Home/Daniel Larison/How Much Have Republicans Learned from the Iraq Debacle?

How Much Have Republicans Learned from the Iraq Debacle?

I like most of Tim Carney’s column on Republicans and the Iraq war, but this strikes me as wrong:

The 2012 GOP primary had its saber-rattling moments, but most candidates said they didn’t want war with Syria or Iran.

That’s not what I recall hearing from the Republican primary debates when these subjects came up. Syria was not discussed as often during the primary season, and the Republican candidates weren’t likely to support more aggressive measures than the most hawkish interventionists in Congress. The uprising was still in its earlier stages in 2011 and early 2012, and the Libyan war received much more attention. When questions about Syria did come up, the common response of most of the candidates was always to take a more hawkish position than the administration’s. It’s true that there was not much support for direct military intervention in Syria, but most of the primary candidates supportedarming the opposition. Even if most of them were not yet willing to endorse war with Syria, they wanted the U.S. to entangle itself in the conflict and to put the U.S. on the path to war.

On Iran, the field was mostlymuch more aggressive. Santorum tried to spin his support for military action against Iran as a way to “prevent” war, which conveniently ignored that an attack on Iran would start a war. Candidates that endorse the concept of preventive war aren’t very credible when they protest that they don’t want war. If they genuinely favored war as a last resort, they would repudiate preventive war and refuse to contemplate such an attack.

The point here is that these weren’t just a few “saber-rattling moments” in a primary process otherwise filled with sensible foreign policy arguments. The “saber-rattling moments” and other episodes in demagoguery made up the vast majority of what Republican candidates were saying on foreign policy. That’s the deeper problem, and it suggests that the Iraq debacle didn’t cause any of these candidates to rethink the knee-jerk hawkishness that led most Republicans to support the war and leads most Republicans today to say that it wasn’t a mistake.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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