Some commentators saw the Republican Party’s fulminations over how best to attack President Obama’s Syrian policy as an example of some deep split within the party. And there are certainly some temperamental differences between the slavering neocons and the foam-flecked fundamentalists. But for me it was rather an illustration of the great unifying principle of the twenty-first century GOP: it’s nauseating opportunism which manifests itself as unadulterated hypocrisy through an almost nihilistic opportunism. Examples of the extent to which their policy shifts were basically designed to humiliate the President abound.
Donald Rumsfeld had the nerve to accuse the President of not justifying a bombing campaign against Syria, and of not showing how our national security was at risk. Rumsfeld, you will remember, is the man who helped George W Bush and Dick Cheney sell an illegal war of aggression—the crime for which the Nazis were prosecuted at Nuremburg—based on lies and misrepresentations, and who then proceeded to grossly misjudge the resources needed to fight the war and to mismanage it so badly that over 100,000 Iraqis were killed and nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers lost their lives. He was a member of an administration that pretended that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden to persuade the public to wage a war that will cost our country trillions of dollars.
Allen West is a former Congressman who personally presided over the torture and abuse of an Iraqi detainee, and who when in Congress spouted almost continuous vitriol, hatred, and bigotry. He was such a staunch supporter of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he said at one point that anti-war Americans should “get shot at a few times” on the battlefield to change their minds. This man, best known for peddling hatred, had the lack of self-awareness to accuse John Kerry of “bloviating”.
John Bolton, one of the most aggressive warmongers in the Bush administration, is now accusing the President of contemplating “feckless” intervention, and said that the political morass the President faces is of his own making, ignoring the role that the lying, manipulative, self-serving, profiteering administration he served is most responsible for damaging the credibility of the presidency when it comes to mounting ostensibly-humanitarian interventions. It’s a pity Bolton didn’t experience any of these qualms when he was agitating for an escalation of the war in Iraq and arguing for the destruction of the United Nations not so many years ago.
Republican Congressman Buck McKeon, who wrote blank checks to the Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who backed measures to allow the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens, has suddenly discovered a yearning for oversight, and said that Obama should have accompanied his every utterance over Syria with consultation of Congress. While Congressional approval for military action is a good thing, there is a reason why foreign policy is largely directed by the executive...imagine trying to get McKeon and his lunatic, opportunistic colleagues to try to vote on every statement the U.S. government makes about its international relations.
Senator Bob Corker, his ego bruised when the Russian diplomatic intervention sidelined his desire for war, made an almost demented and impressively substance-free attack on the President for refusing to show leadership, an attack which conveyed the impression that he hadn’t actually watched Obama’s speech the night before. For Corker and others, it’s about their ability to be centre-stage more than the welfare of Syrians or the prospect of sparking a wider war.
Mitch McConnell, the GOP Senate leader, has long been a strong supporter of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He supported the war in Iraq, its escalation, and fought tooth-and-nail against efforts to draw it down. Apparently forgetting that he supported the war of aggression on Iraq—a war about exporting ideology, expanding U.S. hegemony, and about embroiling our country in a “clash of civilisations” style war that had nothing whatsoever to do with our national security—McConnell cited the absence of U.S. national security interests in Syria and the contradictions of the Obama administration’s case as the basis for his opposition to military action in Syria. It’s hard to believe that there isn’t an element of opportunism and reflexive opposition to the President in this opposition by a man who wasn’t in the slightest bothered in supporting the war in Iraq, which was mired in constitutions and built on utterly transparent lies.
Liz Cheney, who is running for a senate seat in Wyoming, is a neoconservative like her father, who famously invented a connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden to help to engineer the war in Iraq. She has spent the past five years assailing the President for an insufficiently bloodthirsty foreign policy, and once authored a document advocating executive supremacy and the suspension of constitutional rights. Now she’s been transformed into an advocate of Congressional oversight, and opposes intervention in Syria.
Marco Rubio, a senator from Florida, made a big splash in last year’s GOP convention with a speech calling for the aggressive export of the doctrine of “American exceptionalism”, and advocating a muscular U.S. foreign policy. A few months ago he was calling for regime change in Syria and attacking the President for moving too slowly. Suddenly, Rubio believes that a mild bombing campaign, no less regime change, is problematic.
Senator John Coryn is creatively hypocritical even by the standards of the GOP, having supported Bush’s wars, but going out of his way to undermine the efforts of the military to fight them, often undermining the war effort in an effort to seek special preference for military hardware produced in Texas. Ideologically, however, he was on board with Iraq. Having supported that chaotic, immoral, illegal, and under-planned war, he is now attacking the President for presenting an insufficiently detailed plan of action for Syria.
Rand Paul is presenting himself as a nice, clean isolationist. But we must remember the immoral manner in which he ended his filibuster of Obama’s nominee to be CIA director as soon as he was reassured that the drone programme would only be used to murder non-U.S. citizens. People like Paul are not men of peace...they simply buy into the doctrine of exceptionalism which holds that U.S. citizens are more human than other people and is okay with murdering foreigners out of hand using what the administration clinically calls a “disposition matrix”.
In addition to the hypocrites, there are the hateful demagogues.
Mike Huckabee passed on some advice for handling the civil war in Syria: “When your enemies are killing each other...let them”. Here our country is trying to have a serious conversation about human rights, the national interest, and humanitarian intervention, and Huckabee comes out with this nonsense. He was joined by fellow circus entertainer, Sarah Palin, who jeered that we should “let Allah sort it out”, expressing more of that ignorance that made her briefly the foreign policy sensation of the century.
RNC chair Reince Priebus said, “The rudderless diplomacy has embarrassed America on the world stage”. Undoubtedly Priebus was going to say the same thing whatever had happened in the past couple of days, and whatever the President said on television. But he needs to be reminded that his party has shown no leadership on the issue of Syria, some of its members being driven by a pathological hatred of the President, others by small-minded isolationism, and others by a bloodthirsty desire for war. Unlike his party in 2001 or 2003, the President—whether by accident or design—managed to calibrate his threats such that he was able to achieve at least the prospect of a diplomatic solution to the immediate solution of Syria’s chemical arsenal, a solution which, if it succeeds, could also open the door to a peace settlement in the country, the success of which will be primarily dependent on the desires of Syrian combatants, but which will be helped if the President has the support of Congress in the matter instead of being subjected to opportunistic and unconstructive sniping.
I have to appreciate the honesty of people like Tony Blair, who has been calling for an armed intervention. Blair will be oblivious until the day he dies about the horror he caused in Iraq, so convinced is he that he serves as a divine instrument for justice on earth. In the U.S., John McCain played a similar role, expressing disappointment that the President didn’t talk more about arming the opposition. McCain is not interested in peace. He is essentially a man of violence, and he and the other hawks want to escalate rather than decrease the violence sweeping Syria.
This is one reason why the GOP are such a threat...some of its members are driven by a fundamentalist zeal around military or economic ideologies. But others are driven by nothing more than a lust for power...a lust which will drive them to say anything and do anything for personal political gain. Because their own interests rather than those of the public or the nation come first, they are dangerously unpredictable, the only certainty being just how prepared they are to sacrifice the welfare of our country on the pyre of their ambition.