Don't Forget Foreign Policy

While there has been extensive debate over how conservatives could improve their message and image regarding social and economic issues, this debate ignores the fact that the issue that really killed us in 2006 and 2008 was foreign policy, particularly Iraq. Perhaps this is because most of us who are left in the party continue to believe that the Iraq was a just cause that ultimately resulted in an important victory in the broader War against Muslim extremists. But the perception that Iraq was invaded on false pretenses and/or caustically mismanaged turned our natural advantage on foreign policy into a disadvantage.

There are many voters out there who are fairly conservative on social and/or economic issues, and even foreign policy issues, who cast their votes for Obama and other Democrats these last couple cycles because they believed the Iraq was was unjust, and probably worried that McCain would start another war like it. To get them back I think we need to (1) explain why Iraq was a just and successful war, and (2) explain what criteria we would use in deciding whether to use force in future situations. Americans generally understand that we need a more muscular foreign policy than that offered by the Dems. But they also want to ensure that their blood and treasure is used in a legal manner for the good of the United States. We need to assure them that we will do that. 

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How would you go

How would you go about assuring voters "that their blood and treasure is used in a legal manner for the good of the United States"?  I'm not being snarky, just curious about the approach you suggest?

I've addressed this...

Why invading Iraq was right.

I think the first step is to take the issue seriously and start responding to concerns about the judgment of Republicans in deciding to go into Iraq. Much of the problem stems from the fact that W. did a simply awful job of explaining why we were going in.

Here's my understanding of the issue: The decision to go to war should be a two-step process. It should examine first whether there is a legal justification for the war. A causus belli or a provocation that justifies war. Second, is it in the national interest to go to war? Sometimes the provocation is so great that responding is a matter of national honor - like Pearl Harbor or 9-11, but sometimes we decline war even when attacked. For example, we would have been well within our rights to invade Iran when they seized our embassy in 1979, but decided not to do so.

In Iraq, W focused heavily on the second prong. Before the war he emphasized Saddam's WMD program and general badness, later he focused on bringing democracy to Iraq. Sprinkled in a few hints of Saddam's support for terrorism. But what persuaded me was that the war was really just a continuation of the 1991 war. Saddam had been allowed to retain power because he agreed to certain terms, but for 12 years had failed to do so. He had never come clean about his WMD program, but gave every indication that he was continuing it. He was shooting at our warplanes in the no-fly zones on a daily basis. He had bribed UN officials and was using the "oil for food" program to enrich himself instead of feeding hungry Iraqis. Sanctions were breaking down, and it was becoming apparent that we were going to have to either remove sanctions and release him from his committments, or take him out. I also thought that there was a strong argument based on the existing war against bin Laden & co. Although there was little evidence showing a direct connection between Saddam and the 9-11 attacks, there clearly had been quite a bit of cooperation between Saddam and al Qaeda on other matters, Saddam was one of very few governments to openly applaud the 9-11 attacks, and there was a strong chance that bin Laden would find a safe haven in Iraq if Saddam remained in power. Moreover, several of bin Laden's justifications for 9-11 were based on our ongoing conflict with Saddam - supposedly starving millions of Iraqi children by the embargo intended to ensure Saddam's compliance and the presence of American forces in Saudi Arabia. I think the threshold for war is a bit lower when it aids your cause in an existing war - sort of like our WWII invasion of North Africa when it was held by the ostensibly neutral Vichy French regime, or our invasion of Cambodia to cut Vietcong supply routes.

As for the second prong, removing Saddam was definately in our national interest. He was a known supporter of terrorism and a sworn enemy in a very critical location. His presence made it difficult to push meaningful change in Iran, Syria, or Saudi Arabia. And his continuing survival had become a symbol of American weakness.

I'd also point out that the war against Saddam and his ilk was actually rather short and easy. What made it a long and painful endeavor was that the remnants of Saddam's forces were joined by forces from Iran and al Qaeda. Crushing those was what took so long, but also made our ultimate victory there all the more important. Iraq turned out to be a major defeat for both Iran and al Qaeda. Hopefully Obama won't squander the tremendous gains we have made at such cost.

Your prongs are bent.

No on Prong A. There were no WMD and the administration knew it - or at least knew that they were stiffling all the evidence that pointed in that direction, becasue all they wanted from the intellegence services was their pretext - not real analysis.  No Prong B. "Removing general badness" is not enough for the expendature of blood and treasure: See North Korea, et al. And as for "His presence made it difficult to push meaningful change in Iran, Syria, or Saudi Arabia" - well, he was toppled 5 years and 10 months ago. Notice the lack of progress since then?

The other side of the story

I'm going to do some Monday morning quarterbacking, as at the time I did not have all the information before me.

The White House was full of neocons and their every intention was to invade Iraq from the beginning. And all they needed was an excuse, and that excuse was 9/11. That was called the Wolfowitz doctrine. There are plenty of books and documentaries on the subject. You have said this is just the continuation of the old war. But most everyone knew it would be a quagmire. Even years before Cheney said it would be a quagmire. And quagmire it was. And even Bush kept making speeches around the country saying "we are winning the war on terror" for over 3 years and we were losing the war. And it took the Iraq Study Group, Bob Gates, General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker to come up with a solution.

Bush ignored from the beginning Bob Gates, James Baker, Brent Scrowcroft, and his own father. And when asked, Bush said "I believe in a higher authority." Bush listened to a small circle of neocons and Paul Wolfowitz. The projections on costs and the amount of personnel was way off.

Bush 41 had the gulf war with 500,000 coalition troops and the war paid for. Bush 43 had 170,000 troops for two wars and the war not paid for. The cost of the war was projected to be as low as 50 billion dollars. And today we are near 1 trillion dollars. Add to that a military stretched thin, 4400 soldiers dead, perhaps 100,000 Iraqis dead, and many injured.

Rumsfeld even conjured up "The Office of Special Plans" to get the reports on Iraq on what he wanted, his way. Cheney falsely said there was a meeting in Prague with an Iraqi official and Al Qaeda. The Bush administration plastered the airwaves and brainwashed congress and the American people that this was a war on terror and tried to connect this war with Al Qaeda.

This is a sad case in how the American people were manipulated the likes of which reminds us of Hitler. Bush was so consumed with Iraq that he could not function with domestic and foreign policies. He took his eye off of North Korea, which is well documented and North Korea acquired nuclear material. 

We had a policy to keep Iraq and Iran as equals. We had Iraq boxed in. Our business was in Afghanistan and that was abandoned for Iraq. Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden has training camps in Pakistan-a nuclear country. We have left Afghanistan a mess, Pakistan is a basket case, and Iran is the new winner and leader in the Mideast.

You have talked of meaningful of change in Iran. Before Ahmadinejad got into office, Iran had reformers who helped us with Afghanistan and we threw all that away. The sad thing is very little has been solved and everything is a mess.

rofl. you think IRAN lost Iraq????

hehe. nope. they won. That was a war of prevention, on their part, after having all overtures of friendship rebuffed by the Bush regime. I mean, seriously, when you're called part of the Axis of Evil, and America (against which your military troops cannot hope to succeed) invades YOUR NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOR... you switch to asymmetric warfare.

IRAN will gain more from America's conquest of Sadaam's Iraq than you presently realize. Yes, there are forces in Iraq that are more loyal to the Sauds, but Iran is next door and a rather potent economic power in its own right.

HOW exactly did invading Iraq help us in Afghanistan? a two front war is MURDER for our troops, literally. We overextended, destroyed our morale, and caused an awful lot of military suicides.

Arafat as well was a known supporter of terrorism...

I'm sorry, but that won't work.

if someone has already decided that the Iraq war was a failure, as have most of our military forces (if you judge by campaign donations, which I consider fair). you will NOT get them back by saying "it was good, well run, and we were in it for allt he right reasons"

too much cognitive dissonance to change.

Or maybe try this.

Instead of spending the next few years trying to do something that has not worked for the last few years, namely justifying the Iraq War. Why not just say, it was an exceedingly stupid thing, sold to the American public with a pack of lies and propaganda, It was poorly conceived and executed, and it did nothing to further American interests and racked up a mountain of meaningless debt.

It seems to me that saying that would automatically buy the GOP tons of foreign policy credibility with the general public. After all it really amounts to, "General public you are completely right."

Trying to justify the mistakes of the past is a hard road forward. Besides, I don't think most voters look at the slate of candidates and think "I need to change my views to be more like one of these guys; which one?" They do ask, "Which of these folks already thinks most like me."