Sunday, September 08, 2013

Just Add the Word "Republican"...

Daniel Larison is not impressed with Michael Gerson's argument on why Congress needs to authorize force in Syria:
Insofar as the ability of future presidents to wage wars of choice on their own authority would be limited or even slightly constrained by a no vote from Congress, that would be a welcome and very desirable outcome. Gerson is drawing attention to one of the possible benefits of the resolution’s defeat. Even so, the president would retain enormous latitude in the conduct of foreign policy, and he would he hardly have his “hands tied behind his back.” It is laughably false to claim that the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy or his role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces would be seriously impaired, and it could hardly be dangerous for the powers of the presidency to be restrained after growing virtually unchecked over the last forty years.

Gerson’s argument is an attempt to blackmail members of Congress by claiming that they will inflict massive institutional damage simply by carrying out their own constitutional responsibilities and by reaching a conclusion different from the one Gerson wants. It is a fairly desperate move, and it is the sort of argument that should make more members of Congress recoil from what they are being asked to support. Gerson is horrified that Congress might actually vote down unnecessary and deeply unpopular military action, which speaks volumes about his priorities. Americans should not be afraid to let their representatives do the work they were elected to do by speaking and voting on behalf of their constituents. In this case, that obviously means voting down the resolution, and that is what I hope most members will do when it comes up for a vote later this month.
As happens all too ofter, Gerson's editorial is risible from top to bottom,
Obama is inviting members of Congress to share responsibility for a Syrian policy that has achieved little to justify their confidence. In fact, he has undermined political support for the legislative outcome he seeks. For more than five years, Obama has argued that America is overcommitted in the Middle East and should refocus on domestic priorities. Now he asks other politicians to incur risks by endorsing an approach he has clearly resisted at every stage.
Gerson would apparently have us believe that the President has spent five years resisting Republican calls for additional military intervention in the middle east, and has reached the point where he has actually convinced the Republicans in Congress that "America is overcommitted in the Middle East and should refocus on domestic priorities". Oh, their poor heads must be spinning, having spent five years giving the President a fair, deferential hearing and now, just when they had decided that there was no situation grave enough to justify additional military action in the Middle East, being told that there actually are situations in which the President believes that military intervention is appropriate.
Obama attempts to rally the nation around a reluctant exception to his ambivalence. And this exception — a calibrated punishment for the use of chemical weapons — seems more of a gesture than a strategy.
Gerson proposes instead, what... the George Mallory philosophy of military intervention?1

Gerson does not want the President to have completely unlimited discretion to attack any nation in the world without the consent of Congress:
This does not, of course, amount to blanket permission for self-destructive military actions such as attacking China or surrendering to Monaco.
But, you know, short of that.... As long as it's some other nation that is being destroyed, Gerson's "compassionate Christian" perspective seems to be, "Go for it!"
Nations such as China, Russia and Iran would see this as the triumph of a political coalition between the peace party of the left and the rising isolationists of the right. And they would be correct.
They would be correct because... they're stupid?

Larison suggests, "There is no way to know what long-term effect the defeat of the Syria resolution might have on the actions of future presidents, and it is even less certain how other governments would interpret a Congressional rejection of the resolution", and that's true to a point, but history suggests an answer: The next President will not feel bound to follow the policies or priorities of the current administration, and foreign nations understand the difference between a nation led by Ronald Reagan vs. George H.W. Bush vs. George W. Bush vs. Barack Obama.

One might anticipate that foreign leaders will look at the past five years of Congressional obstructionism, and then look at the fact that it was the Republicans who were blocking military action, and conclude, "More than a half-century after the start of the Vietnam war, hacks like Gerson still believe they can sell the Democrats as a 'party of peace'? And given that same history, that 'isolationists of the right' will have any influence the day after the next Republican President takes office? Seriously?"
And those who claim that this credibility has already reached bottom are lacking in imagination.
I suspect that most of those who read Gerson know that the President and Congress have a long way to go before reaching bottom.

Try reading Gerson this way:
[Repubican] Legislators are not arguing between preferred policy options, as they would on issues such as health care or welfare. They are deciding if they will send the [next Republican] chief executive into the world with his hands tied behind his back.
As in, the next President might feel compelled to consult Congress before acting, the Democrats might feel free to vote against military adventurism, and war opponents would be able to point to any number of comments made by Republicans in the present debate that suggest naked, partisan hypocrisy. Gerson's mistake,2 of course, is assuming that the next President is going to care.

Really, the best argument Gerson can make for a military assault on Syria is that if Congress evaluates the situation and finds an attack to be inappropriate, future Presidents might hesitate before launching wars of choice, and the world will scoff, "The United States isn't going to attack us unless they have a UN mandate, a NATO mandate, a Congressional mandate... or the President feels like it"? The horror!
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1. "Why do you want to attack another country in the Middle East, Mr. President?" "Because it's there."

2. Or should I say, one of them.

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