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Republicans go to war over Iraq

By W James Antle III
web posted March 22, 2010

Iraq's recent parliamentary elections may help wind down the war. But with the midterm elections approaching, the discussion of Iraq is heating up in America's heartland.

The Indiana Senate race has become an unexpected flashpoint in the debate over whether it was wise to invade Iraq. The retiring incumbent, Sen. Evan Bayh, is a Democrat who voted to go to war. The likeliest Democrat to replace him on the ballot, Rep. Brad Ellsworth, hasn't been overly critical of the war either.

Instead a contentious exchange about Iraq broke out at the unlikeliest of places: a Tea Party-sponsored debate of the Republican candidates. Former Sen. Dan Coats, the presumed front-runner for the GOP nomination, didn't like what he heard from one of his opponents about the decision to wage preventive war with Iraq.

"I started as ambassador (to Germany) two days after 9/11," the Indianapolis Star quoted Coats as saying. "John, you and I need to have a good debate about Iraq and about weapons of mass destruction, because I fundamentally disagree with you in terms of why we went in there."

Former Rep. John Hostettler reminded the audience had been one of six House Republicans to vote against the war. At the time, he called the intelligence supporting the Bush administration's claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons program "tenuous at best." Hostettler argued that it was our leaders that failed, not the intelligence.

Coats disagreed. He pointedly told Hostettler, "I started every day in Germany with a collection of intelligence from the U.S., German, French, British and even countries that didn't support us. That was the evidence that was before us."

Hostettler countered that the evidence he saw as a member of the House Armed Services Committee didn't look so compelling, and ultimately no WMD were found. Hostettler pointed out that George W. Bush himself said that if he could get a "do-over" as president, he would have gotten better intelligence concerning Iraqi weapons programs.

As for "why we went in there," Hostettler could easily have pointed to this quotation from Karl Rove's forthcoming book. "Would the Iraq War have occurred without W.M.D.? I doubt it," Rove reportedly writes in Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight. "Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use-of-force resolution without the W.M.D. threat."

Rove concludes: "The Bush administration itself would probably have sought other ways to constrain Saddam, bring about regime change, and deal with Iraq’s horrendous human rights violations." 

John Hostettler is no moderate Republican. He was originally elected to Congress in 1994, as part of Newt Gingrich's "revolution." His strongest supporters have traditionally been conservative Christians. On most economic and social issues, he is to the right of Coats.

Yet Hostettler is challenging the Republican consensus on the Iraq war. He isn't entirely alone. Rand Paul, son of the Texas congressman and 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul, is running for Senate in the conservative state of Kentucky. Like his father, Paul is an antiwar Republican and most public polls suggest he will win the May primary.

The younger Paul hasn't been as outspoken about his foreign policy views during this race as his father or Hostettler. But his position is hardly unknown. "Part of the reason we are bankrupt as a country is that we are fighting so many foreign wars and have so many military bases around the world," Rand Paul said in an interview. "I don’t say, ‘Out of Iraq now!’ I say out of Iraq two or three years ago, or never go in -- even better."

Some Republicans have argued that such statements make Paul insufficiently conservative on national security or, worse, "too kooky for Kentucky." Not even Sarah Palin could escape criticism when she endorsed him for Senate: "By designating Dr. Paul as someone who should be influencing foreign policy," wrote a blogger at David Horowitz's NewsReal, "Sarah Palin has joined forces with a man whose vision of America substantively mimics that of Michael Moore."

The Kentucky Republican primary electorate apparently sees the matter differently, as they currently favor Rand Paul by about 15 percentage points. But it is surprising to see Iraq become controversial in any GOP contest this year because most Republicans believe the surge dramatically turned the war around.
Back in Indiana, political columnist Brian Howey writes, "How ironic that the first crossed swords for the GOP Senate nomination comes over the Iraq War, a chapter that many Republicans would just as soon forget." It's a chapter a few Republicans on both sides of the issue believe their party needs to reread. ESR

W. James Antle III associate editor of The American Spectator and a contributing editor for Enter Stage Right.






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