Victor Davis Hanson
Bring up Iraq -- and expect to end up in an argument. Conservatives are no different from liberals in rehashing the unpopular war, which has become a sort of whipping boy for all our subsequent problems.

The Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan recently enumerated countless pathologies that followed Iraq. Yet to examine her list is to learn just how misinformed we have become in our anguish over the intervention.

Noonan writes of Republicans: "It [Iraq] ruined the party's hard-earned reputation for foreign-affairs probity. They started a war and didn't win it."

We can argue over whether the result of the war was worth the cost. But by January 2009, the enemy was defeated. There was a consensual government in Iraq, there were few monthly American casualties, and there was a plan to leave a small constabulary force to ensure stability and the sanctity of Iraqi borders and airspace.

Noonan adds that, "It muddied up the meaning of conservatism and bloodied up its reputation," citing as proof the preferable and prudent foreign policy of Ronald Reagan.

But Reagan had his own foreign policy problems. Do we remember Iran-Contra, when some in the Reagan administration recklessly and illegally facilitated the sale of weapons to a terrorist Iranian government -- a crime that stained conservative credence on anti-terrorism for years to come?

That libertarians, paleo-cons, neo-cons and the Republican establishment all argued over Iraq was natural -- in the manner that the often "muddied" party split over interventions in Korea, Vietnam, the Balkans and Libya.

Noonan believes that Iraq "ended the Republican political ascendance that had begun in 1980." Hardly. Bill Clinton did that in 1992, when he defeated once-popular incumbent Republican George H.W. Bush, then was re-elected for a second term. Al Gore won the popular vote over George W. Bush in 2000.

In truth, there is rarely either a Republican or Democratic long-term ascendance, mandate or much of anything -- other than the natural challenge and response of politics. Iraq became unpopular and was helping Democrats by 2006. Yet the specter of Obamacare in 2010 -- and its reality in 2014 -- may foster an even more influential swing back in public opinion.

Did Iraq alone really undermine "respect for Republican economic stewardship," as Noonan suggests? The war may have cost $1 trillion over a decade. Yet from 2001 to 2008, a Republican president (with help from a Republican-majority Congress for six years), ran up $4 trillion in debt -- at that time the largest borrowing of any two-term administration in the nation's history.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.