Imagine a Middle East with a friendly Iran and no terrorism. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote in his autobiography, “A Journey,” that former Vice President Dick Cheney dreamed big when it came to the Middle East. According to Mr. Blair, Mr. Cheney “would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it - Hezbollah, Hamas, etc.” He said the vice president believed “the world had to be remade after September the 11th.”
Mr. Blair’s comments about Mr. Cheney caused the usual head-shaking among the former vice president’s usual critics, but it is hard to argue with his vision. The world did need to be remade after the Sept. 11 attacks, and it’s a project that is far from complete.
The war in Iraq successfully achieved the strategic aims of removing Saddam Hussein from power and ending the threat from his regime. Regardless of how one assesses the extent of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction program or degree of support for global terrorism, they are no longer challenges the United States faces. Saddam is gone, and Iraq is a democracy. Mission accomplished.
Little was done regarding the rest of Mr. Cheney’s agenda, however, and the threats from those quarters have only increased. Iran is the greatest challenge. Tehran supports a more extensive web of international terrorism than Saddam did, and the mullahs’ rapidly expanding nuclear program is far beyond anything the now-deceased Iraqi dictator achieved. Iran has actively supported anti-U.S. insurgents in Iraq and is paying bounties to Afghan guerrillas that kill American troops. The Islamic republic has directly or indirectly accounted for more U.S. military casualties than any other single country since the end of the Vietnam War. Remaking Iran should be a national security priority.
Removing the Iranian threat would go far to take care of the others on Mr. Cheney’s hit list. Syria has long been an Iranian client, a majority Sunni country ruled by a small Shiite cabal who rely on Iran for subsidies to remain in power. Lebanese Hezbollah is likewise bolstered by Iran as a mainstay of its terrorist network, and Palestinian Hamas has been drawn further into Tehran’s orbit in recent years. None of these entities would likely survive as important regional powers if they lost the subsidies made possible by Iran’s energy wealth.
The will to face these challenges was lacking in the George W. Bush White House. The momentum after the initial victory in Iraq was squandered, and the United States became bogged down in low-intensity conflicts that sapped American national will and gave Iran and other adversaries time to regroup. If the possibility for large-scale change ever existed, it had faded by the end of President Bush’s first term. Even worse, the Obama administration seems bent more on thinking about how to deal with the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran rather than taking any concrete steps to stop it.
Mr. Blair wrote that Mr. Cheney “was for hard, hard power. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. We’re coming after you, so change or be changed.” If more people in the Bush administration would have had Mr. Cheney’s fortitude, the world would be a much safer place today.