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September 09, 2013 10:54 AM Real Republicans Don’t Do Diplomacy

By Ed Kilgore

The well-sourced Robert Costa of National Review goes deep today in an analysis of the leading figures in the battle for House Republican votes for and against a use-of-force resolution on Syria. His estimate is that about 100 House GOPers—typified by the most prominent “undecided,” Paul Ryan—aren’t in either camp at this point. Some are hawkishly inclined, but don’t want to support Obama on anything. Others, as noted in the previous post, are shaking down the administration for more Pentagon money before committing to any military action.

A big part of the White House’s problem is that there is no argument on Syria that is equally convincing to undecided Democrats and Republicans, whose political instincts, moreover, will lead them ultimately in different directions (e.g.: if the vote becomes “about” Obama’s credibility, then every Democratic vote to “salvage” it will likely be offset by a Republican delighted by that prospect).

Some observers wonder if there is some “third way” short of a military strike that could gain bipartisan support and maybe even give the president a way out of his public commitment to military action. WaPo’s Greg Sargent points to an “alternative” resolution sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) that outlines a step of diplomatic measures the United States should pursue to hold Assad accountable for the use of chemical weapons while increasing odds of a negotiated settlement to the entire civil war:

It’s anyone’s guess whether this resolution will even get a vote, given that House GOP and Dem leaders favor strikes. Putting that aside — and putting aside whether you think such ideas have any chance of having an impact — this new push could help shape the debate, and bears watching.
If it picks up scores and scores of House co-sponsors from both parties, it will underscore the depth of Congressional opposition to military intervention. Indeed, as National Review reports, Rep. Devin Nunes, who opposes strikes, is pushing the idea of a diplomatic response on the Republican side. As one House GOP told NR: “If Obama’s resolution is defeated, you may see members from both parties rally behind this kind of legislation.”

I could definitely see Democrats rallying around the Lee resolution, particularly if a use-of-force resolution goes down (or is withdrawn) and there are fears the administration will go it alone with military action. But Republicans getting behind a diplomatic solution? I don’t see it. Supporters and opponents of a strike on Syria within the GOP are using similar language about the United States strictly following its national interests. Yes, some are influenced by informal pressure from Israel to take action against Assad, but that’s because they think of Israeli and U.S. interests as axiomatically identical (recall the “we will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally Israel” credo of Mitt Romney last year). But negotiations? Collective security? Economic sanctions? Nah. Real Republicans don’t do that stuff.

UPDATE: Jennifer Rubin underlines the lack of GOP interest in diplomatic and multilateral approaches to foreign policy by arguing that congressional Republicans should support Obama’s use-of-force resolution precisely because he is in this instance proposing a unilateral military action without sanction from the United Nations.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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