The political price of the Iraq War

Michael Walsh at NRO blames the Obama presidency on the Iraq War. Taking things one step further, he blames the Clinton presidency on our first war in Iraq:

Like father, like son. The first President Bush squandered sky-high poll ratings into a defeat at the hands of a man the nation barely knew, Bill Clinton, in part because of the unsatisfying end to the first Gulf War, which ended with Saddam Hussein still in power. Thanks in large part to Iraq, the second Bush gave us the two terms of Barack Obama.

Far from causing the first President Bush to lose his high poll ratings, the first Gulf War created those ratings, which persisted following the war’s “unsatisfying ending.” I am aware of no evidence that the decision not to topple Saddam Hussein hurt Bush’s standing with the public. Bush lost his popularity when the economy turned sour and he seemed out-of-touch when it came to the impact of the downturn and what to do about.

The second war obviously has harmed the Republican Party, but not to the extent Walsh claims. Even without the War in Iraq, or with a more successful war, the Democrats would likely have captured the White House in 2008. The economic collapse would almost certainly have produced that result. One party rarely holds the White House for more than two terms, and is quite unlikely to hold it for a third term in the face of a significant reversal of the nation’s economy.

But the Iraq War plausibly can be blamed, indirectly, for giving us Obamacare. Without the huge Democratic victory in 2006, the Dems almost surely would have lacked the Senate votes needed to pass that monstrosity. And dissatisfaction over the Iraq War was a big contributor to the 2006 results.

The Iraq War, as it played out, also helped significantly reduce public confidence in Republicans. This is especially true, I believe. among among younger voters. Ross Douthat makes that point, along with some other excellent ones, in a thoughtful piece about the Iraq War’s impact on our politics.

So the Republicans are paying a political price for the Iraq War, and this is fitting for a party that takes the country to war and then, for several years as casualties mount, doesn’t prosecute the war well. But Walsh overstates the price.


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