The flip flops on Syria, the rhetorical U-turns, the hubris and the hesitance…but this time, I’m not referring to Team Obama. This is about the Republicans.
Any Obama-hater who thinks the president has a monopoly on irresolution is simply not paying attention. On the issue of whether or how to attack Syria, many Republicans have already performed enough back flips to qualify for the Olympics gymnastic squad. Hawks have morphed into doves, and the hypocrisy reeks. It’s no defense of Obama to point out that he has plenty of company across the aisle.
For instance (and this is just a sampling), we have aspiring president Marco Rubio, who declared back in April that he was just as concerned as Obama about Syria’s use of chemical weapons; indeed, he endorsed Obama’s “red line.” The senator said: “It’s clear the ‘red line’ drawn by President Obama has now been crossed. The time for passive engagement in this conflict must come to an end….We must not allow Assad to continue violating all international norms by using these vile weapons and allowing Syria to descend further into chaos and instability. This will have disastrous consequences for U.S. interests for decades to come.”
Obama couldn’t have said it better. Rubio was calling for active American engagement, and we all know what he meant. But that was in April. In September, he supports passive engagement, or maybe no engagement. He says he is “unconvinced that the use of force will work. The only thing that will prevent Assad from using chemical weapons in the future is for the Syrian people to remove him from power.” But wait, how can the Syrian people removed Assad from power without our active engagement – which Rubio called for in April?
We also have the right-wing Heritage Foundation think tank, currently helmed by former tea-partying Sen. Jm DeMint. Last November, it assailed Obama for failing to foment regime change in Syria: “In order to keep the situation from crumbling further, the United States and its allies should work to facilitate government transition when the Assad regime fails…Action must be taken sooner rather than later.”
Spoken like true armchair warriors. But this month, the think-tankers are suddenly cooing like doves: “Heritage Action (the foundation’s political arm) is opposed to punitive missile strikes on the Syrian regime. There is not a vital U.S. interest at stake.”
We also have Michael Grimm, a House Republican. Not long ago, he vociferously supported a military strike against Syria; in his words, “This is about our credibility.” But last week, in an open letter, he canceled that conviction: “I decided to withdraw my support from President Obama’s proposal for a military strike against Syria.” He switched sides “after much deliberation and prayer.” He said, “I do not feel that our country has enough to gain by moving forward with this attack.”
And did I mention that this open letter was a fund-raising letter? Grimm is trying to raise money off his flip flop: “Stand with me today with a donation of $25 or more to strongly oppose military action on Syria.”
We also have Sen. Ted Cruz, aspiring president and the conservative camp’s Cruz missile. Back in June, he was bristling for action. He declared that “preventing Syria’s large stockpile of chemical weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists” was crucial to “the vital national security interests of the United States.” And the United States should take the lead, militarily, in safeguarding that stockpile: “Right now we need to develop a clear, practical plan to go in, locate the weapons, secure or destroy them, and then get out. We might work in concert with our allies, but this needs to be an operation driven by the mission, not by a coalition. The United States should be firmly in the lead to make sure the job is done right.”
But wait, the screech you just heard was Cruz slamming on the brakes.
Now he’s insisting that a military intervention would be “a mistake.” Why? Because Obama’s proposed intervention “is not based on defending U.S. national security.” Well, OK. But how about securing the stockpiles on behalf of the international community? Nah, he doesn’t like that either: “I don’t think it’s the job of our military to be defending amorphous international norms.”
We also have Paul Ryan (remember him? understudy on a failed Republican ticket?). Last fall, during the vice presdential debate, he declared that he and Mitt Romney “agree with the same red line” drawn by President Obama. He also that he’d entertain “putting American troops in…to secure those chemical weapons.” He also said that unless the U.S. did more to push for regime change, “we, and the world community, will lose our credibility.” But this week, Ryan said we have no stake in the Syrian civil war, and that a military strike in response to Assad’s crossing the red line was a bad idea: “I fear it will make things worse.”
We also have Sen. James Inhofe, who said in May that Obama should “exhibit the leadership required of the commander in chief,” and stop Assad’s “brutal assault against the Syrian people” – only to pull a September switcheroo, deriding military strikes as “cruise-missile diplomacy,” and insisting that America “cannot afford another war.”
These Republicans, and many others, might claim that they’re simply responding to the complexity of the Syria crisis, and that they’re mirroring the public’s antiwar mood. (Probably true.) But they wouldn’t dare invoke that defense, because they’d have to concede that Team Obama is grappling with those very same factors.
Which is why they’re mostly insisting that they haven’t flip flopped at all, that their past stances are fully consistent with today’s. Yeah sure. And Miley Cyrus is pining to join a nunnery.
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