Republican leaders have generally been content to ignore former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democratic presidential hopeful, focusing their energies instead on Hillary Clinton, but that wasn't the case yesterday. The Huffington Post reported
Republicans are outraged that Democratic presidential contender Martin O'Malley cited actual scientific research in comments about how climate change has contributed to internal conflicts in Syria. In an interview with Bloomberg on Monday, O'Malley discussed the national security implications of climate change. "One of the things that preceded the failure of the nation state of Syria and the rise of ISIS, was the effect of climate change and the mega-drought that affected that nation, wiped out farmers, drove people to cities, created a humanitarian crisis that created the symptoms -- or rather, the conditions -- of extreme poverty that has now led to the rise of ISIS and this extreme violence," he said.
Republicans and their allies pounced. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus called the Democrat's comments "absurd
." In conservative media
, Fox' Stuart Varney dismissed O'Malley's concerns as "nonsense," while another conservative outlet said the former governor is "saying truly brazenly silly things to get attention."
It's hard to say what role facts and evidence play in a dispute like this, but isn't O'Malley correct?
Drawing one of the strongest links yet between global warming and human conflict, researchers said Monday that an extreme drought in Syria between 2006 and 2009 was most likely due to climate change, and that the drought was a factor in the violent uprising that began there in 2011. The drought was the worst in the country in modern times, and in a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists laid the blame for it on a century-long trend toward warmer and drier conditions in the Eastern Mediterranean, rather than on natural climate variability.
Two years earlier, The Atlantic
published a piece
from William Polk, a veteran foreign policy consultant, who explained, "Syria has been convulsed by civil war since climate change came to Syria with a vengeance."
Republicans have fiercely resisted the very idea of connecting the climate crisis with national security, but this is a good example of the conditions the Pentagon and non-partisan experts have been warning about for several years.
Given the reactions from the RNC and conservative media, you'd think O'Malley was guilty of some ridiculous gaffe, but there's ample evidence that he's entirely right -- environmental conditions contributed to Syria's civil war, which in turn helped give rise to ISIS. It's alarming, but it's not all that complicated.
For his part, O'Malley spokesperson Lis Smith said in a statement yesterday, "If Republicans want to have a debate about either foreign policy or science, we have a message for them: bring it on. On both topics they are trapped in the past."