I can't think of a more stark contrast between the possible directions that the mixed-up, shook-up Republican Party can take on foreign policy than the one demonstrated over the last few days in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal. We spoke in this space earlier this week about Dick & Liz Cheney's reaction to the deteriorating situation in Iraq, but let's quote from the piece at more length:
Iraq is at risk of falling to a radical Islamic terror group and Mr. Obama is talking climate change. Terrorists take control of more territory and resources than ever before in history, and he goes golfing. He seems blithely unaware, or indifferent to the fact, that a resurgent al Qaeda presents a clear and present danger to the United States of America.
When Mr. Obama and his team came into office in 2009, al Qaeda in Iraq had been largely defeated, thanks primarily to the heroic efforts of U.S. armed forces during the surge. Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace. Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
Italics mine, for WTF? And yes, Dick Cheney just criticized an American president for engaging in recreational activities while bad things happen in the Middle East, the last refuge of the political hack. And note, too, the selective end points on the presence and status of "al Qaeda in Iraq," a force that just wasn't a factor in geopolitics before something very large and selective happened on Cheney's watch in the spring of 2003.
Which is a point made in a WSJ op-ed today by longtime Cheney-family antagonist Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). Excerpt:
Today the Middle East is less stable than in 2003. The Iraq war strengthened Iran's influence in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. […]
Saying the mess in Iraq is President Obama's fault ignores what President Bush did wrong. Saying it is President Bush's fault is to ignore all the horrible foreign policy decisions in Syria, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere under President Obama, many of which may have contributed to the current crisis in Iraq. For former Bush officials to blame President Obama or for Democrats to blame President Bush only serves as a reminder that both sides continue to get foreign policy wrong. We need a new approach, one that emulates Reagan's policies, puts America first, seeks peace, faces war reluctantly, and when necessary acts fully and decisively.
The contrast is striking here not just in policy content but in tone. The Cheneys snarl about "appeasing our enemies," "abandoning our allies," and "apologizing for our great nation," as if it was the 2004 Republican National Convention all over again. Paul, with the exception of one somewhat intemperate paragraph asking "Why should we listen to them again?", approaches the question with an assumption of personal and national humility, a sense that American knowledge of (and power to shape) fluid events in the Middle East has limitations, as does American appetite for making the kind of commitments that the Cheneys of the world constantly seek:
Those who say we must re-engage in Iraq are also forgetting an important part of the Weinberger Doctrine: "U.S. troops should not be committed to battle without a 'reasonable assurance' of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress." To attempt to transform Iraq into something more amenable to our interests would likely require another decade of U.S. presence and perhaps another 4,000 American lives—a generational commitment that few Americans would be willing to make.
This is a pretty clearly defined fork in the road for GOP foreign policy. As Rand Paul put it to me last August, when the elective war under debate was Syria, "We're losing, on a good day, 70/30 among the Republicans [in the Senate]. But we win every day among the grassroots, probably 80/20, 90/10." How—if at all—those numbers converge will tell us much about the fortunes of the Republican Party, and of the country.
A partial chronology from the voluminous Cheney vs. Paul file:
* National Security Republicans Go Gunning for Senate Front-Runner Rand Paul (March 17, 2010)
* Dick Cheney vs. Rand Paul (March 24, 2010)
* Liz Cheney's Failed Campaign Highlights the Declining Influence of GOP Hawks (January 6, 2014)
And below the fold, watch some discussion of the Iraq situation on Monday night's episode of The Independents.