On Iraq, finger-pointing is in full force

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (L) and former Vice President Dick Cheney (R).

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Updated at 12:50 p.m.

While President Obama plots the U.S. response to ongoing violence in Iraq, the dialogue in Washington has fast turned into a game of finger-pointing over who's to blame.

The war of words has been brewing since Sunni Islamic militants captured Mosul last week and began eyeing the capital of Baghdad, but the bitternesscame to a head on Wednesday. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, and his daughter Liz, the former deputy assistant secretary for near eastern affairs, authored a blistering op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that defined the Obama doctrine as "empty threats, meaningless red lines, leading from behind, appeasing our enemies, abandoning our allies or apologizing for our great nation."

Worse yet, they charge the president has emboldened the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and is "willfully blind to the impact of his policies."

"Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many," the pair write. "Despite clear evidence of the dire need for American leadership around the world, the desperation of our allies and the glee of our enemies, President Obama seems determined to leave office ensuring he has taken America down a notch. Indeed, the speed of the terrorists' takeover of territory in Iraq has been matched only by the speed of American decline on his watch."

The Cheneys also announced in a video that they are creating "The Alliance for a Strong America," to advocate for their national security policies.

"We know America's security depends upon our ability to reverse President Obama's policies," Liz Cheney said.

Their assessment did not sit well with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq who now wants to see America stay out of what he believes is a civil war.

"If there is one thing that this country does not need, it's that we should be taking advice from Dick Cheney on wars. Being on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is to be on the right side of history," Reid said.

He also laid into the other Republicans who have been critical of Mr. Obama's handling of Iraq, especially Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. On Tuesday McConnell said that the current violence was the "entirely predictable" consequence of the president's failure to leave troops in Iraq after 2011 (the Iraqis rejected U.S. conditions for an agreement to do so).

"They have preferred that our soldiers stayed in Iraq in harm's way? Is he, are they, the Republicans, willing to risk more American lives?" Reid asked.

Mr. Obama will meet with Reid, McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Wednesday afternoon at the White House, and he is expected to make the case for sending a limited number of special forces troops to Iraq to develop better intelligence on the Sunni insurgency in case he moves later to order airstrikes. He is still undecided on the latter option, and has ruled out the possibility of sending in combat troops.

During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the Defense Department budget, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said that the Iraqi government had made a request for U.S. air power to help defeat ISIS. Even with the administration appearing to keep that option on the back burner, air strikes would require more intelligence carry out effectively, he said.

"It's not as easy as looking at an iPhone video of a convoy and then immediately striking it," Dempsey said. "Until we can actually clarify this intelligence picture the options will continue to be built and developed and refined and the intelligence picture made more accurate and then the president can make a decision."

Reid's comments suggest Mr. Obama's biggest objections to a vigorous use of military force might come from Democrats, whose opposition to the Iraq war fueled both their takeover of Congress in 2006 and victory in the 2008 election.

Both Democrats and many administration officials have blamed the collapse on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has inflamed tensions in the country by governing in an increasingly sectarian and authoritarian way since taking office. But Republicans say that there's no excuse for the president not moving to intervene sooner.

"The government of Iraq clearly is not the most effective government. They've had their challenges in terms of understanding how to run a free society and a government that's open," Boehner told reporters Wednesday. "Having said that, its nothing new. The president's been watching, we've been watching for over a year as the situation in Iraq continued to be undermined and yet nothing, nothing has happened to try to reverse it. I'm hopeful I'll hear something today."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for