A House Divided: Republicans on Iraq Intervention

Even the most casual observer can see that we have a problem in Iraq. The dream of training a bunch of troops, installing a democracy, and wiping our hands of the whole dirty mess is no longer a viable future. It never was. Now, with ISIS threatening some of the country’s cities and the deadly specter of all-out sectarian war on the horizon, potential Republican 2016 candidates differ strongly on the right approach moving forward.

First there’s Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, the man who stands at the forefront of the Tea Party movement, and a likely 2016 Republican candidate. He fired the first shots in this particular political skirmish by penning a column that ran in the June 19 Wall Street Journal. His commentary regarding ongoing American involvement in Iraq makes a lot of sense.

“Many of those clamoring for military action now are the same people who made every false assumption imaginable about the cost, challenge and purpose of the Iraq war. They have been so wrong for so long. Why should we listen to them again?” Rand said in his column, and he makes it extremely difficult to disagree.

The Iraq war, in retrospect, was the costliest and most egregious mistake of the Bush administration. Leftists at the time, truth be told, saw the mistake for what it was a lot sooner than conservatives did. But that doesn’t mean we have to go back and make the same damn mistake again. Certainly, there’s no one waving around phantom weapons of mass destruction in 2014.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, a man who has been very vocal in recent weeks over the president’s handling of the border crisis, took to the Washington Post on July 11 to disagree. While it makes sense that he would go out of his way to bring Obama’s attention to a problem that directly affects the state of Texas, his comments on Iraq are less the musings of a governor and more the talk of someone eyeing a second run at the White House.

In his retort, he says, “Ignoring the growth of the Islamic State and events in Syria and Iraq will only ensure that the problem will fester and grow. The United States needs to take seriously the threat this presents to our nation.” Of course, Perry is talking about terrorism, the fear of which forced Americans to make some tough choices in the years following 9/11. Perry has spoken in recent days about the potential for ISIS militants to cross into the United States using the border between Texas and Mexico.

Make no mistake about it, we doom ourselves to a repeat of history if we grow complacent about the threat of Islamic terrorism. That said, I tend to side with Rand Paul – at least for the moment – that this is a situation that needs to play out with limited American involvement. We did the job we went to Iraq to do, and now it’s time to put that unfortunate war behind us. It’s tempting to look at the money we spent, the lives we lost, and the worldwide trouble we faced as reasons to keep fighting, but that plays into the sunk cost fallacy. Those costs are paid. Throwing good money after bad (and more good lives away) is a economic and moral failure. The situation in the Middle East is bound to change significantly between now and the election, though, so it will be interesting to see how promising candidates react to the climate.

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