On November 11, I presented Representative Liz Cheney (R., Wyoming) with a question at a University of Chicago Institute of Politics (IOP) event. In her response she did two things, neither of which included answering the question. She first lied explicitly—though a more forgiving interpretation might hold that she had simply misunderstood an entire chapter of history.
Second, Ms. Cheney dodged the nub of my question, instead filibustering for approximately four minutes about her topic of choice: former President Donald Trump’s election claims.
Readers may recall that before Ms. Cheney lost her congressional seat in a mid-August Republican primary, she aired an ad in which her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, said that “a real man wouldn’t lie to his supporters.” I asked the representative whether Mr. Cheney “eroded this trust that he holds so highly,” given his record of fibbing:
[Y]our father stated as unequivocal truth narratives that, at the time, were discredited or disputed by U.S. intelligence to justify a bloody war with Iraq, a war that killed hundreds of thousands more than the undoubtedly awful storming of the Capitol—whether it was claiming that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague; that Saddam Hussein had an established, operational relationship with al Qaeda; or that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
Ms. Cheney’s Disingenuous Opening
In a peculiar turn of events, a room replete with N95-clad likely Democrats from the Hyde Park community applauded Ms. Cheney when she opened her response to my question by saying that critics of Mr. Cheney are “wrong.” (That is the same demographic that overwhelmingly called Mr. Cheney a “poor” vice president, or the “worst ever,” in 2008.)
Ms. Cheney continued, stating, “I obviously disagree with your characterization of the policies of the Bush administration, and of the Iraq War, and I’m happy to have those discussions with you about that,” also quipping that it is “important to have some facts undergirding that discussion as well.”
Underlying facts are, of course, precisely the point of the question I asked. A policy disagreement occurs when people argue about how the government should resolve a potential problem based on an agreed-upon set of facts. Lying about the facts themselves is not a policy disagreement; it’s an attempt to obscure these “facts undergirding that discussion”—the same facts that Ms. Cheney claims are so pivotal to policy debates.
What Ms. Cheney Did Say
Before speaking at length about Trump’s claims about the 2020 elections—the falsity of which I never disputed—she tried to respond to my second example: the supposed “established, operational relationship” between Hussein and al Qaeda.
Ms. Cheney replied, “You had senior leaders in al Qaeda, including the number two in al Qaeda, who had been given safe haven in Iraq after 9/11 for years,” claiming that I told her that there was “no connection between Saddam Hussein and the leaders of al Qaeda.”
At no point did I argue that there was no connection between al Qaeda and Hussein, but rather, that the two had no established, operational relationship. Those are far from merely semantic distinctions; terrorists taking refuge in Iraq post-9/11 is her best evidence of a “connection.” But Ms. Cheney, her father, and those in their orbit have, to this day, provided no evidence there was a secretive, conspiratorial collaboration between al Qaeda and Hussein to commit acts of terrorism against the U.S.
Former CIA Director George Tenet told “60 Minutes” in 2007 that the CIA “could never verify that there was any Iraqi authority, direction and control, complicity with al Qaeda for 9/11 or any operational act against America, period.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Cheney said in 2004 that the “best source” of information on al Qaeda and Iraq’s purported connection was a Weekly Standard article positing a Hussein–Osama bin Laden “operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps and safe haven in Iraq, and Iraqi financial support for al Qaeda–perhaps even for Mohamed Atta.”
Not only did Ms. Cheney misrepresent my claim of an “established, operational relationship” as merely a “connection,” but the information she provided about the said “connection”—that the “number two in al Qaeda . . . had been given safe haven in Iraq after 9/11 for years”—is not even correct.
Scott Horton, editorial director of Antiwar.com, director of the Libertarian Institute, and host of The Scott Horton Show, said as much to the Thinker: “No one in government has ever before claimed” that the “number two” of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was “granted ‘safe haven’ by Saddam Hussein inside the nation of Iraq before or after September 11th, 2001, at all, ever, because that is not true.”
“By every single account in the world, he [al-Zawahiri] escaped from Tora Bora in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan into Pakistan with [Osama] bin Laden on December 17, 2001 and remained there until after the U.S. withdrawal from that country in 2021,” Horton said. Nobody “in government—even in the worst days of the lies of 2002—ever claimed that ‘senior leaders of al Qaeda’ were given safe haven in Iraq after September 11th.”
Horton added that “[i]f we were to be eminently charitable to this long-time war and torture apologist, we might say she was confused and confusing Ayman al-Zawahiri with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was not part of al Qaeda until a year and a half into Iraq War II, in the fall of 2004, and was certainly never ‘number two’ in it. But his name did start with a Z.”
What Ms. Cheney Did Not Say
Ms. Cheney responded to neither the first nor the last of my three specific examples of her father’s lies (Atta in Prague and Hussein’s WMD possession).
Horton told the Thinker that Ms. Cheney “could not answer” questions about her father’s claims about Atta’s meeting in Prague because “that never happened and had been debunked by the FBI and CIA a full two years before he stopped publicly making those claims.”
Additionally, Horton explained that Ms. Cheney could not address her father’s WMD claims because they were “outright lies manufactured by Iraqi exiles and the neoconservatives in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Office of Special Plans.”
Check out Horton’s full comment below:
Why I Confronted Ms. Cheney
During the time that Ms. Cheney worked in the State Department for the Bush administration, she amplified her father’s war-related claims. Fast forward some fifteen years, and she provides him with the platform to say (on her behalf, no less) that “a real man wouldn’t lie to his supporters,” tethering herself to the notion that Mr. Cheney is an authority on the truth.
In 2022, Ms. Cheney still promotes long-debunked claims and conspiracy theories that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands. The same mainstream media that vilified the Cheneys during and after the Iraq War now lauds her as a woman of principle and looks the other way regarding its old concerns. Why? Because she was one of few Republicans to support the impeachment of Donald Trump.
To the extent that Twitter represents a microcosm of our nation, the reaction on that platform to my exchange with Ms. Cheney underscored that reasonable minds can come together. Those of us who are critical of decisions by our country to engage in wars are not merely leftists or right-wing isolationists. We are citizens who believe that going to war should require provable facts.
My Q&A with Ms. Cheney received 100,000 views, which came from myriad political silos. If more individuals would walk away from strict party lines, groupthink, and confirmation bias, we would be able to overcome political polarization.
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.