Jim Antle continues the discussion on Republican critics of the Afghanistan war plan. He is right that Republican opposition to Clinton’s Balkan and other interventions was driven by a number of different motives from strict non-interventionism to partisan opportunism. After all, Tom DeLay publicly cast doubt on the legitimacy and necessity of the 1998 airstrikes in Afghanistan and Sudan and later questioned the timing of Operation Desert Fox because of the rather convenient distraction these strikes provided during the impeachment struggle, and he voiced opposition to the bombing of Serbia, but none of this had much to do with concern that the military was being used inappropriately or unnecessarily. It was the sort of cynical posturing that typified everything DeLay did. As the Bush years made clear, these “allies” who happened to oppose military interventions when there was a Democratic President were worse than useless when the time came to resist far more destructive and dangerous policies under a Republican administration. Because so many Republicans had treated foreign policy debates as little more than an extension of domestic political rivalry during the Clinton years, the change in government dictated a significant change in policy views or, to be more precise, policy poses. The same thing will happen again under the next Republican administration, or at least it will if nothing is done in the interim to change foreign policy thinking on the right.
With respect to Afghanistan, this coalition of the unprincipled is particularly unwelcome, not least because the Afghan war has always been as legitimate as the Iraq war was not. If a significant part of the GOP opts to oppose Obama on Afghanistan after being lockstep followers of Bush on Iraq, they will show the public that it should never trust them on matters of national security. They will have managed to get both major foreign policy decisions of the last ten years completely wrong, and they will show that they erred not simply because of misunderstanding or even because of ideology, but most of all because of the partisan affiliation of the President at the time. I cannot think of anything more completely discrediting.
P.S. In addition to being foolish, this rejectionist stance on Afghanistan has the disadvantage of being on the wrong side of Republican and independent opinion. Democratic opinion is split, but even among Democrats opposition is much weaker now than it was a month ago. As Weigel notes, this is paired with the finding that the same groups that support the war in Afghanistan and approve of sending additional forces also disapprove of his handling of Afghanistan by similar margins, and the Democrats who are split are overwhelmingly positive on Obama’s handling of the war:
A majority of Republicans and a plurality of independents disapprove of Obama’s Afghanistan performance, even though the 36 percent support number from Republicans is Obama’s highest on any issue. But Democrats approve by a two-to-one majority.
So reflexive partisanship still holds sway on generic questions of overall approval of how Obama handles these issues, but things change considerably when we are discussing actual policy.