In response to the Robert Taft hobby horse

Wherein we revisit a risible theme from Thursday’s Hugh Hewitt radio show:

Bret Stevens: “The Robert Taft Republicans Return: Isolationism has never served the interests of America, or the GOP.”

I’ll leave it to @talkradio200 to address the specifics as to Taft. I’m more interested in the piece’s implicit insistence that opposition to involvement in Syria is a prima facie indicator of isolationism.

“We’ll be lucky to get 80 Republicans out of 230.” That’s an astute GOP congressman’s best guess for how his caucus now stands on the vote to authorize military force against Syria.

“Military force” is a bit vague, isn’t it? Well not to worry, it will remain vague throughout the piece, as it was vague Thursday, and as it seems to be vague whenever the topic is broached. A limited retaliatory action meant to punish Assad but not enable Islamist “rebels”? A more open-ended military engagement meant to force regime change? Something in between?

At town hall meetings in their districts, the congressman reports, House Republicans are hearing “an isolationist message.” It’s not America’s war. The evidence that the Assad regime used chemical weapons is ambiguous, maybe cooked. There isn’t a compelling national interest to intervene. “Let Allah sort it out.” We’d be coming in on the side of al Qaeda. The strike serves symbolic, not strategic, purposes. There’s no endgame. It would be another Iraq.

I don’t doubt that House members are hearing “an isolationist message” at times–a real one. And that’s not a good thing. But, alas, Stevens is too busy trying to squeeze everyone who opposes intervention in Syria into the isolationist clown car to effectively refute that message, and opts for thinly-veiled contempt in lieu of persuasion or clarity.

I’ve never heard, from anyone, the formulation that “it’s not America’s war,” but it’s a provocative formulation. I don’t know what it means. I suspect that is because it is a truly isolationist stance, and I am not an isolationist.

As for some folks wondering if the evidence was “cooked,” the sabre-rattling (sorry, couldn’t resist the term) coming from the pro-interventionists reached such a pitch that UN inspectors were rushed out of the country a day early–not the best optics. Also, although one might well conclude that the evidence is overwhelming (albeit necessarily circumstantial), us knuckle-draggers can perhaps be forgiven for noting that Islamists have been known, on occasion, to kill their own people and then blame Israel and/or the West. No, really.

As for a compelling national interest to intervene, that’s debatable, yes? Unless of course one takes Samantha Powers’ “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine as a given, which most of us don’t. Of course, it might behoove Stevens to then address why other world garden spots of despotism and brutality are less worthy of our attention–but again, that would detract from the task at hand: cramming those who oppose intervention in Syria into the isolationist clown car.

And then there’s the Palin quote, in case you didn’t get the message that we’re a bunch of dumbasses.

“We’d be coming in on the side of al Qaeda” is less accurate than we’d be coming in on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda, as well as sundry Salafists and Wahhabist ne’er-do-wells. And that’s the crucial point to those of us who bristle at being labeled isolationist, but nonetheless oppose intervention in Syria. Those who argue for intervention play disingenuous games like this, since to acknowledge that the “rebels” are overwhelmingly Islamists is to kick the legs out from under the rationale for intervention.

Is there any argument that President Obama’s resolution is symbolic? Then why is John McCain, who never met a Syrian “rebel” he doesn’t trust, having none of it?  Which suggests a larger point, easily missed–that there are two basic possible courses of action in question (air strikes not designed to alter the balance of power in Syria, or more intense military engagement intended to force regime change)–and those who argue for intervention seem to invoke them interchangeably, depending on what benefits their argument at the time.

Is there an end game then? Or is invoking the “no end game” argument simply shorthand for we knuckleheads are not bright enough to understand the geopolitical complexities that the pro-interventionist argument may or may not be making?

As for Iraq, pardon our skepticism after ten years of blood and treasure and very little to show for it–a skepticism not confined to “isolationists.”

Or, to quote Sean Hannity in all his profundity, it would be “the next world war.”

Was that really necessary?  Hmm? Is this supposed to convince people of anything?

There’s also the trust issue. “Why should I go out on a limb to help this president?” The this in that question, as House Republicans ask it, means Benghazi and Susan Rice, the IRS and Lois Lerner, the NSA and James Clapper. It means a president for whom all policy is partisanship, including the referral to Congress.

I assume this is not an attempt at refutation. If it is, try harder next time.

“Big move by POTUS,” former Obama spinmeister David Axelrod tweeted over the weekend. “Consistent with his principles. Congress is now the dog that caught the car.” Thanks, David, for that conciliating image to win over fence-sitting Republicans.

Well, Mr. Stevens, beating fans of realpolitik (who despise Islamism, however purportedly “moderate”) over the head with your snarky crap isn’t exactly winning people over, either. Three fingers point back, eh?

Most Republicans don’t want to become, again, the party of isolationists. Not consciously at any rate. Nearly all of them profess fidelity to a strong military, to Israel’s security, to stopping Iran’s march to a bomb. And opposition to military intervention in Syria—particularly if it’s of the pinprick sort being contemplated by the administration—isn’t necessarily proof of isolationist sympathies. Henry Kissinger is opposed to intervening in Syria. Henry Kissinger is not, last I checked, an isolationist.


Yet the Syria debate is also exposing the isolationist worm eating its way through the GOP apple. Thus:

“The war in Syria has no clear national security connection to the United States and victory by either side will not necessarily bring into power people friendly to the United States.” Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.).

The second part of Paul’s argument is far more germane to the widespread opposition on the Right to intervention than the first part, and far more convincing–notwithstanding the sanguine assertions of O’Bagy, et al.

Read the rest of Stevens’ piece here.

I am far less a fan of Rand Paul than many on the Right. (I was particularly displeased with Paul’s “endless war” comments during his drone dog and pony show.) So in that sense, Stevens has a valid point, that there is a strain of creeping libertarian isolationism in the GOP. The problem is that Stevens uses that valid point in the service of intervention in Syria, which conflates opposition to a particular (I think counter-productive, if not positively foolhardy) action with a general rejection of a robust foreign policy. Stevens undercuts what is in part a valid concern with rhetorical overkill and conflation of disparate views into one big isolationist boogieman.

So far as I know, Andrew C. McCarthy is not an isolationist.

So far as I know, Victor Davis Hanson is not an isolationist.

So far as I know, John Bolton is not an isolationist.

So far as I know, Mark Steyn is not an isolationist.

So far as I know, Michael Ledeen is not an isolationist.

The lack of intellectual coherence on the part of those who advocate for intervention in Syria is remarkable. And so we are left with thought-terminating fallacious memes like invoking Robert Taft to denigrate those who oppose intervention.

Surely the intervention advocates have a better argument to offer than that?

And no, it’s not Neville Chamberlain. Don’t even start.

See also Hugh Hewitt: “GOP isolationists are taking U.S. back to the 1930s” (which link Hugh tweeted with the comment, “Why the GOP can’t go Taft.”


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