Jonah Goldberg

Is the Iraq war to blame for the mess we are in?

Now, I should qualify that question by explaining "mess" and "we." By "mess," I mean the dawn of Barack Obama's second term, the predictably catastrophic rollout of Obamacare, the exploding debt and deficit, the stimulus boondoggles, etc. By "we," I mean conservatives (particularly those, like me, who supported the war), but also anyone else who doesn't think Obama has done a bang-up job.

There seems to be a growing consensus that the answer to that question is "yes." In a recent column, the Washington Examiner's Philip Klein writes, "It's hard to see how Obamacare would have become law if Bush had never invaded Iraq." New York Times columnist Ross Douthat says the war is "responsible for liberalism's current political and cultural ascendance." In The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan laments that the war "muddied up the meaning of conservatism and bloodied up its reputation." She even goes so far as to assert that the war "ended the Republican political ascendance that had begun in 1980."

Quibbles aside, their most basic claim seems irrefutable. Whatever defenses there may be for the Iraq war, it was a staggering political disaster for the Republican Party. Is that fair? Maybe -- or maybe not. As a matter of analysis, fair doesn't have much to do with it.

That the war became an albatross for the GOP -- particularly after so many pro-war Dems (like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Joe Biden) ran for the hills -- is undeniable.

The backlash against the war emboldened liberals and opened their minds and hearts to a vast new sense of what was possible. During George W. Bush's second term, liberals seemed to have lost the taste for cannibalism that had made the Democratic Party such a great spectator sport. Gone were the obsessions with factionalism and the hand-wringing squabbles about appealing to the center.

Younger liberals in particular had shed their disdain for the label "Democrat." Heck yeah, we're Democrats. We're "fighting Democrats," as the left-wing bloggers liked to say. And that was before the "historic" candidacy of Barack Obama, pitted first against the pro-war dinosaurs of the Democratic Party (again: Clinton, Biden), then against Sen. John McCain, an energetic elder statesman who was actually more pro-war than Bush himself.

Obviously, none of this means that if there had been no Iraq war, Republicans would be sitting pretty. As Douthat notes, we might be in the middle of a second Hillary Clinton term. But a Hillary Clinton administration, minus the legacy of the Iraq war, might have been a far sight more conservative -- and successful -- than the spectacle of the Obama years.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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