Omission Accomplished: Marco Rubio's Telling Failure to Mention Iraq

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The dogma of reflexively interventionist senators cannot survive a confrontation with reality, so they simply ignore it.

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Perusing the text of Marco Rubio's foreign policy speech at the Brookings Institution, I notice a word that doesn't appear: Iraq. It's so hard to believe that I've read the speech twice and executed a word search three times. Did he think no one would notice? The Senator from Florida has given a lengthy address about the wisdom of American intervention without so much as acknowledging the most consequential foreign intervention that we've undertaken in decades. 

This is the same Marco Rubio who says George W. Bush, whose presidency was defined by Iraq, did a fantastic job. As recently as last fall he was fearful that the United States was leaving the Iraq too quickly. Back in 2010 he avowed that the Iraq War made America safer and better off.

But Iraq has now disappeared from his analysis of American foreign policy. He manages to avoid talking about Iraq even as he frets that Iran is attempting to rule over the rest of the Middle East. Does Rubio ever ponder what recent military campaign effectively increased their influence in the region?

Says Michael Brendan Dougherty, "Rubio's speech is a remarkable political document. It shows that some Senators have learned nothing from the past decade." He's mostly right, but there is one important caveat. The interventionists have apparently learned to stop acknowledging the Iraq War, for their vague generalities about America's role in the world cannot survive a confrontation with a decade of costly, catastrophic intervention. Better to pretend the debacle never happened, even while ratcheting up the rhetoric about Syria and Iran.

It's a perfect distillation of how ideological and divorced from empiricism the neoconservative project has become. A subject is raised at length -- but the most relevant real world example isn't. Rubio making foreign policy for a fantasy world, and we'd all be better off if someone bought him a Risk board so that he could work out his delusions of strategic acumen with fewer consequences.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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