There are signs of a bipartisan pushback against the passive foreign policy and hostility to anti-terror methods we’ve seen over the last few years. Across the board, polls show voters’ disapproval significantly outpaces approval when it comes to President Obama’s handling of foreign policy. As my colleague Robert Kagan puts it, “A majority of Americans may not want to intervene in Syria, do anything serious about Iran or care what happens in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt or Ukraine. They may prefer a minimalist foreign policy in which the United States no longer plays a leading role in the world and leaves others to deal with their own miserable problems. They may want a more narrowly self-interested American policy. In short, they may want what Obama so far has been giving them. But they’re not proud of it, and they’re not grateful to him for giving them what they want.”
In short, a holiday from history sounds appealing, but when the reality hits home that U.S. weakness begets instability and contempt, the voters become unnerved. And that goes for lawmakers as well.
We’ve seen a bipartisan uproar over Syria. The Post reports:
Lawmakers unleashed a bipartisan barrage of criticism at the Obama administration Wednesday over Syria, charging that it had no strategy to reverse the course of a war that President Bashar al-Assad appears to be winning, or to stem the growing threat from extremists who dominate the anti-Assad opposition.
Anne Patterson, the State Department’s senior diplomat on the Middle East, largely agreed with the specifics raised at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, saying, “We’re not doing enough to help the moderate opposition.” Overall, she acknowledged, administration policy is working “not very well.” But when Patterson said that questions about possible U.S. military options in Syria could be discussed only in a classified hearing, the senior senators of both parties exploded.
Sure, lawmakers might have voted to confirm this woman and they might have opposed authorization to use force to respond to WMD’s, but boy is the result unpleasant. Now, you might call this hypocrisy, but it’s more properly seen, I think, as a veil being lifted. The president has heretofore not explained the stakes well enough or sketched out real options; without presidential leadership it is perilous for members of Congress to go out on a limb. Now lawmakers might be seen as getting a belated wake-up call. It’s a dangerous world out there and doing nothing is a lousy way to run a superpower’s foreign policy.
Even on controversial National Security Agency surveillance, cooler heads are prevailing. In the House, there is now a bipartisan bill that preserves the essential elements of the NSA program. The bill sidestepped the anti-NSA House members and preserves the NSA’s ability to get metadata if need be. Details are sketchy, but it reportedly “would allow the NSA to force companies to turn over particular records—orders the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would review after the fact.” Former CIA director Michael Hayden explained, “It’s not a bad deal at all.” Liberals are already crabbing that this makes an end-run around more extreme legislation that could be expected from the House Judiciary Committee.
And today a muscular bill containing sanctions against Russia and aid for Ukraine is expected to pass overwhelmingly in the House. Majority Leader Eric Cantor said on the floor: “This bill is a first step towards supporting the Ukrainians and our Central and Eastern European partners, and to imposing truly significant costs on Moscow. But it is only a first step. We must fundamentally reassess our assumptions about Russia, and acknowledge that Putin himself scrapped the Administration’s ‘reset’ policy a long time ago. We need a new strategy that understands Putin for who he is, not who we wish him to be. We need a new grand strategy. We need a foreign policy that stands up for our allies and stands up to our adversaries. We need to prioritize defense in our budget so that we maintain a military that can respond promptly to contingencies around the world and that instills fear in our enemies while reassuring our allies.”
It is noticeable the degree to which congressional Democrats and Republicans are moving in lock step back to a more robust national security outlook. Perhaps a sign that there is little political payoff to appearing weak on national security and solicitous of Vladimir Putin. Maybe there is danger in being seen as too defensive of White House malfeasance. Perhaps now, lawmakers might revisit the biggest Obama blunder to date, the lifting of Iran sanctions and a phony negotiation process that is allowing Iran’s economy to recover and a threshold nuclear Iran to become reality, however “unacceptable” the president might deem it.