Whither the Anti-War Left?
By Matthew Vadum
As America’s leftist president demands war against Syria, the anti-war Left is nowhere to be found.
Democratic lawmakers who reflexively oppose any military action proposed by a Republican president are for the most part missing in action now that a Democrat occupies the Oval Office.
Earlier this week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10 to 7 to authorize the president to use U.S. forces to attack Syria. The resolution stipulates that military action is restricted to within Syria’s borders, forbids U.S. troops on Syrian soil, and limits hostilities to a maximum of 90 days. Newly elected Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) heroically emulated Obama in his earlier legislative career by voting “present.”
The White House lauded senators for “moving swiftly and for working across party lines on behalf of our national security.”
Democrat are coalescing behind Obama because they don’t want him to be a lame duck for the rest of his time in office after he foolishly threw down the gauntlet against Syria in his “red line” speech last year.
On MSNBC, former top congressional aide turned liberal logorrheic Chris Matthews put the situation bluntly:
I think the Democrats are going to be forced to sacrifice men and women who really, really don’t want to vote for this. They’re going to have to vote for it to save the president’s hide. That’s a bad position to put your party in.
Although Syrian authorities were accused of using chemical weapons around the beginning of this year, lawmakers didn’t care much about the issue until the White House starting breathing down their necks a few weeks ago.
Suddenly, as President Obama tries to steer an unpopular immigration amnesty, Obamacare funding, and a debt ceiling increase through Congress this fall, Capitol Hill is experiencing an outbreak of bleeding-heart humanitarianism.
Former Vermont Gov. and ex-DNC chairman Howard Dean, the anti-war Left’s candidate for president in 2004, endorsed the force authorization. “Thus far I fully support the president, including his going to Congress.”
As the Washington Examiner observed, more members of the Democratic leadership in the Senate and House currently support military action in Syria than Republican leadership in either chamber. This makes sense because Democrats tend to view U.S. soldiers as heavily armed social workers who should be deployed overseas only to render humanitarian aid or advance fuzzy utopian schemes.
Four out of eight members of the Democratic leadership are on record as backing Obama’s dangerous military adventure. The other four are uncommitted but seem inclined to support the mission. Only two out of 10 members of GOP leadership on the Hill favor a resolution authorizing action against Syrian government forces, according to the Examiner‘s tally.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) supports the president. “I believe the use of military force against Syria is both justified and necessary,” Reid said.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also backs the force resolution. “If we can do something to discourage [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad and others like him from using chemical weapons without engaging in a war and without making a long-term military commitment of the United States, I’m open to that debate,”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) supports Obama. “This is behavior outside the circle of civilized human behavior and we must respond,” she said.
So does Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “I believe that the Syrian regime must know that their blatant violation of international norms will be met with a strong response,” Hoyer said.
Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), obediently kept his mouth shut at the insistence of the Obama White House. “I reserve judgment on Syria until a resolution and more details are forthcoming,” Clyburn said. The administration has instructed members of the Democrats’
Congressional Black Caucus to stay silent on the issue in public to give it more time to twist lawmakers’ arms.
These are the same people who had regular temper tantrums in the George W. Bush years as that administration took aim at terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, declaring quagmire after quagmire as terrorist body counts mounted.
So far the most eloquent critic of President Obama’s Syria policy is Illinois State Senator Obama.
In 2002 Obama acknowledged that Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein was “a brutal man,” “a ruthless man,” and “a man who butchers his own people to secure his own power.” Hussein “repeatedly defied U.N. resolutions, thwarted U.N. inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity,” Obama said at the time.
But Obama still opposed action against Iraq even though he admitted “the world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.” Hussein “poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States,” and a U.S. invasion to oust him would be “a dumb war,” “a rash war,” and “a war based not on reason but on passion.”
As Jacob Sullum notes, even though Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurds of northern Iraq, killing more than 5,000 men, women, and children, Obama didn’t consider that outrage sufficient to warrant American military intervention in Iraq.
Yet the 1,400 deaths Obama says were caused by the Syrian government’s sarin-gas attacks on its own population require a U.S. military response, in Obama’s view.
“What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?” Obama said in a speech over the weekend.
“Presumably the same message he was willing to send when he opposed war with Iraq,” Sullum dryly observes.
Becoming president also changed Obama’s views on the constitutional authority of the executive branch.
In late 2007, then-presidential candidate Obama told reporters that “the president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”
Now that he’s president, Obama says he does have the constitutional authority to act without Congress but that he wants congressional approval anyway. “I’ve long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” he said a few days ago.
When the ill-fated intervention in Syria’s civil war blows up in the administration’s face, Obama will be able to pin at least part of the blame on Republicans who lacked the moral courage to say no to an imperial president who has never had the best interests of the U.S. at heart.
There seem to be plenty of willing Republican dupes who support the president’s ill-defined call for action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Commentator Jed Babbin says President Obama may get congressional authority to strike Syria because “the Republican ‘leadership’ of national security affairs—at least the only ones who get media attention—is comprised of Obama’s most dedicated allies in Congress, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have said they support Obama’s plan. At press time, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is expecting a tough primary fight back home next year, had not taken a position on the issue.
And it turns out that an influential writer whose opinion lawmakers are relying on to justify war in Syria is also a paid advocate for that country’s jihadist-dominated insurgency. This week Secretary of State John Kerry urged House lawmakers to read a dubious Wall Street Journal op-ed by Elizabeth O’Bagy of the Institute for the Study of War. She is also political director for the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a group that advocates within the U.S. for Syria’s rebels.
In what could be a Walter Duranty moment, O’Bagy claimed concerns about Islamists’ sway over the anti-Assad coalition are overblown. “Contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and al-Qaida die-hards,” O’Bagy wrote.
“Moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces,” she wrote, only to be echoed in recent days by Koran and Arabic language scholar John McCain.
Meanwhile, opponents of Obama’s plan to reshape the Middle East by giving the Islamists the upper hand are being bought off and silenced in Congress while left-wing groups are kept on a tight leash.
The Obama administration is working behind the scenes to hand out legislative goodies in exchange for support for intervention in Syria’s civil war.
“I think the White House candy store is open,” said John Bolton, President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations.
“What do you need for your district or state? A post office? A new military facility? What do you want? I think anything you want you’re going to get because the White House is going to do whatever it takes to get a majority.”
Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) called out Democrat-aligned groups for their stunning hypocrisy, noting that “many of the most vocal opponents of the U.S.’s intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan under President Bush have changed their tune under Obama’s leadership.”
Although few Americans support U.S. intervention in Syria’s ongoing civil war, leading left-wing youth groups including College Democrats, Young Democrats, and Generation Progress (formerly Campus Progress, a high-traffic blog run by the Center for American Progress Action Fund), haven’t yet found the time to criticize President Obama’s proposal to involve U.S. forces in war 6,000 miles away from home.
Occupy Democrats openly praises Obama for his courage, or something.
“After President Bush’s war for ideology and profit,” foreign governments have been skeptical of U.S. intervention “for good reason,” the group said on its website. “[B]y sending the matter to Congress for a vote, it shows that President Obama is trying hard to shake the ghosts of this country’s past.”
YAL spokeswoman Bonnie Kristian said it is “astonishing to see some on the Left stumble to defend Obama’s indefensible position on intervention in Syria. The usual talking heads on MSNBC are scrambling to explain how Syria is different than Bush’s wars.”
That scrambling will intensify in coming weeks as Democrats try to save Obama’s hide.