The idea that former Vice President Dick Cheney has been chiding President Obama for his foreign policy in Iraq has provoked a considerable amount of side-eye from Democrats—and some Republicans—of late.
Speaking on Wednesday at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, Cheney denounced Obama's milquetoast approach, saying his administration has "failed utterly" to maintain the post-9/11 security apparatus that Cheney and President George W. Bush put in place.
"After years of saying that America had lost its way, abandoned our values in building up that security apparatus, now he's invoking it to give assurance that we are prepared," Cheney told the audience. "I know something about that apparatus. I was one of its architects. And President Obama seems willfully blind to one of the key facts about the post-9/11 security apparatus: It is not self-sustaining. Those programs and policies must be kept strong and current."
Cheney added that there is "no more urgent business" than for lawmakers in Congress to make the defense budget their top priority. On Tuesday, Cheney addressed House Republicans to "rapturous reception" among some members and unease among others. Younger, more-libertarian-minded House Republicans are wary of Cheney's call for more defense spending. After all, the U.S. defense budget already dwarfs other countries in the world. In 2012, the U.S. spent more on defense than the next 10 countries combined.
After Cheney's meeting at the Capitol, The Washington Post's Robert Costa asked Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., whether Republicans should stop listening to Cheney. "Yeah," Amash replied. "His worldview is that we should be in countries around the world and have armed forces everywhere—and most Republicans don't agree with that."
Still, contrary to Amash's line of thinking, many established Republicans still stand by the former vice president's worldview. "Dick Cheney Is Still Right," a Wall Street Journal editorial trumpeted on Wednesday.
Cheney rebutted isolationists within his party, pointing to Syria as a cautionary tale against inaction. "A policy of nonintervention can be just as dogmatic as its opposite," he said Wednesday, "and this president has seemed at times only more sure of himself as he is disproved by events."
But forget about politicians and the pundits for a moment: What do the American people want when it comes to fighting terrorism in other countries? Simply put, we can't seem to make up our minds.
A Pew poll released in June found that 60 percent of Americans say the U.S. should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems at home. Fully 71 percent of "steadfast conservatives" agreed with that sentiment, but 72 percent of the same group said "overwhelming force" is the best way to fight terrorism.
But in another Pew poll, released in August, 54 percent of respondents said Obama's foreign policy is "not tough enough." This sort of cognitive dissonance shows that Americans want to have it all: a secure homeland and a righteous presence overseas, but not at the cost of domestic issues. That sort of cost-benefit calculation will be at the forefront of politics for the next few months.
Obama faces enormous pressure to respond to horrendous acts of violence by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, including the murder of two American journalists. But for people like Cheney, the benefits of aggressive military action have always been apparent, no matter the potential cost.