Last week, Republicans were heavily invested in a specific talking point: don’t blame George W. Bush for the disastrous war in Iraq, blame the intelligence community. This week, this has clearly been replaced with a full-throated replacement talking point: don’t blame George W. Bush or the intelligence community, blame President Obama.
We talked yesterday about prominent Republican voices pushing this line quite aggressively, but the argument is spreading like a virus in GOP circles. Jeb Bush has embraced it, as have other Republican presidential candidates, and even a member of Congress.
Not surprisingly, the president has a very different perspective. He talked at length about developments in the Middle East with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, and given the latest Republican meme, these comments seemed noteworthy (via Caitlin MacNeal).
“As you said, I’m very clear on the lessons of Iraq. I think it was a mistake for us to go in in the first place, despite the incredible efforts that were made by our men and women in uniform. Despite that error, those sacrifices allowed the Iraqis to take back their country. That opportunity was squandered by Prime Minister Maliki and the unwillingness to reach out effectively to the Sunni and Kurdish populations.”
Though neither Obama nor Goldberg specifically referenced the latest GOP talking point, the president did reference the Republican complaints in general.
“It is important to have a clear idea of the past because we don’t want to repeat mistakes. I know that there are some in Republican quarters who have suggested that I’ve overlearned the mistake of Iraq, and that, in fact, just because the 2003 invasion did not go well doesn’t argue that we shouldn’t go back in. And one lesson that I think is important to draw from what happened is that if the Iraqis themselves are not willing or capable to arrive at the political accommodations necessary to govern, if they are not willing to fight for the security of their country, we cannot do that for them. We can be effective allies. I think Prime Minister Abadi is sincere and committed to an inclusive Iraqi state, and I will continue to order our military to provide the Iraqi security forces all assistance that they need in order to secure their country, and I’ll provide diplomatic and economic assistance that’s necessary for them to stabilize.”
What’s striking about this, at least to me, is how gracious and contextual Obama’s is given the circumstances.
I suspect, if I were in the president’s shoes, I might be tempted to say, “Wait, those guys who were wrong about everything and lied the nation into a catastrophic war that destabilized the region are trying to blame me? Are they insane?”
But Obama didn’t do that, focusing instead on Iraq instead of domestic politics. Instead of holding Bush/Cheney responsible for their disastrous failures, the president focused on finding “effective partners” in Iraq.
Given the GOP’s rhetorical push, taking the high ground probably wouldn’t have been my first choice.