Having read John Schwenkler and Daniel Larison on how the Iraq War has undermined Republican advantages on national security, I confess I had some hope that conservatives would repudiate Iraq and embrace a more thoughtful approach to foreign policy. Then I clicked over to this McClatchy poll on the presidential race and found that McCain retains a nine point lead over Obama on foreign policy and a twelve point lead on national defense, and all this despite the fact that:
- Obama has been lauded in no uncertain terms for directly challenging McCain’s foreign policy chops.
- Outside of the administration, I can think of no politician other than McCain more closely associated with the Iraq War.
- The Iraq War has been an unmitigated disaster.
Perhaps McCain is uniquely insulated on national security due to his unremitting (read: unthinking) support for “The Surge.” This may be true, but it also suggests that McCain has found a way to defuse the Iraq issue in the minds of voters. What’s worse, this approach is easily parroted by nearly every Republican politician associated with the war. Remember that in 2006 and 2007, despite occasional rumblings of dissent, most conservative politicians continued to support the Bush Administration’s strategy in Iraq. This tendency reached its nadir when McCain literally had to fabricate evidence against Mitt Romney to prove the latter wasn’t sufficiently hawkish on Iraq during the primaries.
Not every Republican politician can boast McCain’s steadfast and extremely public support of the surge, but the vast majority are on record as having backed (however tentatively) the president’s policies. In short, McCain has provided the perfect template for Republicans looking to regain their national security credibility. All they have to do is:
- Assure the public that based on pre-war intelligence, invading Iraq was the only reasonable course of action.
- Continue to insist that the occupation was botched without a) taking any responsibility for the war’s implementation or b) making any connection between the strategic challenge of occupying a country in the Middle East and our subsequent problems in Iraq.
- And finally, trumpet the success of the surge until the cows come home.
And lo and behold – Republicans’ internecine squabbles have almost entirely ignored the Iraq issue. Some of this, I’m sure, is a product of an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, but it’s also possible that seasoned politicos have taken in the country’s mood, realized the public hasn’t lost its appetite for a belligerent foreign policy, and moved on to greener pastures. Now movement conservatives can get back to the important business of exiling anyone who reads books, thinks Palin is unsuited for the vice-presidency, or isn’t sufficiently angered by the specter of progressive taxation. Thank Goodness we’re not losing sight of the important issues.