1994 Cheney and 2003 Cheney do not see eye-to-eye

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Oh, this is rich.

On April 15, 1994, Dick Cheney was asked about the United States’ actions during the Gulf War three years earlier — specifically, whether we should have pressed on into Baghdad and toppled Saddam Hussein then, as some people had wanted or expected.

Here’s what Cheney said (transcript after the clip):

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BEsZMvrq-I]

Q: Do you think the U.S., or U.N. forces, should have moved into Baghdad?

A: No.

Q: Why not?

A: Because if we’d gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn’t have been anybody else with us. There would have 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 and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it — eastern Iraq — the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years. 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 with the fact we were able to do our job [in the Gulf War] with as few casualties as 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, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.

* * * * *

Now, the obvious response is that this was 1994, and that when the U.S. finally did invade Iraq and make Cheney look like a prophet, nine years had passed. A lot can change in nine years.

So my question is, what changed? Not 9/11, because Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 (the administration’s frequent subtle and not-so-subtle implications to the contrary notwithstanding). Was it that in 2003, we thought Saddam had WMDs, which wasn’t the case back in 1991? Fair enough — except then, whoops, turns out he didn’t. And the jury’s still out on whether Bush & Co. actually thought he had them, or whether they only sort of thought he had them and just really, really wanted to invade Iraq.

(According to former U.S. officials featured in the documentary “No End in Sight,” immediately after 9/11, Bush charged the Defense Intelligence Agency with finding any connection they could between the terrorist attacks and Iraq. If there was a connection, it would finally give Bush an excuse to go into Iraq and finish what his dad started in 1991! Alas, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 or Al-Qaeda, so Bush had to use the WMD rationale instead.)

So what changed between 1994 and 2003 to justify the complete reversal of Cheney’s opinions? Was it just the shaky WMD thing? Or is there something else I’m missing here? Whatever the reason, Cheney was right the first time. I love that he even used the word quagmire. I only wish the interviewer had continued to harness Cheney’s prophetic powers by asking, “Well, if we had gone into Baghdad, and all those bad things had happened, how would we have gotten out of it?” Maybe his answer would come in handy now.

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