Attending a reception at the South Carolina Republican gubernatorial primary debate in January, a candidate vying for the seat of retiring Congressman Henry Brown of SC’s 1st Congressional District was ribbing me about something I had said on the radio and added, with a smile, “I want to get you on my side.” At that moment and with zero forethought, I knew precisely what that candidate could do to get me on his side. Consider this an open letter to every Republican running in SC’s 1st Congressional District race.
Today, virtually every Republican is against spending and massive debt, and thank God for that. Every Republican is firmly opposed to President Obama and the Democrats’ agenda and thank God for that too. In this Tea Party-influenced 2010 election a renewed interest in Constitutional principle and limited government, whether genuine or just rhetorical, have become standard, default positions for Republican candidates and this is a wonderful development-until they go and muck it all up with another standard, Republican default position that contradicts their otherwise conservative platform.
Charleston’s The Post & Courier reported that during a recent debate, the candidates for the 1st Congressional District were asked: “to employ their best ’20/20 hindsight’ to say whether the invasion of Iraq was wise. (Paul) Thurmond said the invasion was justified because Saddam Hussein was a dictator and posed problems ‘we needed to resolve.’ (Stovall) Witte said that although weapons of mass destruction did not turn up, ‘We did the right thing.’ (Carroll) Campbell stated that ‘The best defense is a strong offense.’(Larry) Kobrovsky said yes and (Mark) Lutz said no. (Katherine) Jenerette said that America did not go there for democracy, ‘We were there for oil.’ But she said the invasion was a necessity because ‘If we weren’t there, the Russians would be there. The Chinese would be there.”
The Iraq War is considered by many to be the worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam, though a kinder critic might settle for just calling it a mistake. Who says this? According to some Republicans, everyone does. During a foreign policy panel discussion in March sponsored by the libertarian CATO Institute, moderator Grover Norquist asked about the Iraq war: “Of Republicans in Congress, who would agree with the general analysis here that it was a mistake…” Replied Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA), “I think everyone would agree Iraq was a mistake.” Added panel contributor, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who voted for the authorization of military force in Iraq: “Well, now that we know that it cost a trillion dollars and all of these years and all of these lives and all of this blood, uh… All I can say is the people, everybody I know thinks it was a mistake to go in now… in retrospect, almost all of us think that was a horrible mistake.” Congressman John Duncan (R-TN), who also sat on the panel but did not vote for the Iraq war, agreed.
These Republicans are not alone. After returning from a second trip to Iraq in 2008, Senator Tom Coburn, a war supporter who Vice President Dick Cheney had campaigned for, said “I will tell you personally that I think it was probably a mistake going to Iraq.” Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC), perhaps best known for wanting to rename french fries, “freedom fries” in the House cafeteria to protest France’s opposition to US involvement in Iraq, now spends countless hours writing letters to the families of fallen soldiers in his district apologizing for supporting a war he now calls a mistake. “I wish it had never happened” regrets Jones, who also said of the last president “If we were given misinformation intentionally by people in this administration, to commit the authority to send boys, and in some instances girls, to go into Iraq, that is wrong. Congress must be told the truth.”
The truth about something as serious as war is what all Americans deserve, and yet what we see among so many conventional Republicans is a reflexive and unqualified support for any and all wars our government wages with little to no reflection. An earnest cost/benefit analysis of our adventure in Iraq should raise at least some degree of questioning or even regret, as it obviously has for the Republicans I’ve mentioned. The rationales for war given by most of the GOP candidates running for Henry Brown’s seat in SC are as varied as they are irrational, suggesting that even though the reasons for our mission in Iraq aren’t clear among its defenders, Republicans still feel the need to let voters know they support it. Sadly, such intellectual wobbliness reveals not simply a misguided concern for a proper defense, but that for much of the GOP-war has become a fetish.
And it isn’t funny anymore. I’m not asking every candidate to become Ron Paul (though it would be nice), only to finally question their government on this important issue as Republicans McClintock, Rohrabacher, Duncan, Coburn and Jones have. Whether running for SC’s 1st Congressional District or anywhere else, the ongoing inability or refusal to confront and acknowledge gross foreign policy mistakes tells me that such Republicans would be more than willing to repeat them in the future. This is completely unacceptable, it’s certainly unconscionable and definitely unconservative-but it is Republican. And it’s a problem.