President Obama has launched military strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria for two weeks, on top of the two months of airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq. For some Republicans, this poses an awkward challenge: they’re glad Obama is bombing terrorist targets, but they can’t praise the president.
So what’s a GOP lawmaker to do? On Fox News yesterday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) floated a new talking point: sure, Obama is bombing ISIS now, but maybe he’s harboring secret intentions to stop bombing after the elections. Consider this exchange between Ayotte and Fox’s Chris Wallace:
AYOTTE: I’m very fearful that as we look at the current military strategy that it is surrounding the November elections and that he won’t have the resolve to follow through with what needs to be done in a sustained effort to destroy ISIS. […]WALLACE: I just want to follow up, we have a couple of minutes up. Are you suggesting that after the November election and acting tough and talking tough, that he is going to pull back from confronting ISIS?AYOTTE: I’m very concerned about that, Chris, and his resolve in this regard. And I think that’s something that as a member of the Armed Services Committee, we’ve got to stay focused on.
As Igor Volsky noted, on the same program, Fox’s Brit Hume quickly endorsed the thesis, telling viewers, “My sense is that after he gets past this election, his effort to take down ISIS, I don’t think it’s something he deeply believes in.”
Ah, right. Obama may be bombing ISIS, he may be railing against ISIS at the United Nations, and he may be rallying coalition partners from around the world to support the campaign against ISIS, but on Fox News, there’s a “sense” that the president doesn’t really mean it.
The first and most obvious flaw in the argument is that it’s hard to take seriously.
As Sam Levine explained, “Top administration officials have said that the military campaign against the Islamic State will extend long past November. Last month, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that it would take at least a year to train moderate Syrian rebels. Last week, Vice President Joe Biden said that the United States and its international allies were in for a ‘hell of a long fight’ against the Islamic State.”
But let’s put aside reality for a moment. Let’s assume, just for the sake of conversation, that Ayotte’s baseless theory is true, and that Obama’s military offensive is just a ruse to get voters to support Democrats or something. Let’s say the president will announce after the elections, “Fooled you! Now that the elections are over, the counter-terrorism strikes are finished, too.”
I’m curious: what would Ayotte or any other lawmaker intend to do about it? The Obama administration’s airstrikes against ISIS targets have been ongoing for eight weeks and members of Congress can’t even show up for work to have a debate, instead giving themselves another 54 days off. Maybe they’ll do some work on this in the lame-duck session, but as far as some GOP leaders are concerned, Congress shouldn’t bother.
If Obama somehow decides to do a 180-degree turn on his entire national-security strategy, lawmakers who’ve avoided meaningful work are going to do … what exactly? Send the president a stern note? Share more baseless theories on Fox?
The circumstances demand a great debate. Americans just aren’t getting one.