Lame duck Minnesota GOP congressperson Michelle Bachman’s flat out assertion that Syrian intervention would be a bad call and the US is war weary seemed to punctuate much of the GOP’s new thinking about war.
The eye-catching part of their sudden remake as the party of caution, even peace, can’t be overstated. A string of GOP presidents, Reagan, Bush Sr., and George W, Bush, GOP lawmakers, and top GOP administration officials for three decades drilled into the public the party’s hard as nails stance on defense spending, military preparedness, and unlimited, with or without congressional approval, war making. Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, and of course Iraq and Afghanistan, have been testimony to the GOP’s unfettered affinity for military intervention.
During the 2008 presidential election campaign, the GOP hit plan on then Democratic presidential candidate Obama was simple. Pound him relentlessly as soft on the war on terrorism and the military. Reagan, Bush Sr., and especially George W. Bush in 2004 in his reelection fight with Democratic presidential foe Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, used this ploy masterfully against their Democratic opponents.
GOP strategists believed that the soft-on-terrorism and the military smear would work on their Democratic opponents because the party had so firmly staked out its position as the party of military toughness. They had the numbers to back them up. In the months before the 2004 election, polls showed that the overwhelming majority of Republicans unequivocally backed the Iraq War. A decade later, the well-documented fact was that Bush’s claim that Weapons of Mass Destruction were stockpiled in Iraq was a sham and a fabrication, and that he and the war hawks in his administration shamelessly deceived Congress, the UN, and the public on the war. Yet, a majority of Republicans still held fast to the notion that the Iraq war was the right war to wage.
The GOP’s attempt to tag Obama as soft on defense and military action during the campaign did in part work against Obama. During the 2008 campaign, polls consistently showed that despite the mountain of political baggage GOP presidential contender John McCain and the GOP carried, and the sky-high voter disgust with Bush’s domestic and foreign policy bumbles, the soft-on–terrorism concern about Obama still had enough resonance to keep McCain competitive.
Recently, the GOP’s unconditional love affair with the defense industry was again on display in the rancorous congressional debates over the sequestration cuts. House GOP members paid lip service to the need to make some cuts in the bloated military budget along with cuts in the dizzying array of domestic programs that it demanded be axed. But in repeated votes, last spring, House Republicans sought to water down the military cuts and hack more money from everything from food stamps to disaster relief programs. The aim as always was not give an inch on the military.
Despite that history, the reversal by many GOP officials on waging aggressive wars is real. It’s driven by several factors, among which are the astronomical cost of defense spending on military actions, the libertarian ideals of party leaders such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, neo-isolationism, the dawning realization that US military actions have done absolutely nothing to enhance national security, or promote stable democratic regimes in the Middle East.
The other compelling factor is that Obama has been unflinching on the use of military action against wayward states. This has been evident in the relentless drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, the ramp up of the Afghan war, missile shots at Libya and now his full throated push for a Syria strike. This has his personal stamp all over it. And since GOP leaders have spent five years in an unbroken, unapologetic campaign to obstruct, delay, and torpedo any and every program and initiative that he has proposed, a congressional refusal for a Syria strike authorization would simply be a continuation of the pattern. It would put Obama in the position of invoking the War Powers Act and authorizing a strike against Syria. This would raise instant howls that Obama is subverting the constitutional process. If he doesn’t act, there will be howls from the still prominent GOP war hawks such as McCain that this is just another example of an administration that’s inept, adrift, and indecisive in its foreign policy initiatives.
Obama sought to avoid that very trap by tossing the ball for Syrian action back to Congress. But with a solid majority of the public opposed to a Syria strike, and memories short about the GOP’s hawk like history of military cheerleading, it’s a cynical, but easy, call for the GOP to try to reimage itself as the party of peace—at Obama and the Democrats expense.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network. His latest ebook ’47 Percent Negro’: A Chronicle of the Wackiest Racial Assaults on President Obama is now available (Amazon).
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