"Can the GOP recover from Iraq?" asked Peggy Noonan last Friday. The answer is yes, it's doing it now.
No, Iraq was not the one thing that gave us Obamacare. It caused the 2006 congressional wipeout, but in 2008, John McCain, the man more associated with the war than any one except Bush himself, stayed close to Obama throughout the summer and actually led him by two or three points in September before the financial implosion kicked in. (It was this fiscal collapse that gave us Obamacare, along with a number of various oddities: "macaca;" the 200-plus felons who voted in Minnesota; and the Club for Growth running against Arlen Specter, which pushed him into the Democrats' arms.)
Conservatives are right to criticize many things in regard to Iraq, but there is a significant quotient of crisis inflation quite in excess of the practical evidence. We didn't lose in Iraq. Saddam is dead, as are his sons. Iraq has a government and a future.
Faint praise, perhaps, but Iraq is better off now than its neighbors, and better off than it would have been had the Arab Spring struck while Saddam was in power. George W. Bush's job approval has gone up 20 points since he left office. He is in the mid- to high 40s, just like Obama. If he's toxic, Obama is, too.
The war did not begin as a war of choice, launched to bring democracy to an alien people, but as a war of survival, to make sure that the weapons Saddam was known to possess or be trying to do so did not wind up in our enemies' hands. It was a given that once the smoke cleared, Bush would try to get the weapons inspectors back into Iraq, and once Saddam had refused, it was a given that he would go in. Some conservatives say that this wasn't prudent, and Noonan points out that Reagan didn't invade Eastern Europe. But Reagan's experience dealing with a huge, land-based Soviet empire, open to restraint through deterrence, is wholly irrelevant to the threat posed by stateless fanatics with no fixed address, whose weapon of choice is the suicide bomber.
What is the prudent approach on conservative principles to an attack that kills almost 3,000 people in our two capital cities, nearly destroys the Capitol (and the congressmen in it), and leaves a smoldering wreck in Virginia and a pit filled with ashes in downtown New York? The conservative critique of Iraq never addresses the question of what Saddam might have done if left unimpeded, without which no assessment can be quite complete.
Between 2005 and 2006, Bush had two of the worst years ever endured by an American president, and he deserves the heat he took for it. But Iraq is still not Vietnam. The war was not lost, and we got some things out of it. When the Sunnis took our side and helped drive out al Qaeda, it was a distinct and remarkable win. In l952, the war in Korea made Harry S. Truman persona non grata and helped sink the Democrats, who, for many years after, rarely mentioned his name. His party lost the next two elections, which didn't stop John F. Kennedy from winning the next one, rebranding his party and stepping up the muscular posture that Truman adopted. A few years after that, the country began to think better of Korea, and Truman. The same thing may happen to Iraq, and George W. Bush.
Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."