Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Friedersdorf on Iraq

Conor Friedersdorf argues that the GOP isn't the only party for whom Iraq is a problem in The Atlantic.

The tragic news that forces linked to Al Qaeda have retaken Fallujah is just the latest reminder that George W. Bush's war of choice was a historic, catastrophic misjudgment. "Any Republican seeking nomination for the 2016 presidential election should at a minimum be willing to admit Iraq was a mistake," Jeremy Lott writes at Real Clear World. "It was an error that cost us upwards of $1.5 trillion, thousands of U.S. lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead, while seriously hindering our efforts to track down the real culprits of September 11, 2001."

The issue is going to be tough for Republicans to navigate, given that public opinion has turned against the war, even as powerful GOP factions still support it. Marco Rubio and Chris Christie are probably already gaming out their strategy. What's less remarked upon is the challenge Iraq will pose for Democrats. The war was foisted on America by a propagandizing Republican administration, and Democratic hawks have been better than Republican hawks at acknowledging error. But as Daniel Larison notes, "Virtually none of the politicians mentioned as 2016 candidates in the GOP were even in national office during the Bush year," whereas several prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and John Kerry, all have pro-war votes on their resumes. (And it's hard to believe that any of those three were hoodwinked by Dick Cheney.)

Writing about the GOP, Larison argues that it is not enough for the nominee to mouth reassurances about Iraq to skeptical voters. The next Republican president "must show that he understands why the Iraq war was a mistake and knows how to avoid making similar foreign policy errors. If Republican candidates accept that invading Iraq was a mistake, but still think launching an attack on Iran is acceptable or even preferable, that suggests they haven’t really learned anything. In addition to admitting that the war was a mistake, Republicans... need to be able to articulate why preventive war... is neither wise nor prudent." I'd make that a bipartisan litmus test.

There is next to no chance that I'd vote for a Republican who thought the Iraq War was a prudent endeavor, or showed an eagerness for more military interventions. But neither is it enough for a Democratic candidate to claim that the problem with the Iraq was the way that the Bush Administration executed it. Habitual hawks like Hilary Clinton ought to have a particularly high hurdle to clear. And no one should be elected president without showing, beyond any doubt, that they understand why the war was a mistake and how to avoid like mistakes in the future.

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