Vice President Cheney is on television now, lecturing the rest of us about the importance of the war on Iraq. He says it would be a "dangerous illusion" to think that "another retreat by the civilized world" would satisfy terrorists or persuade them to leave the United States alone.
Cheney knows a few things about dangerous illusions. It was Cheney, of course, who hyped the threat of WMD and an al-Qaida connection that didn't exist. It was Cheney, of course, who brushed off a question about a long, bloody war in Iraq by insisting that American troops would be "greeted as liberators." It was Cheney, of course, who insisted that we were seeing "the last throes" of the Iraq insurgency.
That was five months and 428 dead U.S. soldiers ago, but Cheney doesn't seem the slightest bit embarrassed about charging ahead where he has been wrong so many times before. The war in Iraq is "right and just and necessary," he's saying now, and he's explaining how George W. Bush told us from the beginning -- even as Cheney sought to deny it -- that this war on terror business was going to be hard work. Like the president, Cheney has figured out that he has to say it's OK to have a debate about the future of the war. But like the president, he's also making it perfectly clear that such a debate will do less than nothing to change his mind.
Cheney says that "those who advocate a sudden withdrawal" should ask themselves, "Would the United States and other free nations be better off or worse off with bin Laden, Zarqawi and al-Zawahri in control of Iraq?" Maybe that's a fair question, but if it is, so is this one: Would Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Ayman al-Zawahri be threats to Iraq if the United States hadn't invaded in the first place?
That's the sort of question Cheney slips over as he tries, once again, to tie the war in Iraq back to the attacks of 9/11. Yes, Mr. Vice President, the terrorists attacked us before the United States invaded Iraq. And yes, Mr. Vice President, it's probably true that walking out of Iraq now wouldn't stop terrorists from trying to attack us again. But the part that we don't understand is how winning in Iraq, even if such a thing were possible, would stop the terrorists from attacking us again, either.
Cheney doesn't have much of an answer for that anymore. Nor does he have much of an explanation about where we go from here. "There's no denying that the work is difficult and there is much yet to do," says the man who has denied exactly that so many times before.