My colleague Ron Radosh does a fine job of laying out a case for conservatives to support President Obama’s drive for military strikes on Syria. Radosh draws from his considerable knowledge of history, focusing in on the dangers of “isolationism,” to make his case that isolationism both left and right should be rejected and the president should be supported. Radosh joins the Wall Street Journal’s Brett Stephens in making this case.
Today, as Bret Stephens pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, isolationism seems to be rearing its ugly head, although he writes, “Most Republicans don’t want to become, again, the party of isolationists.” But, he cautions, “the Syria debate is also exposing the isolationist worm eating its way through the GOP apple.” His fears were justified at yesterday’s Foreign Relations Committee hearing, especially when Sen. Rand Paul got engaged in a testy exchange with Secretary of State John Kerry.
As Stephens writes, Sen. Paul would be right at home with the views of Robert A. Taft, since Taft in his day and Paul today are oblivious to how failing to use American power to create a safe world endangers our vital national security goals. Writing at his “Postmodern Conservative” site at First Things, political scientist James Ceaser, like Stephens, urges his fellow conservatives to support an authorization of force resolution in Congress. “Nor is there any way,” he cautions, “to get around the fact that this vote begins to set the future direction of the Republican Party — whether it will be an internationalist or an isolationist party.” He worries that “many in the Republican Party are itching to use Obama’s mishandling of this situation to establish a new isolationist center of gravity for the Republican Party in international affairs. That’s not the place the Republican Party should be.”
These are all fine arguments, but miss the proverbial elephant in the room: Barack Obama. His leadership matters a great deal as we consider whether to strike Syria or not. The personnel he has chosen to surround himself with also matter.
As long as we are citing history, it may be wise to pass over the debates that preceded World War II and look directly at the current war and what this president’s actions have left behind in the here and now. Surely this president’s intentions and actions matter?
President Barack Obama came to power waging war against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He utterly disregarded the threat of radical Islam when he was a candidate for the presidency. He blamed George W. Bush for every ill in the world, and continues that juvenile blame game today. Barack Obama as president has presided over a government that dishonestly downplays the threat of Islamic jihad to comical levels, describing Nidal Hasan’s terrorist attack at Fort Hood as “workplace violence.” His government has gone out of its way to fundamentally redefine Islamist terrorism as “man-caused disasters.” His current director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, dubbed the Muslim Brotherhood, the fountainhead of Islamist terrorism, a “mostly secular” organization. If Obama objected to any of these glaring mischaracterizations, he never showed it. Not once. Clapper was eventually promoted.
The Obama government has carried its fundamental dishonesty regarding the global war on terrorism to its overseas adventures. Obama helped drive Egypt’s secular and pro-American dictator, Hosni Mubarak, from power. Mubarak was replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood, which has since been ousted by the military. Egypt remains on the brink of civil war and could become a massive failed state. The Muslim Brotherhood wages pogroms against Egypt’s Coptic Christians, and Obama’s government says precious little and does even less about it.
Obama waged war against Gaddafi in Libya under the guise of “kinetic action.” That war is likely the template for whatever action Obama intends to take, or where his actions will likely lead, in Syria. To put it bluntly, after Obama’s war Libya is in worse shape than when the thug Gaddafi ruled it. It is fast becoming a failed state. It is already incubating terrorism. When that terrorism boiled up into a military-style assault on the U.S. facility in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, Barack Obama and his lieutenants lied to the American people, brazenly and repeatedly, about the nature of the attack. He and his lieutenants assaulted the First Amendment. Why should we trust them to tell the truth now?
Obama himself now insists that he never even set a “red line” in Syria, and is setting Congress up to take the fall if it decides against military action — action he even admits is unlikely to make any difference in the war. This is a man Americans should trust to involve us in yet another war in the Middle East? This is a man conservatives should support?
Barack Obama has approached Syria with none of the seriousness that such a grave decision deserves. He has failed to build a serious international coalition to back the U.S. He has failed to make the case for action to the American people. He is even today putting politics ahead of national security, huddling first with his former campaign officials and then with left-wing bloggers and columnists to sell the Syria war to his base. This is not leadership or statesmanship. It is mere salesmanship. Barack Obama is proving, so far, that he isn’t even very good at that, and needs Bill Clinton to save him.
I am very familiar with the history that Radosh and Stephens cite to persuade conservatives to support action. I don’t find it persuasive. It is not “isolationist” or being a “Taft Republican” or a “paleocon” to view Barack Obama, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel and the rest of this president’s advisers and lieutenants — Valerie Jarrett, James Clapper and so forth and so on — with deep suspicion and apprehension. None of them have shown consistent and knowledgeable opposition to the global jihad, its violent actions overseas or its stealthier actions here at home. None of them have shown the kind of resolute pro-American leadership that we will need if we choose the path of war. All of them have shown varying degrees of hostility to the American position in the world. None of them have earned America’s trust on this. They still may, but have not done so yet.
I consider myself an internationalist and usually favor American military action against our enemies, and Bashar Assad is an enemy of the United States. I served overseas in the United States Air Force and saw firsthand how the U.S. military’s global presence serves as the greatest force for global peace the world has ever seen. I supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am also chastened by the reality of those wars. American troops fight and die for others’ freedom, only to have Iraqis and Afghans write sharia law into their constitutions and Islamicize their institutions. Given the choice of freedom and pluralism for the first time in living memory, they freely reject it. We should learn from these experiences and apply what we learn to conflicts like Syria’s civil war. What will a half-hearted U.S. military intervention really accomplish?
The Middle East is undergoing what might be called a religious revival, but not in the Jonathan Edwards “Great Awakening” sense. The Middle East’s revival is Islamic and therefore Islamist, and jihad is on the march around the globe. In Syria, jihad is powering the rebellion against the Baathist thug Assad. Any American intervention will end up either doing nothing — in which case, what’s the point? — or it will aid the jihadist rebellion. Neither is in the American national interest. We cannot impose Jeffersonian democracy in the Middle East, not even with hundreds of thousands of troops — the “boots on the ground” that Obama is already ruling out for Syria.
I agree with Stanley Kurtz that President Obama drew his Syria “red line” in in the wrong place, at use instead of proliferation. The United States should not wage any military action based on that fundamental error. If Obama chooses military action, conservatives should not support him.
It is not “isolationist” to mistrust the Obama government and to see where its adventure in Syria is likely to lead. It is not “isolationism” to see the Middle East for what it is. It is common sense.
With all due respect, Barack Obama has not earned conservative support for action in Syria and does not deserve it.