Don’t buy the media hype: The Republican Party is not in some epic struggle between interventionists and non-interventionists.
As the issue of Syria comes before Congress, the media are telling us that this will be a crucial debate to determine whether non-interventionists have taken over the Republican Party.
“The congressional vote on whether to strike Syria will offer the best insight yet on which wing of the Republican Party — the traditional hawks, or a growing bloc of non-interventionists — has the advantage in the fierce internal debates over foreign policy that have been taking place all year,” the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin wrote in an article entitled, “Vote on Syria Sets Up Foreign Policy Clash Between 2 Wings of G.O.P.”
To the media, the internecine fight has clear protagonists. On the non-interventionist side is Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul. On the interventionist side is Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.
It’s not that the story line has no merit. It has a little. But it is largely bunk.
I’m hardly a non-interventionist. I believe that America should be robustly engaged in the world, and sometimes that means America needs to use its military power to advance its interests and stand up for its principles. But I am skeptical about intervention in Syria when the prize for defeating the monstrous Assad regime and its sponsor, Iran, is a potential Islamist — or even al-Qaida — takeover of the country. Indeed, John Bolton says he would vote “no” on the resolution before Congress and I don’t think anyone has ever accused America’s former ambassador to the United Nations of being a non-interventionist.
Whether it is the right strategic posture or not, it is not surprising many Republicans are hesitant to call for American military intervention in Syria, even a limited strike to punish the regime for using chemical weapons. Why expend American treasure and risk American lives when the beneficiary may be al-Qaida?
Now, there are some who argue that is an unfair characterization of the rebel forces — they say the “good” rebels can win out. But if the so-called “Arab Spring” has shown us anything, it is that Islamists have an uncanny ability to emerge on top when the dust settles. In Syria, I fear that the future belongs to those who eat the hearts of their enemy.
A real test for whether the Republican Party has become non-interventionist would be on the issue of Iran and its advancing nuclear weapons program. With Iran, our interests are more clearly defined and there is a more obvious “good” side. If the issue of Iran’s nuclear program were to be put before Republicans in Congress, and the choice was between Iran acquiring nuclear capability or authorizing military strikes to set back their program, there would likely be much more support in the GOP for military intervention for that purpose.
This isn’t just conjecture. Polls bear it out. For instance, a March 2013 poll showed that 80 percent of Republicans would favor a strike against Iran if it was necessary to set back their nuclear program. Only 14 percent of Republicans said they would oppose a strike even if it meant Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
So much for the GOP becoming a party of non-interventionists.