Friday, November 24, 2017
Opinion

Column: Syria, a bipartisan cause

RECOMMENDED READING


Since the dawn of the republic, American statesmen have understood that this country cannot isolate itself from world politics but that the U.S. position in the world hinges on taming the factions and partisanship that inevitably plague domestic politics. • In the Federalist No. 11, Alexander Hamilton argued that ratifying the Constitution would create a solid American front against the "arrogant pretensions" of imperial Europe. • "It belongs to us," Hamilton wrote, "to vindicate the honor of the human race, and to teach that assuming brother" — Europe — "moderation. Union will enable us to do it. Disunion will add another victim to his triumphs."

Channeling Hamilton 160 years later, Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan said that partisan politics stops "at the water's edge" — and rallied the GOP behind treaties and institutions that a Democratic president, Harry S. Truman, fashioned to secure peace and freedom after World War II.

Today, the question before Congress is ostensibly narrow: whether to give President Barack Obama a green light to use military force against the Assad regime in Syria to enforce the international norm against using chemical weapons.

As framed by historical circumstances, though, the issue is far more fateful: What's left in the fund of national unity upon which the United States has drawn, time and again, to support its global role?

Denied backing from the United Nations, Britain's Parliament and public polls, Obama has turned to a Congress more polarized along partisan lines than any other in recent memory, according to a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center.

There is three times more ideological divergence between the parties than in 1947, when Vandenberg spoke, reflecting growing divisions among the public generally.

In foreign affairs, the organizing principle of Cold War containment is gone; in its place, a long but inconclusive struggle against Middle East terrorism and instability has produced weariness and divisions that cut across partisan lines.

If only Congress were split along neat two-party lines! But it's splintered among Democratic doves and Republican neocons, Republican libertarians and Democratic humanitarian interventionists.

Obama showed chutzpah tossing the Syria hot potato to this disputatious bunch, since he contributed to this predicament by drawing a "red line" on the use of chemical weapons that Syrian President Bashar Assad was bound to cross, and even now he asserts unilateral constitutional authority to strike.

Having demonized House Republicans who demonized him, and having said he doesn't need to wait for Congress on various domestic policy issues, Obama invokes constitutional procedure and requests bipartisan aid, even as a White House aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, offers the Washington Post a crasser view of congressional prerogatives: "We don't want them to have their cake and eat it, too."

For all that, Congress should think long and hard before denying Obama the authority he seeks. This would be true even if Republicans occupied the moral high ground with respect to political polarization — which they do not. It would be true even if Americans were not justifiably war-weary — which they are. And it would be true even if Obama were not sounding such an uncertain trumpet.

Those Republicans, and Democrats, tempted to vote no need to consider the precedent they may be setting and the signal they would send not only to Syria, or Iran or North Korea — but also to allies from Jordan to Japan.

They should acknowledge the same fact that Obama has at times seemed to deny but that his reluctant call for action in Syria tacitly concedes: The fantasy of a United States "disengaged" from the Middle East, much less from our wider role as guarantor of minimal international order, is just that — a fantasy.

Costly as it is for us to assume global responsibilities, it would be even costlier, in the long run, to abdicate them amid internal political discord, which is why Vandenberg evolved from a pre-World War II isolationist to a postwar internationalist.

Charles Lane is a member of the Washington Post's editorial board.

© 2013 Washington Post

Comments

Another voice: Wall isnít a lifesaver, itís a boondoggle

The first stage of President Donald Trumpís controversial border wall project ended last week, while the prospects for any more construction ó and even what type of wall ó remain uncertain.A Border Patrol agent was killed and his partner seriously wo...
Published: 11/21/17
Updated: 11/22/17

Another voice: Time for Republicans to denounce this tax nonsense

Mick Mulvaney, the phony deficit hawk President Donald Trump tapped to oversee the nationís budget, all but admitted on Sunday that the GOP tax plan currently before the Senate is built on fiction. Senators from whom the public should expect more ó s...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

In a state with the nationís highest portion of residents over 65 years old and more than 80,000 nursing home beds, public records about those facilities should be as accessible as possible. Yet once again, Florida is turning back the clock to the da...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: A time of reckoning on sexual misconduct

Stories about powerful men engaging in sexual misconduct are becoming so common that, as with mass shootings, the country is in danger of growing inured to them. But unlike the tragic news about that latest deranged, murderous gunman, the massive out...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: Trump does the right thing for elephants; he shouldnít back down now

There is bad timing, and then there is this. Last week, an apparent military coup placed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in custody, ushering in a new period of political uncertainty. A few days later, the Trump administration announced that Zimba...
Published: 11/19/17
Updated: 11/22/17
Editorial: Fighting the opioid crisis on many fronts

Editorial: Fighting the opioid crisis on many fronts

From birth to death, opioid addiction is ravaging the lives of thousands of Floridians. Drugmakers, doctors, state lawmakers and insurance companies all have a role to play in slowing the epidemic. Lately some more responsible answers, including mill...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/21/17

Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "Iím pleading to my brothers. You ...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Itís time to renew communityís commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: Itís time to renew communityís commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: A time for real thanksgiving

Editorial: A time for real thanksgiving

By now the guest list if not the table is all set, and the house will be warmed with the noise of loved ones and the smell of that dish with cream of mushroom soup. Tucked between the sugar rush of Halloween and the sparkle of Christmas, Thanksgiving...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/22/17
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17