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Lindsey Graham and the “Wrong Side of History”

S.K.Vemmer/Department of State

George Will talks to Lindsey Graham about his silly presidential bid:

He wants 2016 to be “a referendum on my style of conservatism.” Voters might, however, wonder if it is the no-country-left-unbombed style. Suppose, he is asked, you could rewind history to 2003. Knowing what we know now — the absence of WMDs , the difficulty of occupation, the impossibility of nation-building and democracy-planting — would you again favor invading Iraq? “Yes,” he says, because “the Saddam Hussein model” of governance is “unsustainable” and “on the wrong side of history.”

It’s not news that Graham is an Iraq war dead-ender, but his statement to Will makes even less sense than usual. If the “Hussein model” was unsustainable and on the “wrong side of history,” what purpose would be served by invading and overthrowing his regime? If that kind of government is unsustainable, it would have eventually come to an end without having the U.S. spend trillions of dollars, lose thousands of lives, and wreck an entire country in the process. The usual dead-ender argument is that in the absence of the war Hussein would have stayed in power and continued to be a “threat.” That’s not very persuasive, either, but it is at least consistent with support for regime change. Graham seems more inclined to favor regime change simply because the U.S. can do it and because there are regimes out there to be toppled. If that is what the GOP presents to voters in 2016, the party will be rejected by most Americans.

There aren’t any “sides” to history, and even if there were only supremely arrogant people would imagine that they could tell which is the “right” one. It is worth noting that the ideologues that are so convinced that they are on the “right side” are typically the ones that end up defeated and discredited in large part because of their ideological excesses. That’s not because of some inexorable tide of History that sweeps them away, but because they keep making catastrophic blunders driven by the belief that they are entitled and obliged to remake the world according to their design. Graham is one of these people, and if he had his way the U.S. would pursue regime change in one country after another regardless of the chaos and disorder that this would create.

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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