While most of the US is focused on the early primaries and caucuses, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been quietly working to introduce an open-ended war authorization bill. The proposed war-making powers would be essentially unlimited, with no restrictions on where war can be waged, how long it can be waged, or whether ground troops can be used. In other words, the same Republicans that occasionally criticize Obama’s excessive use of Executive Power, are trying to give him complete discretion on the most important issue of all: war.
Of course, it’s not like the absence of any authorization for the war against ISIS has had much effect on President Obama’s actions thus far. To name just a few examples, we have ground troops in Iraq already, special forces in Syria, and some special forces in Libya, with open talk of a larger escalation coming soon. We also regularly conduct airstrikes in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and conduct drone assassinations in other countries. And most of this, particularly the strikes in Iraq and Syria, is being without any plausible legal justification, as commentators on both sides of the political spectrum acknowledge.
All of this points to the convoluted nature of partisan politics on foreign policy. Like any other issue, the Republican opposition will always try their best to criticize a Democratic president on foreign policy. Prior to 9/11, that often (though not exclusively) meant complaining about efforts to nation-build or police the world. Indeed, even that well-known peacenik George W. Bush, initially campaigned on a “humble foreign policy” back in 2000. But after 9/11 and the Iraq invasion of 2003, the dynamic was flipped. Suddenly, the Republicans hadn’t met a war they didn’t like, and it was left to the Democrats to be the opposing antiwar voice. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, President Obama’s campaign was successful in large part because he was the relatively antiwar candidate in the Democratic primary, and again in the general election against Senator McCain.
But President Obama disrupted the partisan status quo once more on foreign policy. Despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize early in his first term, his Presidency has been anything but peaceful. Indeed, he even openly bragged about using military force in seven different countries. This naturally left the hawkish Republicans in a tough predicament. On the one hand, they needed to find a way to criticize President Obama, and the obvious option would have been to show how counterproductive Obama’s military interventions have been. Remember when we won the War on Terror by drone striking civilians, everyone? Nope, me neither. But on the other hand, Republicans had made supporting war an essential part of their brand. Given the choice between rebranding the Republican Party as the party of peace and shameless nationalistic fear-mongering, most politicians in the GOP unfortunately chose the latter.
And that’s what explains the bizarre circumstances in which we find ourselves. President Obama has been waging an indisputably illegal war in Syria for over a year with barely a whimper of protest from the Republicans. And now, the leading members of the Republican Party are trying to grant him (and his successor) even more power to wage war. These days many people complain about the lack of bipartisanship in Washington DC. But when it comes to matters of war and peace, both parties have been on the same disastrous page for the last seven years: more war, less peace.
For more on the details of this new story, check out this write-up on the bill from former Congressman Ron Paul: