E.J. Dionne Jr. reflects today on the impact of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the degree to which tragedies “concentrate the mind,” or at least should. Of particular interest was E.J.’s point about our domestic debate: “The horror has been widely described as ‘a wake-up call.’ It’s not yet clear if our dysfunctional, foolishly partisan and petty political system will even pick up the phone.”
Partisanship – defined as vigorous, principled disagreement – has an honored place in democracy. We are in the midst of such a debate over foreign policy in both parties. […]That’s good. What’s not good is the habit of Obama’s foes to make every foreign policy crisis about him, whether it is or not.
Agreed. This phenomenon has become a little too common, a little too reflexive, and in response to developments in Ukraine last week, a little too caustic.
Syria is in the midst of a brutal civil war? The right blames President Obama. ISIS advances in Iraq? The right blames President Obama. Innocents die in violence between Israelis and Palestinians? The right blames President Obama. Ukrainian separatists are accused of shooting down an airliner with Russian military equipment? The right blames President Obama.
This just isn’t healthy.
In 1984, during the Republican National Convention, Jeane Kirkpatrick delivered a speech that included a catchphrase she repeated five times: “They always blame America first.” In reference to Democrats, she went on to condemn the “blame America first crowd.”
It was an ugly line of attack, but it caught on and became a favorite of the right, still embraced by prominent Republicans a generation later.
There’s no point in casually throwing around such obnoxious attacks on other Americans’ patriotism. That said, contemporary Republicans should pause to realize that the more they instinctively blame U.S. leaders for every international crisis, the more they open the door to the very criticism they once reserved for their rivals.
The rhetoric last week was especially toxic for no reason other than lazy partisanship. An airliner was shot out of the sky, leaving 298 innocent civilians dead, and literally one day later, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) felt compelled to go on national television to condemn the president for running a “cowardly administration,” adding that he believes the president must “give the Ukrainians weapons.”
Of course. Because if there’s one thing last week’s act of barbarism showed, it’s that good things happen when military powers hand more powerful weapons over to other countries as part of a complex proxy conflict.
I realize the right holds the president in contempt. I also realize there’s an election cycle underway. But when 298 people die needlessly because a civilian airliner was shot with a missile, there’s a fundamental problem when some reflexively look for ways to blame America’s leaders for the bloodshed.
That’s not a basis for a foreign-policy debate; it’s just corrosive nonsense.