The Syria vote has revealed both ideology and character in the Republican Party. Make no mistake, the easy vote here is “no.” A “no” will get you praise from the reflexive anti-Obama crowd (the right’s version of Bush Derangement Syndrome) and from the sort of people who praise the suicidal plan to shut down the government. Given the president’s utter fecklessness, the “no” voters can later claim to be “Reaganesque” but distrustful of encouraging the current Oval Office occupant. “No” is also is safe because the polls show it is the overwhelming preference of Americans to avoid military force.
Sure enough, the fleet of grandstanding and extremist characters have lined up on the “no” side. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — who likely actually believes we have no interest in the Middle East — leads the pack, with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) right behind him. Where there is a bad, impractical idea that makes the GOP look irresponsible, Heritage Action is sure to be championing it. And wouldn’t you know, the sister organization of the think tank that once championed Ronald Reagan, peace through strength and support for freedom fighters is demanding a “no” vote. (For those who admired the old, respected Heritage, this is evidence of the organization’s complete ruin and the triumph of right-wing politics over conservative thought.)
Then there are those who can’t bring themselves to cross the “no” crowd. Surprising to some ( we spotted it coming the day the president announced he was going to Congress), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has repudiated much of his own foreign policy philosophy and rhetoric, leaving us to wonder if he has any gravitas (consider he’s also on the shutdown squad). He sheds his internationalist views and dismays his defenders for the sake of cheap applause from the “no” crowd. At least we know now that he melts easily under pressure.
On the other side of the equation are those who actually believe the president, any president, must lead on foreign policy and America must lead the free world. These are the folks who see two or three moves down the road and comprehend that this is less about Syria than about Iran. These are the people who don’t need to or want to look over their shoulder at what the extremists in the party are hollering about. And most of all, these are intellectual grown-ups who know this is a rotten choice, made worse by the president, but still want to save as much credibility and influence for America as possible. They know we cannot simply throw up our hands and say there is no good choice; there is bad and worse. “Worse” is allowing WMD use to go unpunished, watching Jordan collapse under the weight of millions of refugees and giving Hezbollah potential access to chemical weapons on Israel’s border. Demonstrating what is “unacceptable” in the realm of WMDs is the new reality.
The “yes” voters are akin to the pro-immigration reformers. The latter also are made of stronger stuff than many colleagues. As the Sun-Sentinel noted about the unsuccessful effort to get Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to back down on immigration reform, “The effort to make him switch his position isn’t working: Ryan says he is committed to passing a law to allow 11 million undocumented immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens. His conviction — dating to his work for fellow Republican Jack Kemp two decades ago — is rooted in economic policy, Ryan’s Catholic faith, and Wisconsin’s German and Irish immigrants.” Likewise on Syria, there are those for whom politics is about more than posturing and playing to the base. It is not going to win Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) any votes in Tennessee to vote for the resolution (which he did in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), but he did so because to do otherwise would be grossly irresponsible.
The “no” crowd prides itself on irresponsibility. Shut down the government! Round up all the illegal immigrants! U.S. out of the Middle East! They have that luxury of irresponsibility because there are enough sober heads to keep the country — and our national security — from imploding. If not for them, irresponsible lawmakers might actually have to pay a price for their shenanigans.
It may be in 2016 that there are fewer GOP presidential candidates who are sober proponents of a forward-leading, internationalist foreign policy than at any time after WWII. That will, I think, make voters consider whether they really want to invest someone from the “no” crowd with their trust and confidence. It’s one thing to listen to Cruz or Paul mouth off about the folly of responding to WMDs; it is quite another to contemplate a president who would allow Bashar al-Assad to continue on his merry way and provide huge encouragement to his senior partners in Tehran.