By Ross Douthat

The Republican Party built an advantage on foreign policy across generations, and then began demolishing it 10 years ago this month. What the cold war made, the invasion of Iraq largely unmade: beginning in 2003, a party that had long promised — and mostly delivered — peace through strength became identified with an intelligence fiasco, a botched occupation and the squandering of American resources, credibility and lives.

Two Republicans running for president in 2012, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul, seemed to have some grasp of what Iraq had done to their party’s reputation. But they were both niche candidates who spoke to small constituencies libertarians in Paul’s case, journalists in Huntsman’s. Paul’s isolationism was hectoring and eccentric, with a “we had it coming” view of terrorism that the Republican electorate was never likely to embrace. Huntsman’s attempt to rehabilitate foreign policy realism was as passionless and flat-footed as his entire campaign. Neither had much influence on Mitt Romney, whose foreign policy rhetoric left the impression that his party had learned nothing from the Bush era.

But where Huntsman and Paul the elder mostly failed, Rand Paul has been enjoying remarkable success. The Kentucky senator’s recent ascent to prominence, which achieved escape velocity with last week’s 13-hour filibuster delaying the confirmation of President Obama’s nominee to lead the C.I.A., hasn’t just made the younger Paul one of the most talked-about politicians in Washington today. It has offered the first real sign that the Republican Party might someday escape the shadow of the Iraq war and enter the post-post-9/11 era.

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