Last week the nation acknowledged an important historical milestone. On March 19, 2003, the United States, under the leadership of then-President George W. Bush, formally launched its second invasion of Iraq in 23 years. But whereas Operation Desert Storm was widely interpreted as a justified venture in defense of democratic liberty, a warranted response to Saddam Hussein’s offensive against the sovereign nation of Kuwait, Iraq 2.0 will be forever remembered as war of choice. For the price of a deficit bloating trillion dollars and counting, the USA purchased the perception of its intelligence apparatus as inept at best, diabolical at worst. W.’s “Cowboy Diplomacy” proved an arrogant, ally alienating failure and the pristinely admirable career of Secretary of State Colin Powell (ironically, a celebrated hero during Iraq 1.0) was forever tarnished. Meanwhile on this 10th anniversary, the now Saddam-free Iraqis struggle with self-government consistently punctuated by sectarian violence.
Happy anniversary indeed. Finally we have an issue upon which most liberals and Tea Party crackpots can agree: the 21st Century Iraq war was a dismal fiscal and foreign policy failure that helped public support of post-9/11 national security measures that did nothing to address root concerns (the growing influence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda), jump the shark.
As time marches on, conversations surrounding the merits and demerits of the Iraq War will continue to impact future military efforts and the legacy of the Dubya regime. At the same time, political pundits utilized the occasion of the war’s 10th anniversary to speculate on the conflict’s domino effect upon various elements of our political culture. One of the boldest and most infuriating theses on the topic was presented by conservative New York Times Op-Ed columnist, Ross Douthat.
In a piece entitled “The Obama Era, Brought to You by the Iraq War” Douthat makes a broad argument that the ascent of President Obama to the White House would not have been possible without the misguided war hawkery of the Bush team, and the voting majority’s ultimate rejection of Cowboy Diplomacy. That postulation is fair enough.
I’ll go along with Douthat on this: “But Obama didn’t just benefit from the zeal that entered the Democratic Party through the antiwar movement; he also benefited from the domestic policy vacuum left by Bush’s Iraq-ruined second term. The Bush White House’s ‘compassionate conservatism’ was the last major Republican attempt to claim the political center — to balance traditional conservative goals on taxes and entitlement reform with more bipartisan appeals on education, health care, immigration and poverty.” Ok, sure.
The problem begins when Douthat essentially attempts to credit W. and the failed Iraqi initiative for just about everything that the current President has struggled to accomplish. Referring once again to Bush’s lame duck second term, the columnist writes, “This collapse, and the Republican Party’s failure to recover from it, enabled the Democrats to not only seize the center but push it leftward, and advance far bolder proposals than either Al Gore or John Kerry had dared to offer. The Iraq war didn’t just make Obama possible — it made Obamacare possible as well.”
Say what? Is there any limit to this party’s arrogance and the spokespeople who support it? Although the right almost unilaterally loathes Obamacare and has vowed to do all it can to neuter its clauses, if not repeal it entirely, that does not stop certain talking heads from taking an immature and sour grapes schoolyard approach to the debate. Does anyone on either side of the political aisle to find the pouty argument “Our incompetence made you,” compelling?
Douthat goes on to award ownership for the left’s rapid and recent gains in the nation’s culture wars (women’s issues, LGBT marriage equality, gun rights) to the failings of the Iraq conflict. I’m serious. Yes Ross, that’s correct. It’s not your party’s washed up, corporate-serving, faux religious, regressive platform or the rapidly changing socioethnic demographics of the country that have driven folks away from the GOP. It’s the failure to locate WMD in the desert a decade ago.
Thankfully just before I reached for the blood pressure medication, Douthat’s argument cannibalizes itself. He writes, “True, there’s no necessary connection between the Bush administration’s Iraq floundering and, say, the right’s setbacks in the gay-marriage debate. But cultural change is a complicated thing, built on narratives and symbols and intuitive leaps.”
Douthat’s entire column epitomizes the failings of the intuitive leap. Linking the current Republican leadership’s inability to connect with today’s voters, to egregiously terrible foreign policy decisions that took place 10 years ago, accomplishes only two things. In the first place, it provides cover against internal reflection upon popular distaste for the GOP’s whitewashed, greedy agenda. And perhaps most aggravatingly, it deprives the twice-elected POTUS from the hard-won credit he deserves for standing against the tide of deficit scolds, religious extremists and well-fed lobbyists to achieve landmark reforms.
For delusional shame.