September 3, 2013

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says we have no national interest at stake in Syria.

Syrians rally
Syrians rally in Philadelphia against U.S. involvement in Syria. (Chris Post/Associated Press)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) put out a rambling statement asserting:

I remain concerned that the mission proposed by the President is not in furtherance the vital national security interests of the United States. To date I have heard a great deal from the administration about punishing Bashir al-Assad for violating an “international norm” through the use of chemical weapons, and that this is why we must act against him. Abstract notions about international norms should never displace U.S. sovereignty to act, or refuse to act, for our national security.

Let’s take a look at these two assertions.

Rand Paul may be way out in right field with the notion we have no interests in Syria. During a press availability yesterday after visiting the president, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) took on this argument (without identifying any particular lawmaker):

And to my colleagues, if you think the outcome in Syria doesn’t matter to the United States, then you must really believe the king of Jordan is just somebody else in the Mideast. And if you can’t see the connection between Syria and Iran, you’re blind at a time when history needs for you to have good eyesight. . . .

The connection between Syria and Iran is clear as a bell. To disconnect these two would be a huge foreign policy, national security mistake. And I hope the president, above all else, will make that connection.

He could have added that a victory of Assad and his Hezbollah cohorts would be of great concern to Israel (a point the White House is now making), which would face emboldened terrorists on its borders with a precedent for using WMDs.

Cruz’s statement is a little less clear, but no more cogent. He argues in essence that international norms shouldn’t replace national sovereignty. No one, however, is saying otherwise. That is why the president and the Congress, not the United Nations, is deciding this. Moreover, he seems to think that “notions about international norms” are somehow very different from our “national security.” This is rubbish.

We have an interest in enforcing all sorts of international norms — against piracy, against human trafficking, against WMD use and against invasion of other countries. It is precisely because we are the world’s only super power and the leader of the free world that we must enforce basic rules of civilized nations (maybe Cruz likes that term better). If we don’t do it, China and Russia sure won’t. And the result will be all sorts of direct and indirect threats to ourselves and our allies. Does he think Israel doesn’t care if a neighboring regime gets away with use of WMDs? Does he suppose North Korea won’t be tempted to do something even more rash than their usual custom if Assad can gas his people and remain in power? South Korea would disagree.

The thinking of anti-interventionists is so muddled at times that you wonder if they’ve thought things through. Perhaps not — they have taken to talking in sound bites and reflexively opposing anything the president wants to impress the right wing of the party. That’s their privilege I suppose, but it suggests they are not ready for prime time or any real responsibility for national security.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.