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The Myth Of Republican Competence On National Security Policy

Many in the mainstream media have bought into the myth that somehow the GOP is better suited to keep America safe. In some circles, the GOP is considered the “daddy party” and the Democrats are deemed to be the “mommy party.” This outdated and erroneous talking point originated in the Democratic Party’s opposition to the Vietnam War in the 1970s and the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979–80.

This false talking point took a big hit during the George W. Bush Administration. This failed Administration ignored several warnings of an imminent Al Qaeda attack in the run up to 9/11 and allowed Osama Bin Laden to escape from Tora Bora in 2001. Moreover, the Iraq war turned out to be one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in U.S. history. The Iraq War ground on for over eight years and according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, will eventually cost U.S. taxpayers $3 trillion.

After his inauguration on January 20, 2009, President Obama took a very different and much more effective approach to national security issues. As a starting point, in early 2009, Obama directed the CIA to make the killing or capture of Bin Laden the top priority. It was, in other words, a major shift from the previous administration. Thanks to that change in priorities, Obama did in two and a half years what George W. Bush, despite all of his “dead or alive” big talk and swagger, couldn’t do in over seven years.

Bringing Bin Laden to justice isn’t the only success of President Obama’s national security and foreign policies. What is seldom mentioned by Democrats and the mainstream press is that President Obama quietly compiled a list of significant achievements that will make the U.S. more safe.

According to Matthew Ygelsias, President Obama can justifiably claim credit for these accomplishments:

  • A broad multilateral agreement to disarm Iran’s nuclear program.
  • The New Start arms control treaty with Russia.
  • The historic diplomatic opening to Cuba.
  • New Pacific military basing agreements with Australia and the Phillippines.
  • Bilateral agreements on climate change with China and India.
  • An increase in positive perceptions of the U.S. in almost every region of the world.

One of the biggest disappointments of Obama’s foreign policy legacy was his inability to end the tragic civil war in Syria and stabilize that country. (The one thing about the Middle East is it’s always a mess so everyone can always claim their way would’ve done better.)

Most of the criticism regarding Obama’s Syria policies revolves around his refusal to launch military strikes in Syria after Assad gassed some of his own people in 2013. After this war crime, President Obama acted pursuant to the Constitution and sought the permission of Congress to bomb Syria. Lest we forget, at that time, the GOP was constantly alleging that Obama was abusing his executive powers and called him a “tyrant” and a “dictator.”

As it turned out, there was virtually no Congressional support (or public support) for another U.S. war in the Middle East. Due to that lack of support, no up or down vote was held in Congress and Obama shelved his plan to bomb Syria.

At that time, every prominent Republican in Congress opposed Obama’s request for the use of force in Syria. Deb Fischer said: “I am deeply troubled that we would take any action.” Nebraska’s House member from CD03, Adrian Smith said: “I’m skeptical that intervention, a strike, would be effective.” Jeff Fortenberry also opposed military action: “The U.S. should not bomb Syrians in the name of stopping violence in Syria. Quick, unilateral military strikes might satisfy the President’s ‘red line’ rhetoric, but the collateral damage and destabilization risks are too high.”

The Nebraska Republicans’ party bosses were equally skeptical of military intervention. Mitch McConnell stated in 2013: “A vital national security risk is clearly not at play, there are just too many unanswered questions about our long-term strategy in Syria.” Future House Speaker Paul Ryan also expressed serious doubts: “I believe the President’s proposed military strike in Syria cannot achieve its stated objectives. In fact, I fear it will make things worse.”

During his campaign for president in 2016, Donald Trump was critical of Obama’s foreign policy while at the same time, he also routinely contradicted himself on national security issues. Trump was very critical of the Bush Administration’s Iraq war policies even though the former TV reality star supported that conflict as early as 2002. At the same time, Trump pledged to send 30,000 ground troops to the Middle East and to “bomb the sh*t out of ISIS.”

Since he has been inaugurated, Trump’s foreign policy has been equally incoherent. Recently, the Administration announced that regime change would not be the U.S. policy in Syria and that the U.S. was going to avoid getting involved in that conflict.

Shortly after the Administration announced that new policy stance, Assad once again attacked his people with chemical weapons. That caused the Trump Administration to do a sudden 180 and execute an abrupt change in its Syria policies.

The first step was a cruise missile attack on a Syrian airfield. That raid accomplished very little. The airfield wasn’t even cratered and the Syrian air force was launching attacks from that same base a little over twelve hours later. (What that means is that Obama was excoriated by the GOP and many in the mainstream media for years for not taking a strike that disabled an airfield for a few hours.)

The Republicans in Congress also did a U-turn on bombing Syria. Fischer, Fortenberry and Smith all came out in favor of Trump’s pinprick raid. In addition, McConnell and Ryan lavishly praised the cruise missile strike on Syria.

Since this largely symbolic strike on Syria, the Trump Administration’s incoherence on Syria policy has continued. Rex Tillerson said our top priority is to defeat ISIS first and at the same time, Nikki Haley is calling for regime change. It is pretty obvious that the Administration lacks a strategy on Syria.

I am personally glad that Trump didn’t do very much. I don’t trust this Administration with a wider war. Quite frankly, there are no good options on Syria. If there were good courses of action, they would have been implemented a long time ago.

As Democrats and Progressives, we must continue to closely monitor the Administration’s national security policies. If the Trump Administration proves to be as reckless as the Bush 43 Administration, we will have to contact our Congressional representatives and take to the streets. Thank you for all that you do!

I’m a trial lawyer, a Democratic activist and a sports fan.

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