“If I had to do it over again, I’d do it in a minute.” Proud, unrepentant, unreflecting, these are the words of Dick Cheney in a new documentary to be aired on American television on Friday evening.
The film is being released a few days before the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, but it is not the place to go for a candid reassessment of the war. Mr Cheney admits that “we did not find stockpiles” of weapons of mass destruction, but he adds: “We did find that he had the capability and we believed he had the intent.”
He is equally unflinching in his support for torture and other controversial aspects of the war on terror. “It isn’t so much what you achieved as is what you prevented,” he says.
Mr Cheney might be the last candidate for a mea culpa, but his comments reflect a curiously unquestioning atmosphere ahead of the Iraq war anniversary. There has been no shortage of commentary, but surprisingly little about the disastrous long-term consequences to the US and there have been relatively few public figures discussing how they got it so wrong.
For the Democrats, the argument has already been won in many ways with Barack Obama’s two election victories. On the right, the discussion has disappeared down a lot of rabbit holes, including the idea that it was all the fault of sloppy intelligence gathering about Saddam’s weapons. As Douglas Feith, one of the senior Pentagon officials who pushed the case for war most aggressively, put it this week:
“I think that one of the lessons is that we should just be, in general, more skeptical about intelligence and make sure that – you have to rely on intelligence, its as good as it can get, and you try to improve it, but whenever you read it, it should be read very skeptically.”
Yet in parallel to the Iraq war debate, there is actually a very interesting discussion taking place within the Republican party about America’s use of power in the world. One of the new stars on the right is Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator, who is considering a run for the presidency in 2016 on the back of his call for a much more restrained foreign policy. At this week’s CPAC, the convention of conservative activists, Mr Paul got a standing ovation when he held up two large binders with the transcript from his 13-hour filibuster last week against the Obama’s administration’s use of drones to kill terror suspects. “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered,” he said.
Mr Paul’s surge has caused conniptions from the Republican establishment, especially the hawkish, neo-conservative wing. John McCain recently called Mr Paul’s supporters “wacko birds”. But it will take more than insults to spike Mr Paul’s guns. A good place to start would be a more honest conversation about Iraq.