In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry did a bang-up job debunking the nonsense coming from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that retaliating against Bashar al-Assad would make it more likely he’d use WMDs again:
Maybe Kerry should go chat with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) as well. Cruz’s supporters bristle at the notion he is “isolationist,” but on talk radio he sounds just as out to lunch as Rand Paul. Cruz insisted on Tuesday that we have no stake in Syria and bizarrely says we should not be “al-Qaeda’s air force.” Good golly.
We have every interest in enforcing the prohibition on WMDs and, as the pro-Israel community knows, in addressing the real threat, namely Iran, whose forces are encamped in Syria aiding Assad. Moreover, it is flat-out wrong to say we would be “al-Qaeda’s air force.” Our purpose, as the president and other Senate Republicans began to explain yesterday, is to degrade Assad’s chemical weapons delivery system, begin seriously to assist the Free Syrian Army and tip the playing field away from Assad. Is this harder because of Obama’s neglect and dithering? Yes, but that does not excuse our condoning the continued rule of Assad. As best we can, our aim should be to try to bolster the non-jihadi elements, not run from the scene to allow al-Qaeda forces to win by default.
Whatever notions Cruz is peddling run afoul of his insistence he is tough on Iran and a responsible protector of national security.
The debate in Congress, however painful (and however embarrassing the president’s conduct that brought us to this point may be), is illuminating and ultimately helpful. Democrats used to opposing unilateral action are forced to stand up for U.S. power and reiterate that the United States cannot disengage from the world. Hillary Clinton was finally obliged, albeit vaguely, to endorse unilateral U.S. action (for which she may or may not pay a price in 2016 and will not, in any case, erase the painful fact that it was under her watch that the Syria horror was allowed to fester while we remained passive). Likewise, harsh critics of the Bush administration such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are now sounding the cry for U.S. enforcement of human rights and international order. That is an intellectual victory for conservative hawks and good news for dealing with future threats on a bipartisan basis.
Republicans who are intimidated by the far right or simply out of it now can be easily separated from the responsible Republicans, who understand this is not about picking a winner in Syria or protecting Obama (his legacy is in disarray with no help from the GOP). It’s about remaining a superpower in the world and reestablishing a role in the Middle East. Republicans who don’t understand or agree with that really can’t be trusted. And those who know better but pander to some imagined conservative constituency for U.S. weakness should be (but of course aren’t) ashamed.
The do-nothing Republicans and Democrats mistake transitory polls asking about Americans’ support for war (of course there is very little, especially with the lack of presidential leadership) with their yearning for a world without U.S. stewardship. Obama has discovered the latter is untenable; and Republicans, Democrats and independents alike would rue the day we allowed WMDs to be used without consequence or for Iran to achieve an outright victory in the region.
A senior GOP aide assures me, “The isolation element and the partisan
(Obama Derangement Syndrome) element certainly exist, but they’re not dominant or
determinative.” I hope the aide is right, although I’m not sure at all about the House. Republicans should understand their job here is to prevent the Obama administration from entirely wrecking U.S. credibility. Of course he should undertake action against Syria on his own, but since he won’t, it’s up to them to shove him in the right direction. They’d be wise to keep that in mind and not become the party of silly foreign policy slogans and ignorance.
The lineup of GOP votes on the Syria resolution will be almost as important to the future of the country and the party as the overall vote on the resolution. It will tell us who the GOP leaders are that can repair, not deepen, the damage wrought by this administration.