Revenge of the Neocons

It is the retaliation the Bush-Cheney regime has craved for more than a decade.

In a blistering interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in October 2008, Donald Trump wondered aloud why then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had not impeached George W. Bush. “The [Iraq] war is a total catastrophe,” Trump said on the once-friendly network that’s been his mortal enemy since 2016. “There’s only one person you can blame and that’s our current president.”

The Manhattan real estate mogul insisted Bush should have been removed from office for lying about Saddam Hussein’s secret trove of weapons of mass destruction, the rationale for the 2003 invasion. “Bush got us into this horrible war with lies, by lying. By saying they had WMDs, by saying all sorts of things that happened not to be true.” Bush was, Trump claimed, “the worst president ever.”

Trump also unloaded on Bush’s inner circle, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Vice President Dick Cheney. “He’s a hawkish guy,” Trump said about Cheney. “He said a few months ago the war was going fantastically . . . you know, it’s just very sad. I just know they got us into a mess the likes of which this country has probably never seen.”

More than 12 years later, Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), the literal and figurative heir to the neoconservative “bloodline,” voted to impeach President Donald Trump. Calling the Capitol the “most sacred place in our Republic”—when you’ve been weaned on the mother’s milk of Beltway bravado and no-bid defense contracts, federal buildings in Washington, D.C. are the most hallowed ground—Cheney announced her intention to support Pelosi’s latest political stunt.

“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not,” Cheney, the third most powerful Republican in the House, preached in a January 12 statement.

“There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Never? Really?

It’s safe to assume that some of the family members of the 4,902 Americans killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom—including more than 50 soldiers killed in that region since Cheney took her office in 2017—would disagree. Or future American generations now burdened with trillions of dollars in debt for the cost of Cheney-backed wars, including our enduring presence in Afghanistan, which will mark its 20th anniversary this year with little to show for it.

One would be hard-pressed to name a president and vice president in modern political history with a longer list of death, destruction, debt, and global destabilization than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

But being a neocon, or the progeny of a neocon, means never having to say you’re sorry. 

Quite the opposite, in fact. The younger Cheney possesses all the hubris, myopia, and pseudo-intellectualism her father displayed during his 50-year presence in Washington. In the waning days of the Trump Administration, however, the elder Cheney finally found a conflict unsuitable for the deployment of U.S. troops: Responding to rumors the president might use the military to stay in office, Cheney rallied his former counterparts to object to the alleged scheme.

“Our elections have occurred,” the self-appointed junta emeritus commanded from his safe bunker at the Washington Post. “Appropriate challenges have been addressed by the courts. Governors have certified the results. And the electoral college has voted. The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived.”

The op-ed was the latest in a thick catalog of missives authored by Beltway aristocracy, especially crusty neocons, aimed at the man who long ago called their bluff. 

Trump earned the lifetime enmity of that crowd when, on a debate stage in 2016, he directly confronted Jeb Bush, his Republican primary opponent at the time, for his brother’s ill-conceived war. Bush flailed in his response; a week later, despite a $100 million war chest and the backing of the GOP establishment, Bush dropped out of the race.

Trump also is in the crosshairs of trigger-happy neocons for the mortal Langley/Foggy Bottom sin of not only failing to launch an unnecessary war but also for trying to end the ones we already have on the books. Rep. Cheney has spent most of her four years on Capitol Hill attempting to thwart the president’s desire to bring troops home from the Middle East and has found willing partners on the other side of the aisle to help her. 

Without irony, Cheney issued a statement last year defending her amendment to halt Trump’s planned exit from Afghanistan because terrorist groups, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda, still had a foothold in the country—an unintentional confession of her father’s failed military pursuits.

Much of her rhetoric is indistinguishable from that of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Congress’ biggest pimp for overblown Russia hysteria. When Trump announced plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany, Cheney claimed the move was “in Russia’s best interest, not America’s.” She also flipped out over the now-debunked Russian “bounty” story, demanding to know how Trump would “hold Putin accountable.”

Cheney’s fellow neocons have gleefully joined the post-January 6 political siege of Donald Trump. 

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), at risk of losing his seat after Illinois Democrats eliminate one congressional seat next year, has been on a nonstop publicity tour blasting the president for violating his oath of office. “He used his position in the Executive to attack the Legislative,” Kinzinger wrote. (Neocons, it must be noted, are major drama queens.) Kinzinger was one of 10 House Republicans to vote in favor of impeachment.

Jeb Bush took some jabs at the president, accusing Trump of “inciting insurrection” and urging him to “go home to Florida and let our elected officials do their jobs and rebuild confidence in our democracy.” Nikki Haley, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate and Trump’s former U.N. ambassador, insisted her former boss’ behavior since November “will be judged harshly by history.”

This event, just like so many events over the past five years—the Russian collusion hoax, the first impeachment, and Charlottesville, to name just a few—has highlighted the deep gulf between establishment neoconservatives and the MAGA-loyal Right that has widened once again. Neoconservatives disguise their grudge against Trump as some sort of faux moral superiority, we-are-better-than-this-it-isn’t-who-we-are preening while the overwhelming majority of the Republican base stands agape at their tediousness.

For now, the Cheney family is enjoying a brief reputational rehab in the national media and among Democrats. The same news organizations and lawmakers who once demanded war tribunals for top Bush officials suddenly view Liz Cheney as the voice of reason. CNN swooned this week that Cheney is the “conscience of Republicans;” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) praised Cheney more than a dozen times during Wednesday’s impeachment debate.

But many of her Republican colleagues are not so smitten. Several GOP congressmen, including Rep. James Jordan (R-Ohio), want Cheney stripped of her conference chairmanship.

The conflict sets up a major battle for which faction will control the Republican Party in the post-Trump era. But considering the track record of neoconservatives, the ultimate winner is pretty easy to predict.

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