House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, followed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., leaves the White House the White House in Washington,...
Jacquelyn Martin

McConnell, Boehner, and the post-policy approach to Iraq

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared his dissatisfaction yesterday with the Obama administration’s policy in Iraq, and urged the White House to act quickly. Act how?
McConnell offered no specifics on actions the U.S. should take or how [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] could threaten the U.S. Republicans are sharply divided among themselves over possible military intervention.
Hmm. Well, on the other side of Capitol Hill, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is also dissatisfied and insisted President Obama “get engaged” in Iraq. Engaged how?
“Do you think the U.S. should be launching airstrikes?” inquired Nancy Cordes of CBS News. “And if not, what should the U.S. do?”
 
“I don’t know enough of the details about the airstrikes to comment,” the speaker answered. All he could propose was that we should “provide the equipment and the technical assistance that the Iraqis have been asking for.”
The Obama administration is providing equipment and technical assistance to Iraq. Why the war-time Speaker of the House doesn’t know that is unclear.
 
What we’re left with is the latest example of the Republicans’ post-policy problem. They know they disagree with the White House, but they’re not sure why and they have no idea what alternative policy they’d prefer.
 
Their approach to foreign policy is far more basic. What are they against? Whatever Obama’s for. What policy do they support? Something other than the policy Obama supports.
 
At least with John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and their allies, there is an underlying policy recommendation. It’s wrong and it doesn’t work, but at least they bring something to the table: a vision in which U.S. troops should be deployed, pretty much everywhere, in response to just about every international challenge that arises.
 
But the top Republicans in the House and Senate aren’t willing to be nearly as clear. Despite their leadership posts, Boehner’s and McConnell’s foreign policy is “not Obama’s foreign policy.”
 
In terms of the broader significance, let’s recall the first time we started talking about the post-policy thesis, back in March 2013, when Rachel asked Ezra Klein about the ongoing fiscal fight at the time. “Does that mean that [Republican policymakers are] post-policy?” she asked, adding, “It’s pure politics, just positioning themselves vis-a-vis the president, and they’re not actually invested in any particular outcome?”
 
Think about how broadly applicable that question is. It certainly seems to apply to U.S. policy in Iraq more than a year later.
 
What’s more, the fact that Boehner and McConnell don’t have any kind of policy recommendations in this area, other than “do something different,” reinforces the belief that at this point, there really isn’t a clear Republican Party foreign policy. To be sure, there are GOP officials with their own individual set of beliefs, but for the first time in generations, there is no real clarity about what the party itself believes on an institutional level about how the United States should exercise its role in the world.
 
And that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Looking ahead to some of the party’s possible leaders in 2016 and beyond, we see a variety of ambitious conservatives – Cruz, Paul, Ryan, Rubio, Christie – none of whom are on the exact same page when it comes to foreign policy.
 
Finally, I can only hope McConnell and Boehner saw this portion from last night’s A block:
There is something real that we can do here to sort of cut through both the funny stuff and also the bull. It is the genius of the Founding Fathers and the way they structured our Constitution that when questions of war and peace arise – as they do right now with the terrible situation in Iraq two-and-a-half years after American troops left there – when questions of war and peace arise for us as a nation, it really is very clearly supposed to be the Congress that explicitly makes the decision about what our country should do in terms of military intervention or not.
 
“It is not the Congress’ place just to go in front of TV cameras and to tweet and to send grandstanding open letters. Article 1 Section 8 of Constitution gives Congress the job of making the actual decisions about real bombs, instead of just throwing rhetorical bombs without consequence.”
I’m afraid “I don’t know enough of the details about the airstrikes to comment” isn’t an especially compelling response.
 
Related video:

Foreign Policy, Iraq, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and Post Policy

McConnell, Boehner, and the post-policy approach to Iraq