Andrew on CPAC:

The reason you haven’t heard much about Iraq or Egypt or Afghanistan is because a reprise of Bush-Cheney would go down like a Ricky Gervais joke at the Golden Globes.

For a lot of the crowd that was at CPAC, this is true, but for the right as a whole it isn’t quite so straightforward.

The pity is that a lot of the conservative movement remains wedded to the conviction that the Iraq war was ultimately good for Iraq. This is a genuinely bizarre view to hold, since Iraq has been reduced to the status of a failed state with a broken economy and a hybrid regime that has many of the worst aspects of mass democracy (majoritarianism, abuse of minorities) with many of the worst aspects of an authoritarian system (enormous state intervention in the economy, negligible private sector, arbitrary detention, torture). Millions may have been forced into exile, over a million more may be internally displaced refugees, the middle class may be decimated, and the Christians have been all but wiped or driven out, but they have elections!

For reasons of party loyalty and ideological identification, many conservatives not only believe, as David Brooks put it, “Iraq is in a much better place right now than Egypt,” but a nontrivial number of them believe that the Egyptian uprising happened because of Iraq. No one can compare Iraq and Egypt and seriously claim that the latter is worse off right now. By every measure of security, standard of living, employment, and legal protections, on average it is better to be Egyptian than Iraqi today. If there is one thing that unites most conservative hawks beyond their certainty that Obama mishandled Egypt one way or another, it is that any remotely positive political change in the Near East over the last eight years can be traced back to Iraq. There is also broad agreement that anything that has gone wrong is the fault of the Bush administration’s backsliding or whatever it is that Obama has done. It doesn’t matter if that happens to be nothing more than the continuation of what Bush was doing. That doesn’t translate into a very clear foreign policy argument.

With a few exceptions (Pawlenty, Bolton), most would-be presidential candidates at CPAC didn’t see an opening to speak about Egypt. Aside from faulting Obama for whatever he did or didn’t do, there aren’t many available arguments for Republican candidates to use. Most of the party’s foreign policy elites have either grudgingly endorsed the administration’s goals in Egypt, or they want an even more aggressive revival of the “freedom agenda.” Most remain convinced that Obama “failed” to support the Green movement in Iran, and that had he not been so averse to U.S. democracy promotion he could have done something for them.

The standard attack line against Obama used to be that he undermined allies, but most of the GOP’s foreign policy elites have been actively urging him to do just that in Egypt for weeks. Another standard attack was that he had largely given up on democracy promotion, but Obama has been moving in the direction of the democratists for the last month. The GOP’s positions on these questions have been lacking in substance or simply wrong, and now Obama has acted in such a way that they can’t credibly take advantage of it. On the one occasion when conservative hawks might credibly charge that Obama has undermined an ally they find that they cannot use that argument, because just last month many of them were complaining that Obama was too indifferent to the cause of the Egyptian opposition. The problem that the Republican candidates have is that they can only gain traction with grassroots activists if they tap into general anti-jihadism and vague hawkishness, so when they attack Obama they must do so for his “appeasement” of Islamists, but Republican foreign policy elites strongly favor democracy promotion. The candidates can only demagogue these issues so much, since their foreign policy elites are implicated in whatever happens in Egypt.