Can Cheney’s challengers stop relying on Trump?

By Kerry Drake, WyoFile

Can any of U.S Rep. Liz Cheney’s challengers score points with Republican voters by blasting her for criticizing former President Donald Trump’s actions in Afghanistan?

Probably not, since Trump’s goal was precisely the same as President Joe Biden’s: get out of a 20-year, unwinnable conflict that Cheney’s father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, helped get the U.S. stuck in. But it’s still interesting to watch them labor to do it.

A right-wing politician could get themselves as twisted as a pretzel trying to simultaneously defend Trump, blame Biden and tie the king of the nation’s neo-cons to the rails. That’s the position state Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper) finds himself in today.

Gray blames Liz Cheney “and other radical socialists” for undermining Trump’s negotiations with the Taliban last year.

“What happened in Afghanistan is another result of Cheney voting to impeach President Trump to strengthen Biden and [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi,” Gray said in a statement.

To declare one of the most conservative members of Congress and Dick Cheney’s daughter a “radical socialist” is, of course, laughable. So is Gray’s assertion that Cheney’s impeachment vote was motivated in any way to help Biden, whose foreign policies she clearly loathes.

Denton Knapp, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, agrees with Cheney that U.S. troops should remain in the war-torn nation. He parts company with her, however, when she fingers Trump for his pledge to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan.

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“I think [the Taliban] knew very clearly from our State Department as well as with Trump as commander-in-chief that they could not do what they did this past week with Trump as president,” Knapp told WyoFile.

He’s a victim of pretzel logic, too. You simply can’t give Trump a pass for masterminding the U.S. withdrawal when you argue we should still be there.

The GOP challenger who is at least consistent in his criticism of Cheney’s Afghanistan position is state Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne). Gleefully borrowing from Trump, he calls her “a warmonger.”

“Liz Cheney says it was wrong for Trump and Obama, and now it’s wrong for Biden to pull out of Afghanistan,” Bouchard tweeted in April. “I say, it’s right no matter who is doing it. Cheney is a warmonger that is dead wrong!”

I agree with him, but only partially. Yes, leaving Afghanistan was the right decision and one that was long past due. As Biden noted in his Aug. 31 welcome home to the troops, “After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, I refused to send another generation of America’s sons and daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago.”

But I disagree with Bouchard’s assertion of Cheney as “dead wrong” for her comments about how Trump mishandled the situation. She was right: He flubbed it, big time. He doesn’t get a pass for that critical mistake, and the congresswoman was right to call him out.

Cheney, in a candid Aug. 17 interview at the Commonwealth Club of California, said when Trump ordered talks with the Taliban, he sent the United States “down the path that we’re negotiating with terrorists [and] basically committed that we would have 5,000 prisoners released in Afghanistan.”

Those former inmates that flooded back onto Afghan battlefields included, as the Daily Kos reported, some of the Taliban’s top war commanders. Meanwhile, Trump completely sidelined the Afghan government in these so-called “peace talks” with the Taliban. Without this monumentally stupid decision, terrorists would not have so easily retaken the country last month.

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The situation Biden inherited was untenable. He could either meet the May deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal that Trump agreed to, or ignore it and commit tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan to fight a civil war that every invading force for centuries has ultimately abandoned.

The new president decided that by Aug. 31, U.S. forces would completely withdraw and our nation’s longest conflict would finally end on his watch.

Cheney had already labeled Biden’s plan a “catastrophe,” a full nine days before the tragic suicide bombing of the Kabul airport that killed 13 American servicemen and more than 160 Afghans.

One of the U.S. servicemen who died trying to safely evacuate Americans and Afghan allies was 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum of Jackson. The devastating loss brought the final days of the war home to many Wyomingites.

McCollum never experienced life without his nation being at war.

“The fundamental obligation of a president, in my opinion, is to defend and protect America — not against the threats of 2001, but against the threats of 2021 and tomorrow,” Biden said last week. “I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars a year in Afghanistan.”

Liz Cheney has tirelessly defended her father’s legacy as the prime architect of the “war on terror” and emphatically stated America’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan should never end. When she was a political pundit on Fox News, she used it as a soapbox to bash Obama for even considering leaving Iraq or Afghanistan.

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She has continued to push the idea of “forever wars” in the Mideast as Wyoming’s congresswoman. America as the police of the world? It’s exactly what Cheney and her dad see as not only our responsibility, but our destiny.

What about that $2 trillion U.S. taxpayers shelled out to finance a war that claimed 2,500 American service members, almost 4,000 U.S. contractors and tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers and civilians? Apparently it’s such a small price, Cheney has no qualms about adding to the debt and death toll.

“You don’t say we’re going to defend American security for 20 years and that’s it. And you don’t end wars by leaving,” Cheney said. “What’s happened is that the terrorists have won in Afghanistan, so that’s not ending wars.”

I have no doubt that the GOP’s congressional primary will be decided solely on one issue: Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump. And while I applaud her for the courageous action that has made her the target of the extreme right, is it really the only way to judge Cheney’s performance during her three terms in office?

Her opponents have made Cheney’s supposed disloyalty to Trump the heart of every campaign issue so far, including Afghanistan, even though 93% of the votes she cast during his presidency aligned with his positions.

I know it would be fun to see her opponents constantly try to one-up each other in their attempts to carry Trump’s banner. In a state where he won 70% of the vote in 2020, who could blame them?

But it will be Cheney’s name on the primary ballot, not Trump’s, so let’s put aside his well-documented foreign and domestic policy disasters and put her record to the test instead.

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It would be refreshing to see a Cheney challenger get through an entire debate without even mentioning Donald Trump. Any takers?

 

 

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.