Three years ago, Barack Obama was campaigning against dumb wars while John McCain was musing about staying in Iraq a hundred years. Now Republican hopefuls pound the President about military moves in the Middle East even as John Boehner warns him to get Congressional approval for his action in Libya by this weekend or face being in violation of the War Powers Act.
Behind this scramble of traditional hawks and doves is the emerging theme for 2012: Everything Obama does is wrong, including going to war and getting out of it.
A New York Times report puts it politely: “The hawkish consensus on national security that has dominated Republican foreign policy for the last decade is giving way to a more nuanced view...
“A new debate over the costs and benefits of deploying the military reflects the length of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the difficulty of building functional governments and the financial burden at home in a time of extreme fiscal pressure.
“The evolution also highlights a renewed streak of isolationism among Republicans, which has been influenced by the rise of the Tea Party movement and a growing sense that the United States can no longer afford to intervene in clashes everywhere.”
Sounds good as far it goes, but politics, which used to stop at the water’s edge, is in the depths of demagoguery and sound bites on a subject that deserves serious debate. If Republicans want to question the wisdom of what we are doing in the Muddle East (no typo)--as both parties should—-Boehner’s strategy of holding a gun to the White House’s head, just as he is doing on the debt-ceiling vote, is the absolutely worst way to do it.
In Monday’s debate, nobody went as far as Ron Paul’s usual call to get out now, but the others all criticized “Obama’s wars,” sounding not a loyal opposition but the way some Democrats used to rail against George W. Bush. If Romney, Pawlenty, Bachmann, Gingrich, Santorum and Cain had anything substantive to say beyond “Obama is wrong,” it was lost in the negative cheerleading.
With the summer deadline for drawing down in Afghanistan at hand, it’s time for serious thinking about our involvement there and elsewhere, but it has go beyond campaign carping.
Update: The debate takes a more substantive tone as the newest GOP entry Jon Huntsman, a former governor and diplomat, weighs in: “Whether we like it or not, whenever we withdraw from Afghanistan, whether it’s now or years from now, we’ll have an incendiary situation,” he says. “Should we stay and play traffic cop? I don’t think that serves our strategic interests.”
That’s the right question, and it’s reassuring to hear a Republican asking it.