

When Cheney and his colleagues in the second Bush White House did apparently decide to "accept the responsibility for governing Iraq" in 2003, it seems they would've been wise to consider the prescient analysis of the former defense secretary... Dick Cheney:

"Now what kind of government are you going to establish? Is it going to be a Kurdish government, or a Shi'ia government, or a Sunni government, or maybe a government based on the old Baathist Party, or some mixture thereof? You will have, I think by that time, lost the support of the Arab coalition that was so crucial to our operations over there."

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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