The Corner

When Liberals Are Pro-War

For this libertarian, the debate over the war in Syria has made one thing very clear: The proponents of war are not necessarily who you think they are, and they are certainly not always Republican. For instance, when it comes to the war in Syria, the conservative Heritage Action is more pacifist than our Nobel Peace Prize–winning president:

“Heritage Action is opposed to punitive missile strikes on the Syrian regime. Yesterday’s hearing made it clear there is not a vital U.S. interest at stake,” said Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler. “Further, there is not a clear, achievable, realistic purpose to the use of force being contemplated by the Obama administration and officials offered little evidence such action would prevent further abuses.”

The president may be the only Nobel Peace Prize winner with a secret kill list, but he isn’t the only liberal on the side of war right now. As Thaddeus Russell writes over at Mediate:

Last week on MSNBC’s All In, Chris Hayes featured a host of left-of-center hawks, including Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Julia Ioffe of The New Republic, Iraqi-American writer Zainab Salbi, who called for a “long-term intervention,” Mouaz Moustafa, a representative of the Syrian rebels, and Tom Perriello of the Center for American Progress, who has argued elsewhere not just for missile strikes against Assad but for “a more aggressive posture that would potentially include regime transition.” On his show, Chris Matthews justified bombing the Assad regime by declaring that even “Hitler didn’t use” chemical weapons. The liberal network’s call to war climaxed with a stunning piece of demagoguery on Wednesday’s Last Word, when reporter Richard Engel put a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl on camera to say, “Does [Obama] want his kids to be like us? … When we get bigger, we’re going to write, ‘Obama didn’t help us.’”

Like many liberals who are asked to explain why Syria will be a good war if Iraq was a bad one, Dexter Filkins in the New Yorker wrote, “This time it’s different… What can America do? It’s not unreasonable to ask whether even a well-intentioned American effort to save Syrians might fail, or whether such an effort might pull America into a terrible quagmire…. But how much longer are we going to allow those questions to prevent us from trying?”

Even though Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post is aware that “History says don’t do it” and that “Most Americans say don’t do it,” he still insisted that “President Obama has to punish Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad‘s homicidal regime with a military strike — and hope that history and the people are wrong.”

The New Republic, which has guided much of American liberals’ thinking since the early 20th century, has been chock-full of bellicose advice for the president. Senior editor Paul Berman wrote that we should use overwhelming military force to “help our own faction overthrow the dictator.” Editor Leon Wieseltier called plans for limited military strikes too timid, “a cop-out in the shape of a cruise missile,” and insisted that U.S. power should be “used for good and high purposes.”

The whole thing is here, and it includes a reminder that, way back when, the Democrats used to be the pro-war party.

On the GOP side, things are interesting too, and it’s not clear how the libertarian/conservative split in the GOP will play out. Reason’s Nick Gillespie writes that the debate over Syria “is testing the willingness of rank-and-file Republicans to get involved in another military conflict and giving the party’s libertarian wing a chance to push the party toward adopting a less interventionist approach to foreign policy.” On the libertarian side you find Senator Rand Paul and Representative Justin Amash, among a few others. But this time around the opposition to the war in Syria goes further than the libertarian-leaning Republicans:

Polls now show that most Americans oppose missile strikes against Syria and that most Republicans, as well as Democrats and independents, oppose the idea.

“It’s not just libertarian GOP who are skeptical,” said KT McFarland. who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs under President Reagan. “I suspect a majority of GOP members who are Iraq and Afghan vets want to know what the objectives are.”

In announcing their support for a military strike, House Republican leaders acknowledged Tuesday that they face “an uphill battle to pass a resolution.”

And obviously, we know that some on the Corner have been expressing opposition to the intervention. This sort of division would have been unimaginable even a decade ago, during the preparation of the Iraq War. What it means, I’m not sure — but it certainly is interesting.

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