Republican reactions to the foreign policy elements of President Obama’s State of the Union address seem a little excessive. It’s one thing to push for an alternate course and call for more wars and foreign invasions, but immediately after the speech, some in the GOP seemed to get a little hysterical.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), for example, said of U.S. policy towards Iran, “What I fear is that we’re making the mistakes of the past – the same mistakes the Clinton administration made with North Korea.” Cruz apparently doesn’t know the Clinton administration’s policy towards North Korea was generally quite successful. The dictatorship didn’t develop a nuclear weapons until Bush/Cheney abandoned Clinton’s policy.
Cruz went on to raise the specter of Iran detonating a nuclear weapon over the skies of New York or Los Angeles, which seems like a rather fanciful scenario given the technology necessary to make such an attack possible.
But Cruz was almost grounded compared to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
After praising President Barack Obama on immigration, South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham blasted the foreign policy portion of the State of the Union speech.“The world is literally about to blow up,” Graham said, saying he completely disagrees with Obama on Iran policy.
Um, no. Actually, it’s not, and senators really shouldn’t go around saying stuff like this.
Some pushback is understandable – though the Republican Party’s foreign policy, for the first time in generations, is poorly defined and lacking in a coherent vision, Obama’s approach has challenged GOP orthodoxy in a way that obviously makes the right uncomfortable. The president has already ended one disastrous war and is in the process of winding down the longest military conflict in American history.
This portion of last night’s address was a direct challenge to many of the right’s key assumptions about international engagement.
“We have to remain vigilant. But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our military alone. As Commander-in-Chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office. But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary; nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts. We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us – large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.“So, even as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks - through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners - America must move off a permanent war footing.”
This is, of course, exactly the opposite of what many Republican lawmakers, who’ve grown quite fond of the permanent war footing, wanted to hear.
But the president is moving forward anyway, which includes diplomatic efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program. Indeed, Obama was at his most forceful last night when he told Congress he would veto a sanctions bill that seeks to sabotage ongoing, international talks.
“If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon,” he said. “But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.”
Obama’s position appears to be winning converts. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), arguably the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, is a co-sponsor of the sanctions bill that threatens to derail the diplomatic process. Last night, after the SOTU, Manchin backed off the legislation while talking to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.
“I did not sign it with the intention that it would ever be voted upon or used upon while we were negotiating,” the senator said. “And I think that’s the position. I signed it because I wanted to make sure the president had a hammer if he needed it and showed them how determined we were to do it and use it if we had to. But with that being said, we’ve got to give peace a chance here and we’ve got to support this process.”