The Lessons of Iraq

Conor Friedersdorf

Ross Douthat reacts to a much-discussed Ann Coulter column:

Coulter's broader logic seems to point to a different conclusion about the initial decision to invade Iraq. Critiquing neoconservative support for the Afghan surge, she writes: "Republicans used to think seriously about deploying the military. President Eisenhower sent aid to South Vietnam, but said he could not 'conceive of a greater tragedy' for America than getting heavily involved there." Once you start praising Eisenhower's foreign policy instincts, you're a long way from the arguments that justified Bush's attempt to plant democracy at the heart of the Middle East. If "What Would Ike Do?" is the question -- and there are definitely worse questions a conservative could ask  -- I think it's fair to suggest that one answer is "don't invade Iraq!"

It seems pretty unlikely, of course, that Coulter and other writers like her will eventually follow this kind of logic all the way to a formal repudiation of the Iraq War. That kind of turnabout is rare, and it isn't what conservatives who regard the Iraq venture as a mistake should be hoping for anyway. What conservatism really needs, and what the country needs, is for the next Republican president to have internalized the lessons of Iraq -- as Eisenhower did with Korea, and as Reagan (who was more wary than almost any other recent American president of committing ground troops overseas) did with Vietnam. Great powers and powerful political movements don't generally disavow their military conflicts, even when they look unwise in hindsight. But they do need to learn from them.

How I hope they've learned.




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