Republicans Wrongly Bet Paris Attacks Will Change Minds

Americans are no more interested in another Middle Eastern war than they were a week ago.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush makes a speech in Barrington, New Hampshire, August 7
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush makes a speech in Barrington, New Hampshire, August 7 (Michael Vadon)

If Republican presidential candidates are betting last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris will make Americans long for the foreign policies of George W. Bush, they may be making a big mistake.

In recent days, nearly all of the Republicans seeking to succeed Barack Obama, a Democrat, in 2016 have taken the incumbent to task for supposedly faltering in the fight against the Islamic State: a radical Islamist group that claimed responsibility for the attacks in France.

Even the two Floridians considered most worldly and more likely to win the nomination than the bombastic property tycoon Donald Trump — who is currently ahead in the polls — have taken a hard line.

Marco Rubio, a senator, has suggested giving the National Security Agency broader surveillance powers to interdict terror plots. He is also making an issue out of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s refusal to say that the United States are at war with “radical Islam.”

This website previously argued that voters in a general election may well decide that Rubio is too much of a hawk if he must run against Clinton — who is considered a hawk within her own party.

Now Jeb Bush is at it too.

Another Bush hawk

In a series of interviews and speeches, the former Florida governor and brother of the last Republican president has recently argued that America must lead the war against the Islamic State which he argues has “declared war on Western civilization.”

On Wednesday, he even suggested increasing America’s military presence on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

Obama has consistently ruled out deploying ground forces, even though American soldiers in Iraq are advising and training their Iraqi counterparts and American special forces have occasionally taken part in counterterrorism raids.

Bush’s and Rubio’s talk of American leadership and war in the Middle East may resonate with a majority of right-wing voters and perhaps even with a majority of Americans altogether — for the moment.

But longer-term trends suggest Americans are in no mood for another open-ended military engagement in the Middle East against an enemy that has so far posed little threat to the United States.

Weary of war

Despite the 2009 Fort Hood, Texas shooting and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings — the two deadliest Islamic terrorist attacks on American soil since Obama took office — Americans have grown weary of the War on Terror.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has found that more Americans now believe Islamic extremism is a critical threat to the United States than at any point since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

At the same time, support for an active American role in the world has continued to fall.

69 percent of Republicans still believe America should lead the world. 57 percent of self-declared independent agree.

Those numbers support a muscular foreign policy. But they are lower than they were fifteen years ago while support for “shared” leadership has risen. Only 38 percent of Republicans and 28 percent of independents say America should play a “dominant” role in the world. 57 and 59 percent, respectively, believe the country should share the burden.

The kneejerk interventionism of most Republicans, and their unwillingness to take multilateralism seriously, is just not something most Americans agree with anymore.

They’ve seen what it leads to: billions of dollars wasted in Afghanistan and Iraq and nearly 7,000 American servicemen and -women killed.

Republicans aren’t trusted

The Pew Research Center has found that only 38 percent of Americans believe Republicans run foreign policy better against 41 percent who trust Democrats more. One in two voters also believes Republicans are “more extreme” in their positions.

It’s not hard to see why. Republicans launched an ill-fated invasion of Iraq in 2003 and now disparage a nuclear deal with Iran that Obama says is the only way to avoid war with that country. The Democrat’s victory in 2008 over John McCain, a Republican hawk, had much to do with his opposition to the Iraq War from the start.

If today’s presidential candidates insist on embracing the McCain Doctrine, which says that whenever there is a crisis in the world the United States must get involved, they shouldn’t be surprised if whoever ends up as their nominee is defeated by Hillary Clinton next year.

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