Former Vice President Dick Cheney called Wednesday for launching “immediate, sustained, simultaneous action” to defeat the Islamic State, arguing that President Obama bore responsibility for the danger the jihadist group now poses to America’s interests.
In a speech at a conservative think tank hours before Obama will address the nation on his strategy to combat the Islamic State, Cheney said the president must show a new commitment to doing “what it takes, for as long as it takes” to defeat them.
After nearly six years in office, Obama has demonstrated “his own distrust for American power as a force for good,” Cheney argued, and said the establishment of the new caliphate offers evidence of what happens when the United States follows through on that view.
“Inaction by America spells opportunity for our adversaries,” he said. “While the president was claiming the tide of war was receding and core Al Qaeda was decimated, the threat was actually increasing.”
Cheney said he hoped to hear a “forceful” and “bold” strategy from Obama tonight, and said such a plan would “mark an abrupt and dramatic departure from his record so far.”
“So often President Obama responds to crises by announcing all the things that he will not do,” he said. “We can hope that pattern ends tonight.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), speaking before Cheney’s address Wednesday, argued that Republicans ought not be taking advice from someone who helped lead the U.S. into a costly, unpopular war in Iraq. It was public backlash against the hawkish military policies of Cheney and former President George W. Bush that helped propel Obama into office in 2008.
“We should be learning from our past mistakes, not repeating them,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “The president knows how to destroy terrorists and their organization. [The killing of] Osama bin Laden is proof of that. So let’s give the president of the United States time to do this the right way.”
Cheney called the current situation in the Mideast the “most dangerous we have faced” in his lifetime, and outlined steps the U.S. should take, some of which the administration has signaled it is considering. The Islamic State should be targeted in Syria as well as Iraq, Cheney said, and the U.S. should offer “significantly increased numbers” of special ops forces, military trainers and intelligence assets to support others fighting the militants.
He also warned that the U.S. should halt its planned drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, saying “the terror and chaos in Iraq today will only be repeated” in Afghanistan.
Cheney has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of the president on defense issues, filling a void particularly among Republicans amid a renewed debate within the party over foreign policy.
Alluding to criticism of his own neoconservative convictions, Cheney countered that “a policy of nonintervention can be just as dogmatic,” and that Obama has “seemed at times more sure of himself as he is disproved by events.”
A day after he visited with House Republicans, he conceded that there was a “strain of isolation” now within the GOP that he has worked to confront.
“I’ve tried to make the point repeatedly that [for] anybody who went through 9/11 … that it’s difficult to buy into the proposition that somehow we’ll be safe if we just stay behind our oceans and let the rest of the world stew in their own juices,” he said. “Part of the problem obviously is to remind my friends on the Republican side of the aisle as well as some of the Democrats that the issues I talk about in here are very real.”
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