This eerie video clip of a 1994 interview with Dick Cheney has been making the rounds in recent days:
In it, Cheney defends the Bush 41 administration’s decision not to proceed to Baghdad after expelling the Iraqi army from Kuwait. His description of the downsides of occupation now sounds downright prophetic.
Seeing this clip reminded me of a personal experience along similar lines. Back in 1998, when I was running Cato’s then-new Center for Trade Policy Studies, we held a conference on unilateral economic sanctions called “Collateral Damage: The Economic Cost of U.S. Foreign Policy.” And our luncheon speaker at that event was none other than Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney.
Looking back at the transcript of his talk, you can see that it’s not just Cheney’s views of the wisdom of occupying Iraq that have undergone an amazing transformation. So has his attitude about engaging versus confronting Iran:
[O]ur sanctions policy oftentimes generates unanticipated consequences. It puts us in a position where a part of our government is pursuing objectives that are at odds with other objectives that the United States has with respect to a particular region.
An example that comes immediately to mind has to do with efforts to develop the resources of the former Soviet Union in the Caspian Sea area. It is a region rich in oil and gas. Unfortunately, Iran is sitting right in the middle of the area and the United States has declared unilateral economic sanctions against that country. As a result, American firms are prohibited from dealing with Iran and find themselves cut out of the action, both in terms of opportunities that develop with respect to Iran itself, and also with respect to our ability to gain access to Caspian resources. Iran is not punished by this decision. There are numerous oil and gas development companies from other countries that are now aggressively pursuing opportunities to develop those resources. That development will proceed, but it will happen without American participation. The most striking result of the government’s use of unilateral sanctions in the region is that only American companies are prohibited from operating there.
Another good example of how our sanctions policy oftentimes gets in the way of our other interests occurred in the fall of 1997 when Saddam Hussein was resisting U.N. weapons inspections. I happened to be in the Gulf region during that period of time. Administration officials in the area were trying to get Arab members of the coalition that executed operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1991 to allow U.S. military forces to be based on their territory. They wanted that capability in the event it was necessary to take military action against Iraq in order to get them to honor the UN resolutions. Our friends in the region cited a number of reasons for not complying with our request. They were concerned with the fragile nature of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, which was stalled. But they also had fundamental concerns about our policy toward Iran. We had been trying to force the governments in the region to adhere to an anti-Iranian policy, and our views raised questions in their mind about the wisdom of U.S. leadership. They cited it as an example of something they thought was unwise, and that they should not do.
So, what effect does this have on our standing in the region? I take note of the fact that all of the Arab countries we approached, with the single exception of Kuwait, rejected our request to base forces on their soil in the event military action was required against Iraq. As if that weren’t enough, most of them boycotted the economic conference that the United States supported in connection with the peace process that was hosted in Qatar during that period of time. Then, having rejected participation in that conference, they all went to Tehran and attended the Islamic summit hosted by the Iranians. The nation that’s isolated in terms of our sanctions policy in that part of the globe is not Iran. It is the United States. And the fact that we have tried to pressure governments in the region to adopt a sanctions policy that they clearly are not interested in pursuing has raised doubts in the minds of many of our friends about the overall wisdom and judgment of U.S. policy in the area.
Note again that Cheney gave these remarks in 1998 – when Iran’s nuclear ambitions were already well known, and two years after the Khobar Towers bombing in which Iran was believed to be complicit.
9/11 may not have changed everything, but it sure changed Dick Cheney.