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Friday, October 28, 2016

WASHINGTON — It was only a matter of time before our polarized politics threatened to destroy a president’s authority and call into question our country’s ability to act in the world. Will Congress let that happen?

To raise this is not to denigrate those, left and right, who deeply believe that the United States should temper its international military role. Nor is it to claim that President Obama’s proposed strikes on Syria in response to Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons constitute some sort of “slam dunk” policy that should win automatic assent. But a bitter past hangs over this debate and could overwhelm a discussion of what’s actually at stake.

The wretched experience of Iraq is leading many Democrats to see Obama’s intervention in Syria as little different from what came before. Never mind that the evidence of Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people is far clearer than the evidence was about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or that Obama has been so reluctant to take military action up to now. It’s a paradox: While hawks criticize Obama for not being willing to act boldly enough against Assad, doves criticize him for being too willing to risk a wider war. Members of Obama’s party have to understand the risks of forcing him to walk away from a red line that he drew for good reason.

At the same time, Democrats will never forget how their patriotism and fortitude were questioned when they challenged President Bush on Iraq and other post-9/11 policies. Yes, Bush did sign a fundraising letter before the 2006 midterm election that spoke of Democrats “who will wave the white flag of surrender in the global war on terror and deny the tools needed to achieve victory.” At a campaign event that year, he said of Democrats: “It sounds like they think the best way to protect the American people is to wait until we’re attacked again.”

I bring this up only to remind Republicans opposing Obama on Syria — and I’m not talking about the consistent anti-interventionist libertarians — that some in their party are making arguments now that they condemned Democrats for making not very long ago. Can we ever break this cycle of recrimination?

  • John Pigg

    Yes, you are right. Some Republicans anti-war stance is based upon an absurd hatred for the President of the United States. Rumsfeld and Cheney fit rather neatly in this category.

    But others myself included have changed our views of the Iraq conflict. I would like to believe that does not make me a hypocrite, but shows that I have the intelligence to critically asses a situation and change my point of view. During my tour of duty, I witness widespread corruption through the DOD’s use of contractors, I saw individuals taking advantage of military benefits (i.e. takers), I saw expensive military equipment that had no practical purpose outside of a military police action in Iraq.

    This experience did a great deal to direct me away from the Republican Party and to be supportive of extensive cuts to military R&D, and contractors.

    Articles such as this one, fail to appreciate that a great deal of conservatives have honestly changed a great deal of their political views since 2003, I know I have.

    • charleo1

      There is no bigger fool, than one that stubbornly clings to his views.
      Refusing to even entertain dissent. For fear he might be compelled
      to do, what he had promised himself, and his pride he’d never do.
      Change his mind. Great Comment, John!

      • angelsinca

        They used to call this being principled. When anyone sways from their position now, they are called a flip-flopper.

        • patuxant

          An example of a true flip-flopper is Mitt.

    • angelsinca

      Unlike Cheney and Rumsfeld, not too many Republicans of consequence today have an ‘abusurd hatred’ for the president. Most conservatives simply prefer a leader that isn’t prone to polarizing all issues through partisan blame and ridicule of dissenting views.

      • John Pigg

        Depends how you define today. If you say that mainstream Republican critiques this year, are far more on topic than I would have to agree. Considering the NSA contraversy and more recently Syria.

        But if you would argue 2012, I would most certainly have to disagree. Romneys campaign was built entirely on smearing the Presidents administration while refusing to offer a meaningful alternative.

        I also do not see the President as a polarizing figure. Granted I don’t have a very positive view of a lot of their policies, but polarizing figure I don’t see it.

        • angelsinca

          By ‘today’, I mean that the republicans Cheney and Rumsfeld aren’t representative of how Republicans feel now (or then). It seems odd to present them as typical haters of the president. Obama won the smear campaign of 2012.

          • highpckts

            There are still war mongers in Congress along with Obama haters! Get them together and we have a very bad situation!

      • Dominick Vila

        Asking for congressional approval before intervening in Syria is hardly a polarizing action. In fact, it is the exact opposite when you consider that he has the authority to go to war, as defined by the War Powers Act of 1973. One of the reasons so many Republicans consider him a polarizing figure is because of his willingness to tackle social problems that almost every former President avoided like the plague.

        • angelsinca

          I agree Dominic; asking for a vote from congress to invade Syria is not polarizing. Committing America to war is. Also, it isn’t the tackling os social issues that makes him polarizing. It is how he continues to impose those social changes with apparent disregard for other views as evidenced by continuing demonization of all that don’t agree.

          For clear examples of what I mean, just read ANY of the comments and articles within the Memo here regarding conservatives, Christians or Republicans.

          • Landsende

            By polarizing do you mean disenfranchising millions by making it harder to vote, cutting social programs for the needy while lowering taxes on the rich, forcing women to have invasive procedures and passing laws taking away their right to make decisions about their own body or refusing to pass sensible gun legislation that 90% or the population want. If that’s the kind of polarization you mean, it isn’t President Obama pushing this agenda.

          • highpckts

            F & F!!

          • Dominick Vila

            Seeking congressional approval to commit the United States to go to war is the exact opposite to committing the USA to go to war unilaterally.
            The fact that the Tea Party and conservative Republicans at large do not agree with President Obama’s social initiatives does not mean his proposals and/or the social programs he proposed and signed to not enjoy the support of the majority of Americans that voted for him and re-elected him.
            The same goes for his decision to oppose attempts to privatize Social Security, dismantle MEDICARE and MEDICAID, and repeal or not fund the Affordable Care Act.

          • patuxant

            Bravo, Dominick!
            Seems like no matter what he attempts, the right and far right and the far far right will oppose. Now they are saying he delayed action by moving forward. If he did they would bitch he didn’t consult them. There is no win-win with these antagonists.

          • angelsinca

            “..but we expect him to stand by what he promised to us and thus far, he has done exactly that.”

            You mean like reducing unemployment and creating jobs? You are a bit more preachy than usual, Dominic.

            The boastful 51% majority that voted for this president seems to have evolved into an approval rating of only 44%. Things change, don’t they.

        • patuxant

          I have recently read commentaries where the supposition is that the President deliberately orchestrated this to put the opposition to a point of “put up or shut up”. I think that may be accurate since now they are backed into a corner. What are your thoughts?

      • elw

        Actually the opposite is true, too many vocal and Republicans of consequences predictably take the opposite side of the President no matter what the subject is, even at their own expense. They have forgotten what they are suppose to do for an agenda of take down the President at any expense. It is why they are losing membership and have lost their standing on the National level.

      • DennisRL

        I am constantly amazed with how the right calls President Obama polarizing. That’s laughable. If anything, he’s too accommodating and too soft. But if all you hear is the strident garbage from fox etc. and you are a fascist, which I believe the far right now is, then anyone that doesn’t absolutely agree with everything you say would be polarizing. On top of that, if Obama came out today and agreed with everyone of the rights positions, I’m convinced they would change there’s just so they wouldn’t have to agree with him.

        • angelsinca

          The love the left had for GW Bush doesn’t count, I guess.

          According to wiki, “Fascists seek to unify their nation through a totalitarian state that promotes the mass mobilization of the national community”. Sound familiar?

  • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

    Here is how I see this whole idiotic scenario.
    1. President Obama draws his “red line” over the use of chemical weapons.
    2. Assad’s forces allegedly (?) use chemical weapons against an area known to harbor rebels.
    3. Russia and China threaten Veto action should the UN Security Council raise the issue.

    4. Republicans (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rove) chide him for not immediately taking action, even though there is no proof positive that Assad’s forces were the actual perpetrators.
    5. England’s Parliament refuses to grant authority to undertake military action, feeling they were burned by poor intelligence from the US over Iraq (see above for those responsible).
    6. France’s Assembly refuses to grant authority to undertake military action without UN approval.
    7. Other countries, fearing Russia cutting off their supplies of natural gas, refuse to support the actions.

    8. Congressional Republicans demand they have a say in any action being taken.
    9. Democratic majority in the Senate Armed Services Committee approves the resolution to use “military force” against Assad, while John McCain plays video poker on his iPhone, almost missing the vote.

    10. Rand Paul threatens to filibuster the measure when it comes to the Senate Floor.
    11. Speaker Boehner cannot guarantee passage based on Republican votes alone, so he has yet to schedule a vote for it, even though it would probably pass on a bipartisan vote.
    12. President Obama gets to walk away from the whole issue with clean hands because the Republicans will not grant him the authority to use military action that he really does not want to have to use, especially given that 90% of America does not want to get involved militarily.

    • idamag

      I agree with your take, but now how about your feelings about polarization?

  • idamag

    It is highly immature to keep this feuding going. An intelligent person can listen to both sides and weigh the arguments to make a decision. The unlearned listen to whatever reinforces their belief system and nothing else. They allow themselves to be told what to think. Unfortunately, the art of face to face conversation is being lost. The art of arguing has turned into quarreling. Also, there is the divide and conquer thing. Working together we can be strong. Working against each other makes us vulnerable to a takeover of our government. Instead of someone saying, “I feel this way because of these facts…” we get if you don’t agree with me you are a doo-doo face, a communist, a fascist or whatever the latest epithet is.

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    The GOP today is not the GOP of Eisenhower and Stevenson. Those were real men…not spoiled “HAVES” all too accustomed to living off the fat of the land provided by everyone but themselves. When you never know struggle or keeping your head above water, it’s pretty easy to sit on a throne and play royal games with the toil and money the serfdom provides.

    The right wing in the US are not the right of yesteryear. These righties want it their way and they want it now…You can only imagine the destruction of our Constitution and democracy should that nightmare ever happen. Their attitudes of superiority just needs to be taken down a few pegs so they crash land and face what the rest of the country faces…huge debt to keep the 1% in wealth they neither worked for all by themselves nor are entitled to continuing to earn from others.

  • oldtack

    This is pure Beltway Politics. After almost five years of constant attack by the Republicans and Libertarians the President, rather than act on his own concerning Syria “pitched the ball” into the Republican Court for them to decide what action the US should take. Obama take heat but the opposition takes more heat. It’s a power struggle and one in which we will become stronger or-crumble into a second-rate power.
    Right now our future lies in the Republican/Libertarian Court. And that -folke- is the way things work inside the Beltway.

    I wonder – has it ever occurred to these “leaders” how easy it would be for Terrorist Organizations to smuggle Saren Gas into our major cities?

    • Dominick Vila

      I doubt it, even though the possibility of those weapons of mass destruction falling in the hands of terrorist organizations is very real and something that should not be ignored.
      I am surprised Israel has not taken a stronger stand on this issue, considering they would be the first target to be attacked if terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah get their hands on Syria’s WMDs. I guess they are waiting to see whether or not we do what the leader of the free world is expected to do before they do something about it. If we do nothing, and Putin’s initiative does not bear fruit, you can bet on Israel taking matters into their own hands and finishing what we failed to do. The sad part of that possibility is that if that happens, we will have no choice but to get involved since that will be the spark that will ignite widespread warfare throughout the Islamic world.

      • patuxant

        My ancestors were from Yugoslavia and Croatia and other part bordering the Middle East. I have witnessed the long-standing hatred from one tribe/faction against the other and this major conflict in Syria does not surprise me. This goes back many many generations. When I look at the way people live and dress in the middle east, I am confounded by what I see. It is as though we have morphed to warp speed from their time capsule. We cannot change the idelogies of these people when their lifestyles are so vastly apart from our own. When we think we are saving people from the tyranny of dictators, do these people know how to tread water and find democracy? I truly doubt it. That is why I believe we need to get out face out of this mess and stop the insanity and take care of our own suffering citizens who are being marginalized by the right and far far right.

      • oldtack

        You are correct. If we fail to act then Israel will feel compelled to attack to protect their existence. If Israel carries out an attack then that will be the excuse Iran needs to attack Israel.

        In retrospect – if we do attack Syria then the same scenario will happen. We attack Syria – Iran and other Islamic countries attack Israel and we, as allies of Israel will be propelled into a war we do not need. And then there is Russia??

        Classic Catch 22.

  • Dominick Vila

    There is no question that some of the opposition to intervene in the genocidal acts carried out by members of the al-Assad regime for action against Syria are motivated by the overt hatred so many Republicans demonstrate day after day towards President Obama. The worst part of this is not so much that the opposition finds President Obama’s policies inconsistent with their values, but because they consider him an usurper unworthy to be in the Oval Office.
    Having said that, I think it is important to recognize and accept the fact that most of those voicing their opposition to war are fellow Democrats. After decades of continuous warfare, fear bordering in paranoia, and adventurism justified by lies, most Americans are weary of war and prefer a more measured approach to problem solving.
    Embarrassingly, that is exactly what Vladimir Putin did. I suspect that Putin’s initiative was motivated by the need to avoid the spread of Islamic radicalism and the potential use of chemical weapons, not only by rebels fighting to end tyranny, but by terrorist groups intent on harming anyone who disagrees with them, including their own people. Considering the large number of Muslims that reside in part of Russia, and in neighboring countries, Russia has a larger stake in solving this problem than we do.
    Putin’s initiative may also have something to do with the fallout of a successful invasion of Syria. The last thing he wants is for the United States to get its hands on the Russian made WMD and the large arsenal they sold to Hafez Assad and now to his son, Bashar.

  • charleo1

    It seems to me, if we look at President Obama through the lens of the immediate.
    It could be argued, he spoke irrationally. Some have criticized him for saying Assad
    should step down. Or, by making the red line statement without international, or
    domestic support, he has painted himself in a corner. Thereby foolishly damaging
    his own credibility, and worse, the authority of the office he holds. But I think history,
    albeit, much of it still unwritten, will judge President Barack Obama’s unflinching
    stand aganist aganist a tyrant’s criminal actions, in a much more favorable light.
    For one thing, President Obama is 100% correct in this matter, period, full stop.
    And, I think that gets obscured in the details. A war weary Nation, the shadow of Iraq, The refusal of our closest ally to join us, Assad’s Russian protectors. Will the actions Obama is purposing be effective, or will it set off a wider war, or more terrorism? And the potential possibility of us, not joining our President, who is standing in front of the world, and insisting, no, demanding, that the civilized world simply cannot, must not let this pass. It is a fair amount of drama, for the usually, no drama, Obama. So, let’s keep this in mind. At the end of the day, at the heart of the issue, President Obama is right. So let’s not get distracted America. Neither from
    the horror of the act, or the greater horror for the world. That something so barbaric in this day and age could happen. And we know it happened, and we have proven
    who made it happen. And, no one, but this American President, has the courage, and moral will to stand up to it? Without the benefit of hindsight, it is often hard to
    tell, if it is a fool rushing in, or a hero running into danger, risking everything, to do
    the right thing. I believe 100 years from now, history will look back on President
    Obama’s courageous stand aganist barbarism. And his willingness to risk his Presidency on the principal, that we as civilized human beings, don’t murder children in their sleep, in order to hold on to dictatorial power, as a watershed moment. Where America regained it’s vital, and necessary role in the world,
    of leading mankind away from it’s bloodstained past. Past the double threats of
    nuclear annihilation, and environmental genocide, into a better future.

  • highpckts

    The Middle East is a tinder keg right now! They just need a tiny excuse to blow up! We would be that excuse! I sincerely hope we do not go over there! They hate us already and this will be a rallying point for them! Hands off! Go through the UN and let all the other countries have a say and come to a consensus!

  • howa4x

    It is not only the president that will be repudiated. Long time neo cons and hawks like McCain and Graham will also suffer a stunning defeat by their own party. They have been the ones beating up on Obama for not intervening. Where are Rumsfeld and Cheney now? The kings of intervention are silent.
    My own view is that a limited strike won’t do enough to degrade Assad’s capability. We need to have the Hague indict him for crimes against humanity. That will raise the pressure on him to come to the negotiating table quicker than 4 or 5 cruise misses.
    As for gridlock only we the people can change that by demanding that our elected officials actually run the country for the good of everyone and not just the few.