Republicans are hoping to pick up a House seat this month, in Massachusetts of all places, in a special election to replace former Congressman Marty Meehan of the Fifth District. In a recent American Spectator column, I explained some of the reasons the GOP is optimistic about their candidate, Jim Ogonowski, as well as some of the factors that make it less likely he'll be elected.
Perhaps of greater interest is how Ogonowski, a 28-year Air Force veteran whose brother was murdered by terrorists in the 9/11 attacks, has positioned himself on Iraq. Ogonowski does not merely criticize the administration for "mishandling" the war, although he does make those criticisms. He says he disagrees with the decision to invade Iraq in the first place, describing it as "wrong." He emphasizes how his plans will bring the troops home and says his Democratic opponent Niki Tsongas (widow of the late Sen. Paul Tsongas) would actually keep U.S. forces in harm's way longer.
Yet he's no antiwar Republican either, despite criticism from some hawks in this comments thread who say he's too soft on Iraq. Ogonowski says we still must win in Iraq. He supports the basic surge framework and maintains that General Petraeus should be allowed to continue to make progress is reducing the violence. While he attacks Tsongas for keeping residual forces in Iraq for too long, he also criticizes her for withdrawing combat troops too precipitiously.
Ogonowski is nevertheless as critical of Republican hawks as Democratic doves, taking shots at House Minority Leader John Boehner when the Ohio Republican used the phrase "small price" to describe the cost of the war. While he predictably talks about getting tough with Iran and Syria, most of Ogonowski's concrete proposals in that area focus on diplomatic engagement. Ogonowski always emphasizes the eventual drawdown of troops and the need for the Iraqi government to be held accountable. Ogonowski's position can be best described by the Clinton-era word "triangulation."
Mitt Romney, who Ogonowski supports for the Republican presidential nomination, has positioned himself similarly. He refuses to say whether he would have invaded Iraq knowing what he knows now (though he has refrained from saying he would not, as Ogonowski has). He always emphasizes troop drawdowns without abandoning the overall surge framework. He keeps his options open even on the surge, refusing to say unequivocally that it is working -- much to John McCain's consternation.
Whether this is the beginning of a slow Republican reappraisal of the Iraq war and Bush foreign policy more generally, or whether it simply represents a potentially more appealing way to dress up the same familiar hawkish position, only time will tell. A lot will be decided by how well candidates like Massachusetts Republicans Ogonowski and Romney do with the voters -- and how willing they'd be to deviate from the status quo if elected.