Washington Bureau

Is Syria Becoming a Partisan Issue?

The debate over Syria is starting to become part of the partisan cut and thrust in Washington. Ben Jacobs reports.

09.10.13 6:40 PM ET

Is Syria already becoming a political football?

The debate over military intervention has cut across partisan lines, with both Democrats and Republicans describing it as a “conscience vote.” But this hasn’t stopped the issue from already being used as a handy political weapon by Republicans to clobber President Obama for his leadership, or lack thereof, on the issue.

In the last week, the Republican National Committee issued two different fact sheets that whacked Obama on the current Middle East quagmire. One went after him for his ”red line” around the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, and the other made hay of the lack of unity in the Democratic Party around military intervention in Syria.

Democrats have cried foul. Michael Czin, press secretary for the DNC, said of them, “It’s disappointing that the RNC is trying to inject partisan politics into an important debate about our national security.” Sean Spicer, the RNC’s communications director, shrugged off any criticism, telling The Daily Beast, “I think [the statements] speak for themselves.”

The statements try to thread the needle in targeting Obama. After all, Syria is the issue of the day. Domestic policy has been eclipsed by the ongoing debate over airstrikes against the Assad regime. The GOP also has to cope with its own internal divisions on Syria as well as with some party leaders like John Boehner and John McCain supporting military intervention but many others firmly opposed. The result is that it would be difficult, and somewhat uncouth, to criticize the president on policy grounds.

But the criticism isn’t about foreign policy. A reader would be hard-pressed to find support for any course of action in the Middle East. Instead, it is simply an attack on the president’s leadership and acumen, no different from Hillary Clinton’s famous attack ad from 2008 suggesting that Obama wasn’t equipped to answer the phone at 3 a.m. in a national security crisis.  

Currently, the president leads a fractured political party and has explicitly stated that he "wouldn't say I'm confident" that Congress will authorize the use of force against Syria, a step that his administration continues to insist was not necessary. It seems perfectly fair for his political opponents to raise questions about this.