Ah, Iraq. Does anyone remember the time when it was supposed to be a political gift to the Republicans? One that would keep on giving and giving political success after political success, for decades to come? Sadly, I do. I remember John Podhoretz, a member of the right-wing Lucky Sperm Club, using the New York Post column nepotism gave him to tell then-President George W. Bush to "go ahead" and "wag the dog," saying it would be "luscious" and "delicious" for his party and his country.
Of course, as all of us in the reality-based community know, things didn't work out exactly as the Republicans expected. Curiously, even Podhoretz and his employer seem to know it as well; I recently did a search of the Post's Web site, and couldn't find the column. Makes you think that George Orwell's "memory hole," supposedly a hallmark exclusively of left-wing totalitarian states, has found a home in Rupert Murdoch's right-wing media empire.
It's one thing for the conservative chattering classes to try to forget about the biggest foreign policy disaster in recent American history, a disaster authored and executed by Republicans. It's quite another for 2016 Republican Presidential candidates to try doing it as well. And, as they are now discovering, they cannot. They have to deal with it. And, as it turns out, they are not doing terribly well with it. That may be putting it mildly, in fact. They are failing. Miserably. Much like they failed in making the decision to go to war in the first place. It was a war of choice, to look for non-existent weapons of mass destruction, with no plan to pay for it and a consequential diversion of resources for the hunt of the real mass destroyer, Osama bin Laden.
Why is it so hard to acknowledge what everyone knows? Why are Republican candidates twisting themselves in knots on this subject to say that the sky isn't blue?
To answer that question, you have to go all the way back to 1980, and the presidential election that began the past three-decade-plus dominance of conservative politics. More than anything else, the Republican campaign in that election was based on promoting the concept that the incumbent Democrat, Jimmy Carter, was weak, vacillating, unable to take a principled stand and stick with it regardless of the circumstances or consequences. In contrast, Ronald Reagan was a bedrock conservative, unmovable on matters of principle (except during his actual presidency, when he was forced to move his principles on issues ranging from taxes to the so-called "Evil Empire).
Despite Reagan's own deviations from his alleged beliefs, the basic dichotomy painted during the 1980 campaign stuck in the mind of the public, with a generous amount of media help. And it continued to play a role in later Republican victories, in 1998, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2010, and 2014. That is because even when Republicans deviate from their alleged principles, they never admit it. They sweep their deviations under the media rug. And, so long as they continued to do so, the deviations never really happen.
But the rise of ISIS in what is left of Iraq and, increasingly, what is left of Syria have forced all of us to focus on Iraq, whether we want to or not. And, from the answers that Republican candidates have been giving, it's clear that they do not want to focus on it at all. For one very simple reason: to do so would ultimately force them to admit that their party, and many of them personally, made a mistake. And they cannot afford to do that. To do that would fatally undermine the entire rationale for Republican electoral success since 1980.
But they have no choice. The war in Iraq was a mistake. Their mistake. And their inability to admit that may be the beginning of the end of their party.