Rep. Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas, claimed in an interview on the Family Research Council's "Washington Watch" radio program this weekend, that President Obama isn't taking the threat of the Islamic State "seriously" and is doing "nothing" to stop the extremist group because he believes that "America's not exceptional." When Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, the host of the program, asked Smith why the president of Egypt and the king of Jordan are "responding in a more direct and authoritative way to these attacks of ISIS than our own president," Smith responded, "That is true. Other countries seem to be doing more or taking it more seriously."
It's alarming to think members of Congress have no idea that the United States launched a military offensive against ISIS six months ago, but the evidence of this widespread ignorance is hard to ignore.
As Right Wing Watch reported, the far-right Texas congressman and committee chairman went on to say, "He was going to 'degrade and destroy.' Well, I don't see any evidence of degrading and I don't see certainly any evidence of destroying ISIS. Other countries are moving better than we are. And we certainly ought to get other countries engaged without any doubt, but we cannot just sit around and do nothing, all it does is embolden our enemies."
Smith added that "one might hope" that President Obama "would be a little bit more responsive and a little bit more assertive and, frankly, trying to assert American power and provide weapons to those who are our allies, for example, or take actions to stop the atrocities that are occurring, or support other nations that are doing more than we are. But the president is doing none of these things. He's decided in effect that America's not exceptional, that we don't have a role to play in the world, and that he's not going to be concerned about it."
When it comes to national security, counter-terrorism, and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, there's ample room for spirited debate. Indeed, one is long overdue. It's complicated; it's scary; it's a matter of life and death; and the right answers are rarely obvious.
That said, we know with some certainty that just about every sentence Lamar Smith uttered is completely bonkers -- and fits into an alarming pattern of partisan ignorance.
Smith said Egypt and Jordan are "responding in a more direct and authoritative way to these attacks of ISIS" than the United States. That's the opposite of reality -- President Obama has launched several hundred airstrikes on ISIS targets, far more than Egypt and Jordan combined.
Smith said he hasn't seen "any evidence" that U.S. airstrikes are degrading ISIS. That evidence is readily available.
Smith said "other countries are moving better than we are." There's no other country on the planet doing more than the United States to confront ISIS.
Smith said the United States "cannot just sit around and do nothing." We're not doing nothing; we're launching airstrikes and assembling an international coalition.
Smith said Obama should "assert American power," while Obama asserts American power. Smith said Obama "should provide" weapons to our allies, while Obama provides weapons to our allies. Smith said Obama doesn't believe we "have a role to play in the world," even as the president explicitly argues the exact opposite.
It's as if the Texas Republican took all of the news from the last six months, turned it upside down, and decided to take the anti-reality version to the public.
And if it were just the House Science Committee chairman making these demonstrably false claims, it'd be alarming, but the truth is the problem is far more widespread. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) thinks the president won't take action against ISIS. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) recently argued, "I don't believe that the president really wants to prosecute a war that would truly destroy ISIL." Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is skeptical that the president wants to "deal with" ISIS.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) complained Obama "won't act" against ISIS after the president had already launched a military offensive against ISIS. Around the same time, Fox News aired an on-screen message that falsely told viewers there had been "no military action yet against ISIS."
If I could explain any of this, I would. It's as if much of the Republican Party sees American airstrikes against ISIS targets, but has chosen not to believe their lying eyes.
As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, I'm all for Republicans -- and Democrats, and journalists, and the public, and our allies -- asking questions about the U.S. mission. Is it working? What's the endgame? Is it realistic? Should the mission receive congressional authorization? What will it cost? Who's likely to benefit?
But the prerequisite to having a credible debate about U.S. military intervention abroad is acknowledging that U.S. military intervention abroad exists. We can't have a serious debate when one side of the fight replaces our reality with their own alternate version where facts don't matter.