"Republicans Have to Kill the Bush-Cheney Legacy to Move Forward."
Really? The past need not be prologue, but it shouldn't be forbidden territory either.
One of the Democrats' favorite criticisms of Romney was that his foreign policy represented a return to the days of President George W. Bush and his emissary to the Dark Side, Dick Cheney. When Romney insisted he would do more to bring American leadership to the battle for Syria and be a more credible interlocutor on Iran, Obama told 60 Minutes that "if Governor Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so," knowing full well he was tapping into the anti-Bush "endless war" meme. Indeed, Vice President Joe Biden didn't hesitate to reach even further back, accusing Romney of a "Cold War mindset."
Regardless of whether the charge was true (it was not), Democrats clearly thought that linking Romney to the past was an effective strategy. Just as clearly, the Romney campaign and the Republican Party as a whole agreed. Romney did not use Bush or Cheney as surrogates on the campaign trail, and neither spoke at -- or even attended -- the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. Indeed, many members of Congress elected in the anti-Obama wave of 2010 would just as soon forget the Bush years, and green-eyeshade types in the party consider greater defense spending and global leadership as luxuries of an earlier era.
But letting Obama off scot-free for allowing anti-Bush derangement to color his policymaking was a mistake. Romney was so afraid of being labeled a warmonger that he failed to articulate how the United States might affect the conflict in Syria; he was so fearful of being tarred with the Cheney brush that he never mentioned that Osama bin Laden was found as a result of intelligence gleaned in part from Bush-era interrogations. In truth, there are ample lessons to be found in both the Bush administration and the Cold War years.
Reagan's military buildup was an object lesson in the power of deterrence -- in many ways the threat that tipped the Soviet Union over the edge. The Soviets' desperate and failed attempts at military parity forced Moscow toward the reforms that ended the Evil Empire. Reagan's use of proxies during the Cold War remains an example of how to leverage shared ideas against a common enemy. Bush's first-term commitment to democratic transformation sowed the first seeds of change in the Middle East and began a process that arguably ended in the Arab Spring.
Republicans need to find new leaders who can apply those lessons to the problems we face today and carry them into the future. They don't need to trot out Bush or mention Reagan in every foreign-policy speech, but they do need to recognize that the same principles that animated past Republican presidents will reanimate the party. Spending less may be a vital element of responsible governance, but it's not a moral purpose and it's no vision for America in the world.
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