In current political climate, partisanship starts at water’s edge

It’s been a fascinating case study in the sorry state of our politics, this debate about whether America should launch military strikes against Syria as retribution for that regime’s use of nerve gas to suppress Syrian rebels. Partisan hypocrisy abounds.

Remember that old saying “politics stops at the water’s edge”?

Scratch that from the lexicon; it no longer applies. There is no longer any such thing as a safe harbor from the impulses of “us vs. them” partisanship — not even on questions of war and peace.

The starting point for the debate is President Barack Obama’s call for military strikes in the wake of Bashar al-Assad’s use of what is believed to be sarin gas against rebel forces — and the women and children in their midst. Reports of what unfolded in that attack shock the conscience.

Say what you want about whether or not Obama’s newfound hawkish hardline jibes with his long track record of trashing the foreign policy interventionism of President George W. Bush (it, of course, doesn’t), Obama’s tough posture against Syria and Assad is not without precedent.  Nonproliferation has long been a staple of American foreign policy, and the story of American interventionism is chock full of examples where military force was exercised on the narrow grounds of human rights or other matters separate and apart from vital national interest.

Agree with his conclusions or not, the president’s underlying argument, viewed through an objective, non-partisan lens, is by no stretch of the imagination an indefensible one.

But don’t tell that to the gaggle of Republican congressmen and conservative commentators who have treated Obama’s call for military strikes as apostasy.

John Bolton, emeritus foreign policy hard-liner, who championed aggressive military action throughout the Bush administration, is a derisive opponent of Obama’s Syria policy.

But Bolton is too busy pointing out the hypocrisy of liberals who opposed the war in Iraq but support strikes in Syria now to acknowledge that his current opposition to Syrian intervention, in light of his long record of advocating for interventionism around the globe, is tinged with strands of the same kind of unprincipled flip-floppery.

Liz Cheney, inheritor of her father’s eyes and neo-conservative foreign policy, is vocally opposed to an authorization of military force because, she says, it should have happened two years ago.

Does anyone doubt what conclusion Cheney Jr. would have reached if her dad were still Veep and the calls for a strike on Syria his?

When Republican House Speaker John Boehner said he would vote for the use of military force, one of the nation’s leading conservative blogs excoriated him for “scratching Obama’s back.”

So it has gone for too-many Republican partisans. An honest exploration of the merits of striking Syria has been back-seated to simple partisanship.

If the quiescence of many Republicans to rank partisanship troubles you, the hypocrisy of the left on Syria should full-on trigger your gag reflex.

John Kerry, a man who built a national campaign on the premise that Bush was a war-mongering crusader, all of the sudden sounds like a crusader himself. If Mitt Romney were president and seeking an authorization for use of force in Syria, and Kerry were still a liberal lion in the Senate, does anyone doubt even for a moment that Kerry would be making the exact opposite case?

Kerry is not lonesome in the familiar bed of partisan hypocrisy. California CongresswomanNancy Pelosi is rolling around in that hay too. Of her support for striking Syria, Pelosi told Time: “Hopefully, if this does happen, it will be a message to everyone — the North Koreans, the Iranians, the Syrians, anyone who would use a WMD or threaten to use one — that that’s probably not a good idea.”

Pardonne-moi, Congresswoman? That statement is about two clicks away from W’s “axis of evil” doctrine — a far cry from all the post 9/11 anti-war bellowing that made Pelosi the granddame of peaceniks.

Speaking of peacenicks, where is the Occupy crowd, anyway? As the popular political site Buzzfeed reported, “the once-robust antiwar movement has stayed curiously silent” on Obama’s Syria policy.

Yes, even peace-adoring hippies are these days foreign policy partisans. George McGovern is turning over in his grave.

Whatever side you take on the question of whether we should attack Syria, the devolution of our discourse on such an important matter is more than troubling.

Time was, politics stopped at the water’s edge. These days, that’s the point where partisan hypocrisy reaches full boil.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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