Home National Politics Do Partisan Politics Still Stop at the Water’s Edge?

Do Partisan Politics Still Stop at the Water’s Edge?


It seems that opposition to Obama’s request is developing on the Republican side from people who have been hawkish about every issue of war and peace until this one.

It’s beginning to look like yet another instance of put their own partisan quest for power ahead of what’s best for the nation.

It’s beginning to look like yet another instance of the GOP riding roughshod over the best of America’s political traditions.

My own position on the authorization of force in Syria is heavily influenced by my belief that a failure for the Congress to support the president’s request would significantly increase the probability of very dangerous things happening between Israel and Iran and perhaps the United States.

There is evidence that the Iranians have interpreted even to Obama’s taking the issue to Congress as a sign that the President is weak.

If the United States shows itself unable to follow the president’s leadership on this military matter, the Iranians will be emboldened to pursue their quest for nuclear weapons. They will feel more secure that the United States will not enforce what Obama has said countless times about a nuclear-armed Iran being something the United States will not tolerate, and about “all options” being on the table.  

There is evidence that the Israelis are already moving away from relying on Obama to deal with the Iranians in a way that protects them from what Israeli politicians across the political spectrum have regarded as an “existential threat” to the state of Israel.

It seems that Prime Minister Netanyahu has sought cabinet approval to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran– an attack that hasn’t occurred only because he could not get the green light from his cabinet.

If — in the eyes of those Israeli leaders — Congress now deals a blow to Obama’s credibility  –already diminished apparently (I gather from the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz — in Israel even by his turning to Congress for authorization — then isn’t it reasonable to think enough votes in Netanyahu’s cabinet might shift from blocking to approving an Israeli pre-emptive strike against the Iranian nuclear program for the Israeli strike to go forward?  

This is what I believe is at stake in the Syrian situation.  In the big picture, a failure of Congress to support this president on this measure would make more likely a far more dangerous threat to world peace: an extremely dangerous confrontation between these two nations in a very volatile, part of the world in which vital interests are at stake.  

That’s why I think it mostly irrelevant when people ask how a strike will affect the civil war in Syria. That’s not where American interests are most clearly involved. A strike, approved by Congress, need only have the effect of making the United States, under President Obama, seem strong and credible enough in the eyes of the world, especially Iran and Israel.  

It does not have to change the dynamics in the unfortunate situation in Syria, where there’s no side it’s clearly worth the United States getting deeply enough involved to make the winner.

Given all the talk there’s been (from the likes of John McCain) about the need for the United States to jump into that war, given the red line the president drew about chemical weapons, given the Syrians’ so blatantly crossing that red line, the costs of the United States doing nothing would be very great.  

And if the president went ahead with the attack despite the will of Congress, that will not enhance his credibility to in being able to intimidate the Iranians into backing down on their nukes. The president will be too weakened anyway, too much out on a limb, and doubtless pummeled any on the Republican side who put hurting the president ahead of the national interest.

A Republican who opposes it because he thinks that the strike would be contrary to the national interest can be respected. Predicting the consequences of action or inaction is something on which reasonable people can differ.

But when Republicans who have ALWAYS previously approved every military action proposed (and by the way have often, to protect the rich, voted against what the public opinion polls show the public strongly favors), one has reason to suspect that the reason to believe that national interest is not their concern here, but rather the desire to hurt and weaken the President.

If in every previous instance they’ve been hawks, then we’ve reason to suspect that they see a chance to weaken this president.  And if that’s their reason, they are guilty of the very serious, very unAmerican sin of putting partisanship ahead of the national interest.

Given all the pressure that Republicans like John McCain have put on Obama to get involved in the war in Syria, given that the president drew his red line about the use of chemical weapons, given how blatantly the Assad regime crossed that red line, and given all that this administration hs said and proposed about this atrocity committed by the Assad regime, what seems to me most in the national interest — indeed, quite likely most in the interest of world peace in the big picture in the next several years — is for the United States to pull together in support of its president, as we almost always do in such situations in the past.

I hope the Republicans will remember what one of their great leaders of an earlier era said in the aftermath of World War II:  “Partisan politics ends at the water’s edge.”

  • ConsDemo

    There is evidence that the Iranians have interpreted even to Obama’s taking the issue to Congress as a sign that the President is weak.

    Really?  According to the Washington Post, the Iranian government (unlike the Russians) has been quite muted in its criticism of a potential American strike.

    There is evidence that the Israelis are already moving away from relying on Obama to deal with the Iranians in a way that protects them from what Israeli politicians across the political spectrum have regarded as an “existential threat” to the state of Israel.

    So be it.  We can’t be Israel’s keeper.  In the big scheme of things, Israel’s Middle East enemies probably bear more blame for ongoing hostile relations but Israel isn’t innocent.   Perhaps it should focus more on long term peace than territorial expansion (i.e. more settlements).   That might take some of the steam out of the anti-Israeli sentiment in the region.

  • amber waves

    In contrast to previous articles by Andy concerning the growing power of the presidency, this bemoans the loss of presidential authority to kill, launch wars and attacks at his/her discretion.  

    I am delighted that many republicans and democrats are re-claiming Congresses constitutional role as decider-in-chief when it comes to armed hostilities.

    Of course, many of these republicans are voting for the wrong reasons, and indeed Obama may take a political hit, but a weakened presidency is needed for a healthy democratic future.

  • MShapiro

    I’ve watched all 13+ hours of debate on CSPAN.

    Are you actually paying attention to what members of Congress are saying?

    You could just as easily make your claim about Democrats being partisan and supporting the President even though were it a Republican president, they would be completely opposed to another war.

    You also seem to miss the fact that many, many libertarian minded Republicans have been elected since the Iraq War and those Republicans who are followers, not leaders, are now following that segment of the party in opposition to Syrian intervention. The real hawks in the GOP are still hawks and are supporting the President.

  • DJRippert

    Not only have the Republicans thwarted Obama’s “bomb Assad into the stone age with a nuanced tactical strike” theory they have also managed to infiltrate the United Kingdom.  You’d think with these kinds of super-powers they’d be able to win more elections.

    The British Parliament is not swayed by American Republicans.  However, they are a very reliable US ally.  They voted down military intervention for one very good reason – it is a bad idea.

    Meanwhile, Boehner and Cantor claim to support Obama.  Kind of hard to see a lot of organized Republican partisan resistance given that.

    Sorry guys – this is just a bad idea, pure and simple.  


    Office of the Press Secretary


    September 6, 2013

    Joint Statement on Syria

    The Leaders and Representatives of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America made the following statement on the margins of the Group of 20 Nations Leader’s Meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia:

    The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is longstanding and universal.  The use of chemical weapons anywhere diminishes the security of people everywhere.  Left unchallenged, it increases the risk of further use and proliferation of these weapons.

    We condemn in the strongest terms the horrific chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21st that claimed the lives of so many men, women, and children.  The evidence clearly points to the Syrian government being responsible for the attack, which is part of a pattern of chemical weapons use by the regime.

    We call for a strong international response to this grave violation of the world’s rules and conscience that will send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated. Those who perpetrated these crimes must be held accountable.

    Signatories have consistently supported a strong UN Security Council Resolution, given the Security Council’s responsibilities to lead the international response, but recognize that the Council remains paralyzed as it has been for two and a half years.  The world cannot wait for endless failed processes that can only lead to increased suffering in Syria and regional instability.  We support efforts undertaken by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.

    We commit to supporting longer term international efforts, including through the United Nations, to address the enduring security challenge posed by Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.  Signatories have also called for the UN fact finding mission to present its results as soon as possible, and for the Security Council to act accordingly.

    We condemn in the strongest terms all human rights violations in Syria on all sides.  More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, more than 2 million people have become refugees, and approximately 5 million are internally displaced.  Recognizing that Syria’s conflict has no military solution, we reaffirm our commitment to seek a peaceful political settlement through full implementation of the 2012 Geneva Communique.  We are committed to a political solution which will result in a united, inclusive and democratic Syria.

    We have contributed generously to the latest United Nations (UN) and ICRC appeals for humanitarian assistance and will continue to provide support to address the growing humanitarian needs in Syria and their impact on regional countries. We welcome the contributions announced at the meeting of donor countries on the margins of the G20.  We call upon all parties to allow humanitarian actors safe and unhindered access to those in need.  

    European signatories will continue to engage in promoting a common European position.

  • on Syria, makes the case for why NOT taking action on Syria is far more risky than TAKING action on Syria.  Power says:

    We assess that although Assad used more chemical weapons on Aug. 21 than he had before, he has barely put a dent in his enormous stockpile and the international community has clearly not yet put a dent in his willingness to use them...If there are no consequences now for breaking the prohibition on chemical weapons, it will be harder to muster an international consensus to ensure that Hezbollah and other terrorist groups are prevented from acquiring or using these weapons themselves. People will draw lessons if the world proves unwilling to enforce the norms against chemical weapons use that we have worked so diligently to construct…In Assad’s cost-benefit calculus, he must have weighed the military benefits of using this hideous weapon against the recognition that he could get away with it because Russia would have Syria’s back in the Security Council…If we cannot summon the courage to act when the evidence is clear and when the action being contemplated is limited, then our ability to lead in the world is compromised.