Dick Cheney is trying to break your brain.
In a new op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, cowritten with his daughter Liz, the former vice-president gives President Obama a major scolding on Iraq. Obama, the Cheneys write, made a grave mistake in not stepping up to ISIS earlier. Put in Cheneyese, “Iraq is at risk of falling to a radical Islamic terror group and Mr. Obama is talking climate change.” America’s enemies, they write, “are emboldened and on the march.” Obama “abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.”
And without a hint of self-awareness: “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” [Insert comment on the Bush administration being wrong on weapons of mass destruction, wrong on Saddam Hussein’s ties to 9/11, wrong on just how hard democracy-building in Iraq would be.]
There’s obviously a lot to say when you’re talking about an op-ed written by a guy who helped oversee an Iraq War that a majority of Americans think was a mistake now acting as the voice of wisdom and reason. And there’s a lot to be frustrated by when that op-ed doesn’t really address the larger circumstances that have led Iraq to its current crisis, outside of suggesting that al-Qaida in Iraq had been “largely defeated” by the end of the Bush administration. The piece doesn’t even mention the name of Obama’s White House predecessor.
As the Bush-era policymakers behind the Iraq War come out to air their opinions about the current crisis in the country, many critics have suggested we just ignore them. Why’s that? You may remember that when Dick Cheney left office in 2009, his approval rating was at 13 percent. At that same time, just 25 percent of Americans approved of how the Bush administration handled the war in Iraq during his presidency. Cheney may not know it, but this isn’t a particularly trusted foreign policy brain trust we’re talking about.
But when you push the policy prescriptions and the political finger-wagging out of your head, you’re still left with at least one thing: Dick Cheney really knows how to get under people’s skin with a thousand words of columnized text. And if you look around the recent major op-ed landscape, you’ll see he’s not alone.
The business of newspaper op-ed trolling is booming. Like, booming so significantly that it seemed that half of online media spent a full week earlier this month trying to figure out why, exactly, Maureen Dowd ate so much pot.
And it’s easy to figure out why Dowd gets to write that in the paper of record. Or why David Brooks wrote a similar column earlier this year about his pot experiences, and why the drug should be illegal, without bringing in much in the way of facts. Or why Susan Patton, aka “Princeton Mom,” gets to write op-eds for The Wall Street Journal about how college-aged women need to get husband-hunting, already.
The answer here is, at least in part, attention. Here, check out where the Cheney op-ed stands as of 8:30 AM on Wednesday morning:
On the far right, you can see that the Cheney op-ed is the most popular story on WSJ‘s site this morning. This shouldn’t be surprising. The piece is perfectly calibrated red meat for everyone. Conservatives can love it for its pure rage at the Obama administration. Progressives can love it, because who doesn’t enjoy a good hate-read?
As with the best of the trolly op-eds that have come before it this year, there are already dozens of stories online this morning hashing out what the Cheneys wrote. There are sure to be dozens more. Which for The Wall Street Journal is just a traffic win. But the Cheneys get a big piece of that, too. Liz Cheney is just coming off a very failed Senate bid. Dick Cheney has spent the last few years watching his party’s foreign policy ideology, and American popular opinion, drift away from neoconservatism and toward Rand Paul and anti-interventionism.
The Cheneys likely, and reasonably, can feel their already-tenuous hold on the Republican Party slipping. What better way to reintroduce yourself than with a column that emboldens your remaining allies and inflames your political adversaries to the point where they’re actually talking about you again?