In his address to the nation Tuesday evening, discussing the end of American combat operations in Iraq, Barack Obama took great pains to be apolitical, nonjudgmental, and even gracious toward his predecessor. As presidential as that may have been, it left unsaid a critical and unavoidable truth: in terms of foreign policy, the Republican Party remains unapologetically committed to Bush/Cheneyism.
Conservatives have taken "clash of civilization" theories as advice, rather than warning. To them, we must always be on the attack against the looming onslaught of Islamism, constantly on the offensive — fighting them over there, so we don't have to fight them over here, as George W. Bush loved to say. Bombs, assassinations, secret detentions, torture, denial of habeas corpus, drone attacks, "collateral damage" to civilians — all justified as pre-emptive strikes against an imagined looming worldwide caliphate.
Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the rest of the neocons believed that America's military might meant that we could change whatever we wanted about the world, whenever we wanted to, without consequences. That insane misconception led us into Iraq, costing us, to date, more than 4000 American lives, more than twice that in wounded, an estimated $700 billion (with far more to come), and untold harm to American interests in the region and around the world.
The fact that, eventually, the military figured out a way to extract us from the mess our policymakers got into is a great relief. But the success of the "surge" — still a rather fragile one — changes nothing about the philosophy and decision-making that led us to undertake the war in the first place.
As Colin Powell warned about foreign aggression, "you break it, you buy it."
Yet Republicans continue to talk as though they have learned nothing — they can't wait to find the next thing to smash.
They mock Obama for using diplomacy and negotiation; call his timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan a "date certain for surrender"; accuse him of "bowing" in submission to foreign leaders. They talk openly of going to war with Iran, perhaps Yemen — anywhere where things aren't to our liking.
Republican leaders in Washington, who hope to soon take over power in Congress, espouse this bulldoze-the-world ideology. So do all the likely major candidates who will soon be on the trail seeking the GOP presidential nomination — led by our own Mitt Romney, now reborn as a super-hawkish Islamophobe and rabble-rouser for the proliferation of nuclear armaments.
Simply put: nearly every prominent Republican today would call for invading Iraq, if the same situation was presented again as in 2003.
If Obama feels — perhaps rightly — that it is not presidential to call out the opposition for this dangerous failure to learn from the past, the rest of us must do so.
Candidates for federal office should be asked directly: was it a mistake — not poor intelligence, but the product of erroneous foreign policy — for the United States to invade Iraq?
If they cannot answer, simply and directly, "yes," they have no business being in any position to influence American action in the world.
So, yes, we are glad that the worst of our misadventures in Iraq are behind us. But until Americans bury for good the foolish thinking that led us there, we worry that this is merely a reprieve before the next time.