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.”


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