Dick Cheney has not only lost his mind on Iraq – he’s lost his audience

“Rarely has a US president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many,” ran the line in a comment piece about Iraq published in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. Amazingly, the author was not talking about George W. Bush, the man who led the US into a disastrous war that cost the lives of 4,500 Americans, 100,000 Iraqis and nearly a trillion dollars in debt. The writer was taking aim at the current president, Barack Obama.

What’s more, the piece was penned by Dick Cheney, one of the architects of the Bush Doctrine that sought to spread democracy through military power, the success of which can be easily measured in the pictures of mass executions and men digging their own graves that are filtering out from the disintegrating Iraqi state.

In the article, bizarrely published as a joint piece with his daughter Liz (some pundits have speculated that his family are the only Republicans left who will stand with Cheney), the former vice president excoriates Obama for “abandoning” Iraq to Al-Qaeda-inspired ISIS, jihadist militants who now straddle both Iraq and Syria, launching sectarian attacks on those who might oppose their mission to create a cross-border Caliphate.

And where was al-Qaeda before the 2003 invasion? One place it wasn’t is Iraq, demanding an answer to just how the current president is responsible for the hard-line Islamists currently occupying the cities of Mosul and Tikrit and threatening to march on Baghdad?

And this from the man who in 2003 had said that he thought American forces “really would be treated as liberators” and who remains unrepentant about the American and Iraqi lives taken by the conflict and the deep financial hole left in the US national coffers after they were plundered for an illegal war.

Of course, Cheney isn’t the sole cheerleader for the 2003 invasion that has failed to offer penitence. Last week, conservative commentator Bill Kristol, former envoy to Iraq Paul Bremer, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and the increasingly baffledJohn McCain, not only failed to show contrition, but all, apart from McCain (he didn’t know what he wanted), advised the current White house to return to the use of force in Iraq.

In Britain, a similar lack of self-awareness has plagued Tony Blair, with London Mayor Boris Johnson going as far as to call the former PM “unhinged” over his assertion that the failure to deal with the war in Syria is responsible for the crisis in Iraq, not the 2003 war for which he was – and remains – a staunch advocate.

Yet Cheney’s remarks are perhaps the most galling, with the former VP following up his comment piece by announcing the establishment of a non-profit group nefariously named the “Alliance for a Stronger America”, with its mission to educate and advocate for the policies needed to restore American pre-eminence and power in the world.

And where did Cheney make this announcement? On YouTube, stood next to his daughter and wearing a cowboy hat. The post was followed by a joint appearance on Fox News, an interview in which even the GOP shill presenting was forced to ask if Cheney might have the wrong end of the stick as to who was responsible for the crisis unfolding across the region.

Unfortunately for Dick, the world has moved on and so has his party, with the modern GOP far more influenced by the Libertarian movement’s strong non-interventionist bent than has been the case any time in the recent past.

Whereas Cheney could once rely on the Republican hierarchy and a US national media to take note, now the former VP is forced to scramble for hits on YouTube, his inane ramblings on foreign policy, the Obama administration and the crisis in Iraq competing unsuccessfully with the latest J-Lo album teaser and a video on how dogs react to humans barking.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Atheists in Parliament and Congress highlight disparate political cultures

Few outside the US would have heard of Congressman Pete Stark, a Democrat who served in the House of Representatives for 40 years before losing to a rival in the general election of 2012. Yet when Stark, a former banker with an engineering degree from MIT, left office, Congress lost its first openly atheist member.

Yet with 535 seats in the Senate and House of Representatives, it is implausible that Stark was the only non-believer. Barney Frank, other Democratic Congressman also admitted to a lack of faith, but only after he retired early this year. For perspective, Frank had come out as gay more than a quarter of a century earlier.

In a 2011 interview with the Guardian, Herb Silverman, the head of the Secular Coalition of America, said he knew of several members of Congress (excluding Stark) that had “no belief in God”. Apart from Frank, none have so far stepped forward.

The situation in the UK is almost the reverse of the US. There is no concrete data on the religious beliefs of MPs, but while American politicians frequently go out of their way to declare their fervent belief in God, British politicians tend shy away from public declarations of faith and atheism is no barrier to election.

David Cameron is a Christian yet his deputy, Nick Clegg, is an atheist. Asked in 2007 whether he believed in god, Clegg replied: “No”. Ed Miliband also declared following his leadership victory in 2010 that he was not a believer. ”I don’t believe in God personally, but I have great respect for those people who do,” he said.

And while Tony Blair is deeply religious, his top spinner Alistair Campbell famously intervened to prevent the then-prime minister for publicly declaring his faith. “We don’t do God,” Campbell said when Blair was asked in an interview about the issue. Whitehall officials also stopped Blair from ending his TV broadcast informing the country that the 2003 Iraq War had begun with the phrase “God bless Britain.” One civil servant told him: “I just remind you prime minister, this is not America.”

The US has always been a far more religious country than its colonial progenitor, with only a gentle increase in those who profess atheism (to pollsters at least) in the past hundred years. Research by Pew in 2012 found that only 2% of Americans admitted to non-belief, while 9 out of 10 Americans say “yes” when asked if they believe in God (Gallup). In the UK, only four out of 10 are likely to admit to belief in God, while 25% of Britons are happy to profess their non-belief (2010 Eurostat Eurobarometer poll).

Even taking 2% as a base figure for atheism in the US, more Congressmen than just Stark and Frank are statically likely to share their non-belief. That none have said so is a statement on American political culture, one that has become so entwined with religion that it is often difficult to tell well the stump starts and the pulpit ends.

According to Dr Uta Balbier of King’s College London, the nuance of US national discourse remains deeply religious. “This subtext shines through Presidential inauguration speeches and is prominent at Congressional Prayer Breakfasts,” she told The Huffington Post UK. “Through patriotic rituals that blend religious and national language like in the Pledge of Allegiance with the reference to ‘One Nation Under God’ citizenship and faith become intertwined.”

For Balbier being America means having faith, which makes it difficult for anyone of non-belief, particularly in public office. “If your faith is questioned, your abilities as citizen or office holders are questioned at the same time,” she said. “That makes it hard for US politicians to come out as atheists.”

According to Paul Raushenbush, the HuffPost’s religion editor, in the US the term atheism suffers from “misunderstanding and prejudice”, making atheists an identity most people are unfamiliar with. However, there is hope. “As increasing numbers of good and moral people begin to acknowledge their lack of religious convictions, while articulating the positive influences that cause them to want to serve, the more voters will become comfortable entrusting them to serve them in public office,” he said.

This trend will no doubt be aided by the increasing number of Americans who do not identify with any religious tradition or affiliate themselves with a single denomination church. Yet it remains unlikely that in the near future Washington will be welcoming its first atheist President. As Balbier quipped: “An atheist President of the ‘One Nation Under God’? At this moment, it’s unthinkable.”

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post and was written with Ned Simons. The original article can be found here.