A New Low For Republicans On Foreign Policy
Posted by Michael Cohen
At this point one has to almost take for granted that Republicans are going to criticize
President Obama's foreign policy performance for the most hare-brained of reasons - he doesn't strongly support Israel when in fact he does strongly support Israel; he apologizes on behalf of the United States to other countries when in fact he's never apologized on behalf of the United States; he should intervene in Libya, oh no he shouldn't intervene in Libya (that's the Newt Gingrich version of this phenomenon).
As regular readers of this blog are well aware I am not one to mince words when it comes to offering criticism of President Obama and his foreign policy team, but I at least try to have some, you know, actual substance to these criticisms.
In contract, Republicans have, in recent days, reached new and unimaginable depths of absurdity in criticizing the President on foreign policy. First there is the death of Muammar Gaddafi, a tyrant who ruled his country with an iron fist for more than 40 years, has the blood of Americans on his hands and in an amazing seven months after US intervention has been toppled from power and killed. Clearly this is a policy worthy of praise even from GOP partisans?
Oh no, not so fast says noted foreign policy expert Marco Rubio - the real credit belongs to the British and French not the United States, which as Rubion seems not to know took the military lead, organized an international coallition and pushed a resolution authorizing force through the Security Council. (By the way, try to imagine for a second if a leading Democrat had given credit for a US military triumph to the French? The French! Literally you'd be seeing attack ads with that clip until the universe collapses in on itself millions of years from now).
The other critique - and it's a priceless one - is that Obama screwed up because he didn't act soon enough to topple Gaddafi. You see if Obama hadn't been sitting around the White House like a modern-day Chamberlain until Sarkozy lit a fire under his ass, Gaddafi could have been gone by the Spring and there would already have been democratic elections in Libya. Ignoring the fact that because of the rebels disorganization in the early days of the war there is no reason to believe they could have toppled Qaddafi any sooner - is this really the best Repubilcans can do? Without the active involvement of the United States both militarily and even more important diplomatically it's highly unlikely that the "British and French" would have been able to organize a coalition to assist the rebels. Is is really that hard for them to give even grudging credit to the President for helping get rid of Gaddafi? Apparently the answer is yes.
But the criticism on Libya is relatively anodyne compared to the GOP attacks on Iraq in the wake of news that President Obama will be pulling all US troops out of Iraq by the end of the year. First you have John McCain calling troop withdrawals from Iraq a "serious mistake." Although in fairness when it comes to supporting military interventions that are serious mistakes, John McCain knows a thing or two. But my favorite was Lindsey Graham today on Fox News Sunday. Here's what he had to say: "At a time when we need troops in Iraq to secure the country, we have none. It was his job to end this right [and] they failed."
By the way, funny story, Lindsey Graham . . . voted to authorize the use of force when he was a US Senator in 2002. So apparently consistently supporting what is possibly the worst foreign policy debacle in US history = success. Ending that military debacle = failure.
The thing, however, that I find so deeply fascinating about Graham's argument is that there is actually a pretty good reason why the US is pulling all its troops out of Iraq at the end of the year - we said we would. In fact, not only did we say it; we signed an agreement committing ourselves to full withdrawal from Iraq at the end of this year. And of course, when I say "we" I mean George W. Bush - the guy who signed that deal. What's fascinating is that this "fact" never seems to be incorporated into actual discussions of US policy in Iraq. It's not as if we can decide willy-nilly that we are going to stay; even the United States needs permission to extend their visit (apparently Graham and McCain prefer that America become the worst house guest ever).
Moreover, keep US troops in Iraq past the December 31, 2011 deadline would have meant resolving what the New York Times called "an irreconcilable dispute" between the US and Iraq over the legal immunity of remaining troops. Without that immunity, those US soldiers would have been at the mercy of Iraq's legal system, a risk that the US military did not want to take; and for good reason.
To be fair, this is a bit of a complicated issue and I suppose one can excuse Lindsay Graham for not fully understanding. It's not as if, for example, Lindsey Graham is a Judge Advocate General with the US Air Force, a position that would give an individual a unique insight and level of expertise about the various laws governing armed conflict and the status of US forces operating in foreign locales.
Oh wait, as it turns out Lindsey Graham is a Judge Advocate General with the US Air Force and in 2007 he did his reserve duty in Iraq.
Beyond the legal issues involved in maintaining a US presence in Iraq, abrogating the status of forces agreement would be akin to undermining Iraq's nascent democracy, something which the 2007 version of Lindsay Graham thought was really, really important when he used it as a justification for surging 30,000 troops in Iraq:
We're going to stand with the forces of moderation, as imperfect as they are, and we're going to try to get this right by making up for past mistakes. We cannot have a democracy with militias roaming the country out of control. You can't have a democracy with 40 percent unemployment in Baghdad.
But apparently you can have a democracy when a foreign power violates their sovereignty and national will.
What is perhaps so maddening about this entire line of argument from the GOP that Obama has "failed" in Iraq is that it was Republicans like McCain and Graham who were the loudest advocates of the 2007 surge on the grounds that escalation would help a sovereign, democratic government (as well as political reconciliation) take root in Iraq. Now that we're seeing progress on that front and the Iraqi government feels sufficiently emboldened -- and more important accountable to their people -- that they are willing to stand up to the United States and demand US troops stay not a day longer Republicans are throwing a fit over it. Isn't this what the surge was supposed to bring; the surge they practically unanimously supported?
Republicans can't have this both ways: they can't on the one hand extol the virtues of democracy in Iraq and then get indignant when that country's democratically-elected government tells the United States they need to leave.
Actually let me rephrase that; Republicans like Graham can say whatever they want - even if their statements are completely contradictory. None of this means, however, that such criticisms should be taken seriously.
To be sure there are legitimate and substantive critiques to be made of the President's foreign policy performance (and ironically on Libya Tea Partiers who have argued that the war represents imperial overstretch and might actually be illegal is a relatively fair critique). But these aren't them. Rather these are nakedly partisan talking points masquerading as policy disputes. If there was ever any question that the GOP's fundamental critique of President Obama's foreign policy is basically "whatever he does we will argue the opposite" this past week should erase any doubts.