On the record: Hillary backs Obama on Syria

As someone (can’t remember who) said on Twitter, imagine if Hillary were still SoS and had to sell this shinolapile on TV today instead of Kerry. Good lord. She quit just in time.

But yes, she’s onboard. Mark your scorecard.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backs President Barack Obama’s move to urge Congress to back a targeted effort in Syria, in the first comments from her camp since the president unveiled his plan, POLITICO has learned.

“Secretary Clinton supports the President’s effort to enlist the Congress in pursuing a strong and targeted response to the Assad regime’s horrific use of chemical weapons,” a Clinton aide told POLITICO.

That’s the safe move, actually, despite Democratic voters’ opposition to intervention. If she comes out against the attack and then, against all odds, it somehow succeeds, she looks like an opportunistic chump while Biden, her presumptive rival for the nomination, looks smart and resolute for backing it. If she backs it herself and things go to hell, well, whatever — so did Joe, so did Pelosi, so did Boehner and Cantor, and so will many congressional Democrats and Republicans. She tried to hide in a crowd once before in voting to invade Iraq and now she’s doing it again. Plus, chances are good that the GOP will nominate someone in 2016 who’s at least moderately hawkish himself, in which case this statement won’t matter. Only if Rand Paul’s the nominee will there be a strong contrast on foreign policy, and in that case Hillary can count on some Republican superhawks like McCain to cross the aisle and support her in antipathy to him. Only if Syria turns into a prolonged clusterfark would she pay a price vis-a-vis Paul, and I doubt O will let that happen. He’s not going to bleed away what little is left of his legacy on an intervention he doesn’t want to undertake in the first place. He’ll order a round of strikes to do some damage to Assad, then hope the retaliation isn’t too vicious and declare victory. End of Syria saga. I think.

Speaking of 2016 maneuvers on Syria, though, how is budding superhawk Marco Rubio likely to vote? He’s formally undecided and was cagey in his questioning of Kerry and Hagel today (as you’ll see below), but this isn’t really a tough call, is it?

On one side of the Florida senator is the anti-interventionist duo of Sens. Paul and Ted Cruz, both who are highly skeptical an air campaign would achieve any worthwhile goals and deeply distrustful of the president and his ultimate military objective. While Christie hasn’t issued a formal view on Syria, it’s presumed that he falls on the other side of the spectrum, likely falling in the camp of Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who advocate a strong, muscular response against a brutal madman…

If Rubio opposes intervention, he risks being lumped into the Paul-Cruz wing, which spooks many establishment Republicans who believe an anti-interventionist policy could hurt U.S. interests in the long-term. If Assad is somehow dislodged and conditions on the ground eventually improve, he also risks being on the wrong side of history.

Yet if he signs onto action, he will alienate the growing chorus of conservatives who ascribe to the notion that the U.S. needs to pull back from an ambitious foreign policy that seeks to influence the outcome of unpredictable world events in dangerous places. (For instance, in an extraordinary move, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party forcefully weighed in against military action in a pointed letter.) And politically, Rubio leaves himself at the mercy of Obama’s strategy and implementation. If Obama’s Syrian war goes bad, Rubio’s on the hook for it.

He’ll end up voting no but framing it as a decision forced on him by Obama’s refusal to act sooner. Remember, Rubio’s already said that he would have armed the Syrian rebels long ago as commander-in-chief. There’s no scrubbing away that interventionist flourish; I doubt he’d want to even if he could, since that’s the sort of thing Republican establishment hawks want to hear. The only move now is to hedge by voting against an attack on the theory that O’s cocked things up so badly that no good could come from U.S. action at this point. That’ll give him a little cred with more dovish Republicans by showing that, unlike McCain and Graham, he’s capable of passing on military strikes if there aren’t obvious benefits. Paul will still criticize him for it, of course, and maybe Cruz will too, although Cruz has his own Syria “nuances” to contend with. The bottom line, as the NYT put it this morning, is that Rubio doesn’t want to end up on Obama’s side of another big vote when grassroots conservatives are on the other side. Voting for amnesty is one thing, voting for a pointless intervention on top of it is something else. One generation of McCains in the Senate is enough.

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