Thursday, August 16, 2007

"It's a quagmire, if you go that far"

I know it’s only Thursday, but the quote of the week already belongs to Dick Cheney.

This gem – dated April 15, 1994 – surfaced this week on YouTube, and deserves to be an instant classic. At the time, former Defense secretary Cheney was working at a conservative Washington think tank. Asked whether it would have been wise to march on Baghdad and topple Saddam Hussein during the Persian Gulf war of 1991, after having so easily ejected Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, Cheney replied:

“No. Because if we’d gone into Baghdad, we would’ve been all alone, there wouldn’t have been anyone with us, it would’ve been a U.S. occupation of Iraq, none of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq. Once you got to Iraq, took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, what were you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government, you can easily see pieces of Iraq fly off. Part of it Syria would like to have, to the west. Part of eastern Iraq, the Iranians would like to claim. In the north you've got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey.

“It’s a quagmire, if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.

“The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed that we were able to do our job (in Kuwait) with so few casualties that we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families, it wasn’t a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, and took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans Saddam was worth. Our judgment was, not very many. And I think we got it right.”

More than 3600 dead Americans later, I have a question: Why was he against a coup before he was for it? Future historians will surely try to determine why Cheney subsequently fell in with the neoconservatives, and wound up creating the quagmire that he had wisely warned against.