So what should the GOP do? I’m not entirely sure, but I do know two things:
1) The Republican Party can’t summarily reject the hawk brand it’s built for more than a half-century;
2) Unless and until the GOP acknowledges that Iraq was a tragedy and a mistake, it will be as enfeebled on foreign policy as the Democratic Party was on this issue for a generation after the Vietnam War went south.
The second point is clearly correct. The Iraq war wrecked the GOP’s credibility on foreign policy and national security. It won’t be able to begin to repair the damage until it leaders recognize the war for the debacle it was, and it will have to make the necessary changes to avoid making similar errors in the future. This is the recommendation I’ve been making for the last six years. It is only the necessary condition for recovering the party’s credibility on these issues, and won’t be enough by itself, but until that happens the party will not regain the trust of a majority of Americans on these issues.
That brings us back to the first point Drezner makes. He’s right that Republicans cannot completely scrap their party’s reputation for hawkishness, but it’s important to distinguish between the hawk “brand” and the impulse to support military action regardless of the circumstances. There needs to be a distinction made between being on guard against security threats and the impulse to demagogue and inflate every threat on earth into an intolerable menace. Republicans would get a lot more traction with an appeal to “peace through strength” if we didn’t all know that this slogan concealed a willingness to wage preventive wars and antagonize other major powers through needless provocation. One doesn’t have to be hyper-aggressive and paranoid to be a Republican hawk broadly defined, but these days that is how most of them appear to everyone else. I don’t think anyone expects that the GOP will cease being hawkish to some degree, but it could do itself and the country a world of good if it abandoned its reflex of maximal hawkishness and aggressiveness at all times.