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GOP Candidates Walk a Tightrope on Iraq

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

On Dec. 31, 2011, Iraq's Nouri al-Maliki declared a national holiday to celebrate the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Funny way to say "thank you" for all the blood and treasure, no?

Not that Maliki was saying thank you. He wasn’t even saying good riddance. He was saying, in effect, it was all a dream. Or, in the Associated Press’ words: “The prime minister sought to credit Iraqis with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and made no mention of the role played by U.S. forces that invaded Iraq in March 2003.”

No mention, huh? I guess it was just a trillion-dollar mirage, a figment, a never-never fantasy best dropped from speeches, polite conversation, maybe history books. Then again, silence suits the American political classes fine. Amazingly, following the U.S. withdrawal, the questions, "What was that all about?" or, "What went wrong in Iraq?" or even, "Did something go wrong in Iraq?" (never mind, "What is going wrong in Afghanistan?") don't rise even to the level of conversation-enders. They don't rise, period, not even among GOP presidential candidates, beyond the odd sound bite.

Famously, of course, Ron Paul calls for withdrawal of U.S. troops everywhere, a rollback of the international security force the U.S. military has become, certainly since entering World War II. While Paul's constitutional position is strong, his misunderstanding of Islam undermines his rationale for me; indeed, it transforms his policy into submission. The aftermath of withdrawal under a Paul presidency could be as dangerous as it would be under more Obama.

I support withdrawal from guaranteed recidivist hellholes such as Iraq and Afghanistan as a means to shore up the wall against the spread of Shariah (Islamic law) in the West rather than, in effect, continuing to fight/accommodate Shariah culture in the Islamic world. This is a no-win struggle in which only a see-no-Shariah utopian could still engage. It is this Islam-blind engagement that is the simple but devastating flaw of the Bush-Obama counterinsurgencies (COIN). But it continues to get a national pass.

Indeed, most GOP candidates tend to promise more of the same Bush-Obama COIN. (Jon Huntsman is the other main GOP exception. He voices a come-home-America policy in Afghanistan based on non-feasibility, economics and war-weariness -- all valid points -- but without parsing COIN, which he sees as a success in Iraq.) The candidates speak in generalities, when they speak at all.

I think that's because if Republicans were to discuss the past decade's wars -- what worked, what didn't, whether the USA should fight for constitutions that enshrine Shariah (Iraq's and Afghanistan's) -- they would have to discuss the president whose tenure was dominated by these wars. And the last thing they want to discuss is George W. Bush.

This is a grave political mistake. The fact is, President Obama has continued much of the Bush war agenda in both Iraq and Afghanistan -- an agenda polls indicate most Americans don't support. For much of Obama's term, key war-making personnel were Bush holdovers, from Defense Secretary Bill Gates to Gen. David Petraeus. The war plan for "Obama's war" in Afghanistan came off the Bush drawing board.

Even Obama's withdrawal from Iraq was on Bush's schedule. Opponents, including most GOP candidates, seem to forget that Obama agreed with them. After all, he pleaded with Iraq to allow some U.S. forces to remain.

How does this play out in Election 2012? Without a GOP strategy to confront the essentially non-conservative mistakes of the Bush presidency, I predict GOP defeat. Come November, having failed to repudiate George W. Bush's bailouts and stimulus spending, Mr. GOP will be unable to make the clear case for free markets, let alone for repealing socialized medicine. Reverting to Republican "good manners," he won't argue against leaving a redistributionist and collectivist in the Oval Office, either (and forget about the phony birth certificate). He'll probably think he has an ace in the hole -- foreign policy, traditionally the Republican strong suit.

But, no. Failing to have distanced himself from key Bush policies, the GOP candidate has failed to distance himself from Obama's, too. Then Obama shows his cards, the pieces de resistance: the hit on Osama bin Laden (operationally insignificant, but no matter); the killing of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi (never mind the USA actually supported al-Qaida allies to get it done); more drone-killed hilltop jihadis than Bush ever got. In a campaign endgame, such strokes could give Obama the empty but winning boost.

Sure, Iraq's al-Maliki can clam up about everything, but we know better. Or do we?

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