Why No “Realist Caucus” in the GOP Has Emerged
By Daniel Larison
February 19, 2013, 12:57 PM
There was something else from Jim Antle’s good article on Republican foreign policy divisions that I wanted to discuss. Antle writes
None of this is to say it’s not troubling that we haven’t seen a realist caucus emerge during the Hagel confirmation fight, one that pushes back against the more hysterical accusations or at least acknowledges the millions of Americans who don’t want another Iraq.
More troubling than the lack of a realist caucus is the reality that ten years after the invasion of Iraq so little has changed in the way that national Republicans think and argue about foreign policy. Hard-liners are still employing the same despicable smear tactics that were used against conservative opponents of the war in 2002 and 2003, and they still face no penalty inside their party or the conservative movement for doing so. One would have thought that multiple defeats at the polls, the loss of credibility on foreign policy, and the humiliating failure of the most important policy initiatives of the last administration would shock Republicans into some measure of sanity and sober reflection. Nothing of the sort has happened, and even most of the ostensible insurgent Republicans feel obliged to endorse the party’s prevailing obsessions. The Hagel nomination was a small but important opportunity for Republicans to demonstrate that they were at least capable of improving on these issues, and at least at the level of party and movement leaders they have blown it completely.
The Hagel fight represents the Republican Party’s larger foreign policy weaknesses in miniature, beginning with the fact that there is any controversy over Hagel’s nomination in the first place. One might think that leaders of a party so closely identified with the Iraq debacle wouldn’t be falling all over themselves to castigate one of their few nationally-known colleagues when he was more prescient about the war’s pitfalls and was less willing to persist in a bad cause. A party led by people who think that the “surge” makes up for the greatest strategic blunder in a generation (or, more absurdly, think that it means that the U.S. “won” the war) isn’t suited to pass judgment on anyone else on matters of national security and foreign policy.
Minimal awareness of past failures might encourage Republican hard-liners to hold their tongues and be less obnoxious in their treatment of one of the relative few elected Republicans that recognized the folly of the war long before any of them did. There is no such awareness, and no desire to acquire it. Put simply, no “realist caucus” emerged in the last two months because most party leaders remain stuck in a fantasy world in which the Iraq war was a great success, uncritical support for all Israeli policies is wise, and unending hostility towards Iran is prudent, and most elected Republicans continue to take their cues on these issues from the people who have been wrong about virtually every major foreign policy issue for at least the last fifteen years.