Predicting the GOP’s course on Syria

Predicting the GOP's course on Syria
Predicting the GOP's course on Syria
Associated Press

Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol sounded optimistic over the weekend about what his party will do when it comes to authorizing the use of force in Syria. “I think the Republican Party will step up and do the right thing and support the president against a chemical-weapons-using, terror-sponsoring, Iran-backed dictator,” he said.

There’s ample evidence to the contrary.

Though the Capitol Hill debate has not yet begun in earnest, Byron York reports today that after off-the-record conversations, he believes Republicans are likely to balk. The reasons are varied – some question the evidence, some distrust Syrian rebels, some hold President Obama in such contempt that they won’t trust him, even when they agree with him – but note York’s conclusion (via Greg Sargent):

Perhaps in anticipation of a close vote, a new argument is circulating among pro-interventionists which says that protecting the prerogatives of future presidents is so important that Republicans should support Obama’s Syrian action even if there is no good case for doing so.

Rejecting Obama could permanently weaken the presidency, argues political scientist James Ceaser in an article cited by influential conservative commentator William Kristol. Therefore, Republicans should vote to authorize force “even if they think that the president’s policy will prove ineffective, do no good, waste money, or entail unforeseen risks … even if they think he has gotten the nation into this situation by blunders, fecklessness, arrogance, or naivete; and … even if, and especially, if they have no confidence in his judgment.”

That will be a very hard sell for Republicans. In the end, many will carefully consider all the evidence and then vote their instincts. And that will mean a vote against Barack Obama.

In recent years, there have been a great number of issues on which Republicans took a side, only to abandon their position the moment President Obama agreed with them. By now, I imagine most of us can think of the list off the top of our head: an individual mandate in health care, cap-and-trade, the DREAM Act, a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission, at least some form of Keynesian economics, trying terrorist suspects in civilian U.S. courts and then imprisoning them on American soil, etc. I’m probably forgetting a few.

But each of the items on the list has to do with domestic policy – Syria would break new ground. Obama believes military intervention is wise, so the normally hawkish party is quickly rediscovering its inner dove.

I continue to believe the Republican Party is going to have to figure out what its approach to foreign policy is going to be in the post-Bush/Cheney era, because right now, for the first time in many years, the GOP has lost its clear vision. And no, “Whatever Obama Is For, We’re Against” is not a coherent foreign policy worldview.

Post-9/11, Republicans have been very much inclined to use force in the Middle East, especially when it came to dictators and chemical weapons. As of last week, that no longer appears to be the case, at least not party wide. It leaves the GOP with some questions for which there are no obvious answers.

Is this an interventionist party or an isolationist party? Are neocons guiding the way or are libertarians? Up until quite recently, the answers to questions like these were obvious. The answers are far more ambiguous now.

Again, this is not to say all Democrats are reading from the identical script; they’re clearly not. Congressional Dems may feel a pull to support their president because he’s their president, but while the leadership in both chambers will likely endorse the White House’s position, I expect a large number of Democratic defections.

But it’s the GOP facing a possible turning point on foreign policy, and it’s the Republicans’ intra-party fissures that are about to take center stage in a way we haven’t seen in a long while.

Foreign Policy and Syria

Predicting the GOP's course on Syria