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How Much Have Republicans Learned from the Iraq Debacle?

I like most of Tim Carney’s column [1] 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 [2] 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 supported [3] arming the opposition [4]. 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 mostly [5] much more aggressive [6]. Santorum tried to spin his support for military action against Iran as a way to “prevent” war [7], 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 [8] that it wasn’t a mistake.

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12 Comments To "How Much Have Republicans Learned from the Iraq Debacle?"

#1 Comment By EngineerScotty On March 20, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

I seem to recall the Romney campaign trying to take the tack of a) not looking like a warmonger on the subject of Iran, but b) trying to paint Obama as an appeaser and all-around wussy.

Of course, that tactic was an epic fail. Romney might have done better had he pulled a Ron Paul and run to Obama’s left on foreign policy, but foreign policy was the one area in which the Mittster didn’t try and occupy multiple opposing positions.

Many of the folks bankrolling the GOP are still very much interested in keeping the military-industrial gravy train rolling, or on using US military might for the benefit of a certain Middle Eastern state on the Mediterranean coast. The problem the GOP is facing is that more and more voters don’t share these goals.

#2 Comment By Ken Hoop On March 20, 2013 @ 7:09 pm

I don’t mean to sound fatalistic but History demonstrates that Empire’s don’t turn voluntarily inward and alienated fifth columns don’t retreat until both suffer a series of very major setbacks. I would call the 9/11/2001….Afghan….Iraq War period a period of definitive but not major setback.

#3 Comment By Ken Hoop On March 20, 2013 @ 7:10 pm

You could and should tack in there, the Great Recession, which I do not consider over.

#4 Comment By Gordon Hanson On March 20, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

Why is it that the Republican hawks always put me in mind of Orwell?

#5 Comment By ksatifka On March 20, 2013 @ 9:39 pm

@Ken Hoop – Indeed the Greater Recession may never be over. Peak oil, resource depletion along with emerging economies demanding their share, global warming, and gross population overshoot are just some of the myriad of factors contributing to what James Howard Kunstler calls “The Long Emergency” in his book of the same name. The days of endless quarterly GDP growth are over even though they will tick up from time to time. It is a mathematical certainty that endless growth cannot be sustained.

#6 Comment By Franklin On March 20, 2013 @ 10:45 pm

GOP primary candidates clearly lacked the resolve to go to war with Syria and Iran.

#7 Comment By Noah172 On March 20, 2013 @ 11:29 pm

In a comment that I just posted on McCarthy’s post about the Republicans who voted against authorizing the Iraq War in 2002 (awaiting approval), I wondered aloud:

If a war with Iran came up for a vote today, which Republicans in Congress would be in opposition? The only definite nays that come to my mind are: Duncan (TN), the only GOP Iraq nay still in Congress; Walter Jones; Justin Amash; and newbies Massie (KY) and maybe Bentivolio (MI). Some would say of course Senator Paul, but I am not so sure on him anymore, with this game he plays of straddling his father’s supporters and currying favor with forces of darkness. Senators Lee and Cruz are too conventionally Zionist to oppose an Iran war.

So that’s 4-6 nay votes by my count, versus 7 for Iraq. After more than a decade of military quagmires in the Muslim world, am I wrong in assessing that the Republicans have regressed?

#8 Comment By Clint On March 20, 2013 @ 11:38 pm

Mitt Romney,
“I can assure you if I’m president, the Iranians will have no question but that I will be willing to take military action if necessary to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world. I don’t believe at this stage, therefore, if I’m president that we need to have a war powers approval or special authorization for military force. The president has that capacity now.”

#9 Comment By Frank OConnor On March 21, 2013 @ 8:52 am

There is a one work answer to your question: Nothing. Then again, other than Ron Paul, it was a pretty sad bunch. I believe Herman Cain’s policy on Syria was 9-9-9.

#10 Comment By frump On March 21, 2013 @ 9:53 am

“The “saber-rattling moments” and other episodes in demagoguery made up the vast majority of what Republican candidates were saying on foreign policy.”

Yes. Ron Paul was the canary in the coal-mine. GOP attacks on his non-interventionist positions said it all. And those attacks were in the main rehashed from 2008, when joke-candidate Rudolph Giuliani was permitted to set the tone.

#11 Comment By Consequences2 On March 21, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

The only thing they have learned is that manipulating the American public is pretty darned easy and well worth it to boot!

#12 Comment By Newt On March 25, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

“How Much Have Republicans Learned from the Iraq Debacle?”

Their take home: “Don’t trust black politicians. When the goiing gets tough, sometimes they forget the lies they’re supposed to tell and let the truth slip.” ref: Condi Rice and Colin Powell.”

Other than that, Republicans are still the same suit-wearing idiots that think we have bottomless resources to spend on foreign wars, interventionism, and blowback-farms.