ZELENY OFFERS EVERY POSSIBLE EXPLANATION BUT THE CORRECT ONE
Republican rhetoric on overseas involvements is changing somewhat, as Jeff Zeleny notes in The New York Times today -- but Zeleny's list of reasons for the change includes every possible explanation but the most important one:
The hawkish consensus on national security that has dominated Republican foreign policy for the last decade is giving way to a more nuanced view, with some presidential candidates expressing a desire to withdraw from Afghanistan as quickly as possible and suggesting that the United States has overreached in Libya.
The shift, while incremental so far, appears to mark a separation from a post-Sept. 11 posture in which Republicans were largely united in supporting an aggressive use of American power around the world. A new debate over the costs and benefits of deploying the military reflects the length of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the difficulty of building functional governments and the financial burden at home in a time of extreme fiscal pressure.
The evolution also highlights a renewed streak of isolationism among Republicans, which has been influenced by the rise of the Tea Party movement and a growing sense that the United States can no longer afford to intervene in clashes everywhere.
The killing of Osama bin Laden has intensified questions about the need for prolonged American involvement in fighting Al Qaeda....
Not a word about the most obvious explanation -- the fact that a Democrat is in the White House, and he's (inconveniently) not wearing sandals and putting daisies in gun barrels, so on war, if he's for it, Republicans must be (in a nuanced way) against it?
I'm sorry -- I know it's The New York Times. I know the reporting in the Times is supposed to seem "balanced" and objective. But it's possible to say what I've just said in a fusty, Timesian, balanced, objective way -- I've seen it done in the Times. Zeleny just fails to do it anywhere in the article.
And apart from Libya, how dovish and isolationist are these nouveau Republicans, really? Forget Jon Huntsman, on whom Zeleny wastes two paragraphs -- Huntsman's about as much of an outlier in his party as, say, Fred Karger, and he's going to do about as well as Karger in the primaries, even as a media darling. What about, say, Mitt Romney?
Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, said in the Republican presidential debate Monday night that it was "time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can," consistent with the advice of commanders about their ability to hand off control of regions to Afghan security forces without risking a return of the Taliban.
"But I also think we've learned that our troops shouldn't go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation," he said. "Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan's independence from the Taliban."
Yes, that second part seems to be a slight post-Bush shift -- but what about the first part? Here's what Romney said:
ROMNEY: It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes to our generals that we can hand the country over to the Taliban military in a way that they're able to defend themselves. Excuse me, the Afghan military to defend themselves from the Taliban. That's an important distinction.
... Let me -- let me continue. That is I think we've learned some important lessons in our experience in Afghanistan. I want those troops to come home based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals.
So he's saying, "Listen to the generals"? Um, like George W. Bush in 2005?
"And that's the way I will continue to conduct the war. I'll listen to the generals," Bush said. "Maybe it's not the politically expedient thing to do. But you can't make decisions based on politics about how to win a war."
Or John Boehner in 2007?
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said: "As Congress prepares to take our next steps in support of our troops, we are faced with a critical choice. Will we ignore the progress we've made and play politics with the security of our nation, or will we finally listen to the generals?"
And he wants a determining factor to be "conditions on the ground"? You mean, like John McCain in 2008?
MCCAIN: Look, I have always said, and I said then, it's the conditions on the ground. If Senator Obama had had his way, we'd have been out last March, and we'd been out in defeat and chaos, and probably had to come back again because of Iranian influence.
It's conditions on the ground -- the way that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, the way that General Petraeus has said -- conditions on the ground, so that the Iraqi government can have control, can have the sufficient security, so that we don't have to come back. Senator Obama said that if his date didn't work, we may have to come back.
We're not coming home in victory. We're coming home in victory.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But it does seem...
MCCAIN: But it is a -- it is not a date. I want to make it very clear to you, it is not a date. It's conditions on the ground.
And even that Romney bit about Afghans winning the Afghan war sounds a lot like pre-9/11 Bush -- specifically, the Bush of the 2000 campaign, the one who argued that "the United States must be humble ... in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course" and who said,
... if we don't stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem coming down the road.
Of course, that was a moment when there was a Democratic president who'd chosen not to sing "Kumbaya" in the former Yugoslavia. Republicans had seemingly turned anti-war and isolationist in response to that involvement.
But if you were counting on that to be a predictor of the foreign policy of the incoming GOP regime after the 2000 elections, you'd have bet very, very wrong.
Being against the Libyan involvement is easy for Republicans -- it's all Obama's doing, the Fox News conventional wisdom is that the rebellion is lousy with jihadists and Al Qaeda sympathizers (if not members) -- while the rest is just a slight adjustment to the fact that Republican wars just become marginally less patriotic during the time they're in Democratic hands. But war is still patriotic, and these folks are going to love war again as soon as they're the ones dropping the bombs.
Oh, but Romney's remark about getting the "troops home as soon as we possibly can" sure sounds much more dovish than Bush -- or does it? Is "as soon as we possibly can" really any different from what Bush said about Iraq?
"We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed and not a day longer."