The GOP’s Hawkish Ideological Blinders
Michael Brendan Dougherty nicely sums up why the Benghazi committee hearing last week was so useless:
The fact is that the opposition party in America can’t honestly investigate Obama’s foreign policy without doing fatal collateral damage to its own. And so Hillary Clinton can say in public that the intervention she championed in Libya is “smart power at its best,” even though that country is being terrorized by ISIS and other jihadists and is one source of the refugee crisis. The supposedly mean-spirited GOP that would do anything to attack Clinton has run into something it won’t do: challenge our recklessly hawkish foreign policy.
I’ve made some version of this argument a few times before. Even before there was a Benghazi committee, Republican hawks didn’t know what to do with the Libyan war and its aftermath because so many of them supported it or acquiesced in it while it was going on. It was plainly a disaster for Libya and the surrounding region and served no U.S. or allied interests, but committed interventionists and the pandering candidates that pretended to agree with them couldn’t say that without undermining their core argument that Obama was insufficiently activist and meddlesome around the world and discrediting their conviction that the U.S. needed to be even more activist and meddlesome than it already was. Romney was reduced to harping on what word Obama had used to describe the Benghazi attack because he dared not fault U.S. military action for the ensuing disorder it helped to create. This is the ideological blinder that most Republican candidates in 2012 and in the current cycle have: they can’t connect U.S. actions to their harmful effects, because that would be to admit that “action” (and especially military action) is often the wrong response. If they admit that, they not only lose their ability to attack Obama for “weakness,” but they have to throw out one of their basic, faulty assumptions about the U.S. role in the world. This is why they have to whine about “leading from behind” when the real error was in taking sides in a foreign conflict where no U.S. interests were threatened.
Libya is the most obvious example of Republican hawks’ unwillingness to criticize the Obama administration for what it has actually done, but it is far from being the only one. The main objections to Obama’s Syria policy from the right is that he has not been throwing enough weapons into the conflict and that he hasn’t been pursuing regime change aggressively enough, which requires them to pretend that the administration favors “inaction” in Syria. If only that were true! It would never occur to them to cite involving the U.S. in a foreign civil war as proof of the president’s bad judgment, because they want that involvement to be greatly increased. U.S. involvement in the horrific war on Yemen largely escapes any scrutiny because it is currently an article of faith in the GOP that the U.S. should never allow any “daylight” with its allies and clients on anything, and so Republican hawks are hardly going to object to Obama’s support for the Saudi-led campaign. As always, they will instead complain that the support has been lacking, because they don’t know anything else to say. This makes them a fairly pathetic and ineffectual opposition party, and it ensures that the administration can get away with its most egregious errors thanks to the fact that the opposition is full of people that would be only too happy to make even bigger, costlier ones.