The Republican hypocrisy on Syria is just amazing. Imagine that Mitt Romney were president. Romney took a far more hawkish line than Barack Obama did on Syria during the campaign. He wanted to arm the rebels, supported in-country cover ops, and so on. So if Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons during President Romney’s tenure, there’s every reason to think he’d be pushing for action too. And what, in that case, would Republicans now temporizing or opposing Obama be doing in that case? They’d be breathing fire, of course. There’s a lot of chest thumping talk right now about how a failed vote will destroy Obama’s credibility. I guess that may be to some. But to anyone paying attention, the credibility of these Republicans is what will suffer, and the vote may well come back to haunt some of them in 2016.
Some Republicans are, to their credit, taking the position consistent with their records. John McCain stood up to those people who looked like they were about two feet away from his face at that town hall meeting last week. Lindsey Graham deserves more credit, since he’s facing reelection and is being called “a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood.” On the other side, Rand Paul and the neo-isolationists are probably taking the same position they’d take if Romney were president, although we can’t be completely sure. If Romney were in the White House, by 2016, “was so-and-so tough on Syria?” would probably be a top litmus test (unless, of course, things got really terrible over there). I could easily see Paul declaiming on the unique evil of chemical weapons that just this once required him to break from his noninterventionist views, but as things stand he at least is taking the position with which he is identified.
But most of them? Please. The Gold Weasel Medal goes to Marco Rubio, as others such as Tim Noah have noted. Back in April, Rubio thundered that “the time for passive engagement in this conflict must come to an end. It is in the vital national security interest of our nation to see Assad’s removal.” Removal! Obama’s not talking about anything close to removal. So that was Rubio’s hard line back when Obama was on the other side. And now that Obama wants action? Rubio voted against the military resolution in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.
Ted Cruz? Just in June, Cruz wanted to go into Syria and rough ’em up. “We need to develop a clear, practical plan to go in, locate the weapons, secure or destroy them, and then get out.” Now? Syria is a distraction from, you guessed it, Benghazi. He said last week: “We certainly don’t have a dog in the fight. We should be focused on defending the United States of America. That’s why young men and women sign up to join the military, not to, as you know, serve as al Qaeda’s air force.”
There are many others. These two are worth singling out because they want to be president, and their craven and brazen flip-flopping on one of the most important issues to come before them in their Senate careers is more consequential than the flip-flopping of some time-serving senator no one’s ever heard of. But the whole picture is contemptible.
Can you imagine how these people would be wailing for Assad’s head on a pike if Romney were asking for this resolution? And the Republicans in the House? I suppose a small percentage of them may be opposed. But the radio blowhards, now inveighing against “Obama’s war,” would be whooping up war fever like Hearst, and most in the House would follow suit. And remember, this is the party that voted en masse for a massive Medicare expansion in 2003—that is, a vote that was against everything they stood for, but one they took in the name of party loyalty.
They are out to undermine Obama’s credibility. They don’t care a whit about Assad, Iran, Hezbollah; indeed, on that last point, if any of them knows anything about Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, they must admire him. Nasrallah accomplishes with impressive efficiency in Lebanon what they want to accomplish in America—preventing the government from being able to do anything good for the people. All they want to do is make Obama look bad.
In contrast, look at Obama’s explanation of why he went to Congress in the first place. He was asked this question last week while in Russia. What he said is worth reprinting at length, I think: “I did not put this before Congress, you know, just as a political ploy or as symbolism. I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed an imminent, direct threat to the United States. In that situation, obviously, I don’t worry about Congress; we do what we have to do to keep the American people safe.
“I could not say that it was immediately, directly going to have an impact on our allies. Again, in those situations, I would act right away. This wasn’t even a situation like Libya, where, you know, you’ve got troops rolling towards Benghazi and you have a concern about time, in terms of saving somebody right away. This was an event that happened. My military assured me that we could act today, tomorrow, a month from now, that we could do so proportionally, but meaningfully. And in that situation, I think it is important for us to have a serious debate in the United States about—about these issues, because these—these are going to be the kinds of national security threats that are most likely to recur over the next five, 10 years.”
That’s a candid and thoroughly decent (and by the way, thoroughly constitutional) thought process. Obama couldn’t honestly say to himself that what Assad did represented the kind of direct threat to the American people that would permit the sidestepping of Congress, so he decided to go through all this. Now, of course, one can more cynically say it was the polls, and surely they played a role. But the president’s statement is in line with what we know about virtually all his top aides telling him “Don’t go to Congress” and him resisting that advice.
Obama isn’t a stupid man. He knew a lot of these yahoos would vote no just because it’s him. But he surely hoped that a certain number of them just might cast a vote in line with their worldview, which would slide many of them into the yes column. I’m sure many of my liberal readers are just glad they’re voting no, however cynically they might be doing it. Fine. But you should also leave a little space in your brain for the contemplation of just what a bunch of relentless hypocrites they are, making a decision as weighty as this purely on the basis of their hatred of Obama. And this defeat, if defeat it is, is supposed to destroy his credibility? It would only destroy theirs—that is, if they had any.