When Hawks (Suddenly) Become Doves

Republicans who supported the Iraq War but oppose intervention in Syria are walking a very thin — sometimes imperceptible — line.

Senator Susan Collins ( R - Maine ) meets U.S. Army soldiers during a visit at Bagram airbase, about 60 kim. north of Kabul, Afghanistan Monday Jan.7, 2002. A delegation of nine U.S. senators visited the base Monday. 
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Marin Cogan
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Marin Cogan
Sept. 12, 2013, 4:10 p.m.

El­ev­en years ago, nearly every Re­pub­lic­an mem­ber of Con­gress (and many Demo­crats) voted to au­thor­ize Pres­id­ent Bush to use force against Ir­aq. From the re­luct­ant fol­low­ers to the most-ar­dent cheer­lead­ers, many of them are now the lead­ing doubters of Pres­id­ent Obama’s push for lim­ited strikes against Syr­ia. Some have ad­op­ted the rhet­or­ic pop­u­lar with the liber­tari­an fac­tion of their party; oth­ers mim­ic the skep­ti­cism that char­ac­ter­ized the Left after the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks. They don’t see the na­tion­al se­cur­ity be­ne­fits and won­der what an Amer­ic­an mil­it­ary in­ter­ven­tion could ac­com­plish. Some ques­tion the in­tel­li­gence re­ports of Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad’s use of chem­ic­al weapons; oth­ers be­lieve the re­ports but say the con­flict isn’t our prob­lem. None ex­pect Amer­ic­ans to be greeted as lib­er­at­ors.

There are 84 Re­pub­lic­ans cur­rently serving who voted for the Ir­aq war in 2002. Of them, only 11 sup­port in­ter­ven­ing in Syr­ia. The rest are un­de­cided or lean­ing against. They say that Syr­ia is not Ir­aq, that the situ­ations are totally dif­fer­ent. Really, they in­sist, this de­cision has noth­ing to do with the oth­er. But their ar­gu­ments some­times un­can­nily echo the an­ti­war ar­gu­ments of 2002 and 2003 — the ones they pub­licly, and loudly, re­viled. That re­mained true even after a Rus­si­an plan to dis­arm Syr­ia of chem­ic­al weapons took an im­min­ent strike off the agenda.

For in­stance, Sen. James In­hofe, R-Okla., the rank­ing mem­ber on the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, force­fully made the case for in­vad­ing Ir­aq. In 2002, he said on Meet the Press, “Our in­tel­li­gence sys­tem has said that we know that Sad­dam Hus­sein has weapons of mass de­struc­tion — I be­lieve, in­clud­ing nuc­le­ar.” In a Septem­ber 2002 com­mit­tee hear­ing with then-De­fense Sec­ret­ary Don­ald Rums­feld, In­hofe re­ferred to a speech Bush gave to the United Na­tions about the con­di­tions that could keep him from pur­su­ing a pree­mpt­ive strike against Ir­aq. One of those con­di­tions, the pres­id­ent noted, would be that Sad­dam Hus­sein must “im­me­di­ately and un­con­di­tion­ally for­swear, dis­close, and re­move or des­troy all weapons of mass de­struc­tion, long-range mis­siles, and all re­lated ma­ter­i­al.” In­hofe was, he said, dis­turbed by the pro­spect of “us go­ing in­to an­oth­er round of hand-wringing” over wheth­er to take ac­tion. He re­minded those at the hear­ing of Sad­dam’s “long his­tory of ly­ing about this,” and called in­spec­tions “noth­ing more than a stall tac­tic, a delay.”

But even after As­sad used weapons of mass de­struc­tion, In­hofe says the de­cision to op­pose U.S. ac­tion was easy. For him, the primary reas­on is the lack of mil­it­ary read­i­ness, thanks to spend­ing cuts he blames on the ad­min­is­tra­tion. He re­calls Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair­man Mar­tin De­mp­sey’s re­marks be­fore his com­mit­tee in Feb­ru­ary on the im­pact of se­quest­ra­tion, that “if ever the force is so de­graded and so un­ready, and then we’re asked to use it, it would be im­mor­al.” In­hofe, an Army vet­er­an, cited read­i­ness con­cerns in his 2002 com­mit­tee hear­ing com­ments, too. But even without the budget cuts, In­hofe says he still would likely have op­posed a Syr­ia in­ter­ven­tion, as he also op­posed the Bos­nia in­ter­ven­tion in 1995. At that time, he ar­gued that the United States did not in­ter­vene when mass killings took place in Afric­an coun­tries — a re­frain more com­mon among liber­tari­ans or the Left. “The same ar­gu­ment could be made here,” he says. “Why are we get­ting in­volved in an­oth­er con­flict in the Middle East?”

It also seems less im­port­ant among these mem­bers to back the pres­id­ent now than it did then. In 2002, Rep. Joe Bar­ton, R-Texas, ex­plained his sup­port for the war as a way to em­power Bush in for­eign af­fairs. “Sad­dam and the world com­munity don’t re­spect us un­less we get tough,” he told The Dal­las Morn­ing News. “I be­lieve in giv­ing [the pres­id­ent] dip­lo­mat­ic lever­age and the au­thor­ity to use mil­it­ary force if ne­ces­sary.” But this week, Bar­ton ar­gued that “Ir­aq was totally dif­fer­ent” and ticked off why he felt at the time that Sad­dam’s ac­tions re­quired a mil­it­ary re­sponse while As­sad’s didn’t. “No one in the gov­ern­ment or [among] the rebels are mak­ing threats against … the United States or do­ing any kind of ac­tion that’s against the na­tion­al in­terest of the United States. It’s a bad situ­ation, and I would like to see As­sad toppled, but I don’t think you’re go­ing to get a much bet­ter gov­ern­ment if As­sad goes down.”

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was one of the last Re­pub­lic­an hol­d­outs to make a de­cision to vote for in­ter­ven­tion in Ir­aq. She re­mem­bers the phone call that changed her mind, on the eve of the vote, from Sec­ret­ary of State Colin Pow­ell, “who made the ar­gu­ment, iron­ic­ally, that the best pos­sib­il­ity of avoid­ing war was a strong vote to go to war, and that that might bring Sad­dam to the peace table. Ob­vi­ously, that did not hap­pen,” Collins said last week. If the Syr­ia res­ol­u­tion ever comes up for a vote in the Sen­ate, she is again lean­ing to­ward op­pos­i­tion. “I’m con­cerned about the lack of in­ter­na­tion­al sup­port; and, most of all, I dis­agree with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s por­tray­al of the choices be­ing either to launch a mil­it­ary strike or do noth­ing,” she says. “I think, as the most re­cent de­vel­op­ments with Rus­sia show, there are oth­er op­tions that we could un­der­take.”

Collins, like many of her col­leagues, is hope­ful about the Rus­si­an plan for the United Na­tions to se­cure and des­troy Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al weapons. It is an­oth­er of the turns in the saga that few could have ima­gined 11 years ago, when war hawks clucked about in­ter­na­tion­al in­sti­tu­tions’ lack of cred­ib­il­ity.

What We're Following See More »
ANOTHER GOP MODERATE TO HER SIDE
John Warner to Endorse Clinton
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will score another high-powered Republican endorsement on Wednesday, according to a campaign aide: retired senator John Warner of Virginia, a popular GOP maverick with renowned military credentials."

Source:
AUTHORITY OF EPA IN QUESTION
Appeals Court Hears Clean Power Plant Case
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday "heard several hours of oral arguments" over the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan rules. The 10-judge panel "focused much of their questioning on whether the EPA had overstepped its legal authority by seeking to broadly compel this shift away from coal, a move the EPA calls the Best System of Emission Reduction, or BSER. The states and companies suing the EPA argue the agency doesn’t have the authority to regulate anything outside of a power plant itself."

Source:
$28 MILLION THIS WEEK
Here Come the Ad Buys
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Spending by super PACs tied to Donald Trump friends such as Ben Carson and banker Andy Beal will help make this week the general election's most expensive yet. Republicans and Democrats will spend almost $28 million on radio and television this week, according to advertising records, as Trump substantially increases his advertising buy for the final stretch. He's spending $6.4 million in nine states, part of what aides have said will be a $100 million television campaign through Election Day."

Source:
UNLIKELY TO GET A VOTE, LIKELY TO ANGER GOP SENATORS
Obama Nominates Ambassador to Cuba
8 hours ago
THE LATEST
GOP REFUSED VOTE ON FCC COMMISIONER
Reid Blocks Tech Bill Over “Broken Promise”
8 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Monday night's debate may have inspired some in Congress, as Senate Minority Leader has decided to take a stand of his own. Reid is declining to allow a vote on a "bipartisan bill that would bolster U.S. spectrum availability and the deployment of wireless broadband." Why? Because of a "broken promise" made a year ago by Republicans, who have refused to vote on confirmation for a Democratic commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission to a second term. Harry Reid then took it a step further, invoking another confirmation vote still outstanding, that of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

Source:
×