Molting hawks: McCain, Liz Cheney, Marco Rubio signal opposition to Syria attack

Cheney’s a firm no whereas Rubio’s merely “highly skeptical” that an attack will stop Assad from using WMD in the future, but the more big-name hawks balk, the more political cover Republican fencesitters in Congress will have to vote no. Yeah, granted, Boehner and Cantor are both in favor, but they’re not going to whip the caucus to vote with them. If you’re a House GOPer worried about reelection, whom do you care more about pleasing? John Boehner, who’s telling you outright it’s okay to “vote your conscience” on this one? Or grassroots Republicans who don’t want to follow President Redline off a cliff?

Hard to believe that commentator Cheney would be as opposed to this as candidate Cheney is, but under the circumstances, as the would-be tea-party alternative to Mike Enzi, it’s an easy call for her:

Speaking to an enthralled crowd of 150 Jackson Hole Tea Party members Tuesday night in her first public appearance in Teton County, Cheney said she could not support military action against Syria because President Barack Obama has failed to develop a plan for intervention with defined goals.

Obama has taken “an amateurish approach to national security and foreign policy,” including the developing conflict in Syria, she said.

He should have supported Syrian rebel forces two years ago, Cheney said, before Islamist radicals became part of that opposition.

That’s the same sort of dovish-for-hawkish-reasons response that I predicted Rubio would have. How does a pol who believes in “muscular” foreign policy protect his/her brand while riding out an anti-interventionist tide on the right? Simple: Argue that Obama’s big mistake in all this was not intervening sooner, when conditions on the ground were more favorable, but now that the moment has passed it’s too late to act. Rubio made the same point last night, emphasizing that we wouldn’t be at this stage with Syria if he had been president. (If you don’t know what he means by that, revisit this post.) Rand Paul will bludgeon him for that in the primaries — “do we really need a president who thinks the problem with Syria was that we weren’t aggressive enough?” — but Rubio will worry about that later. For now, he needs to show that he’s capable of saying no to an ill-advised attack, then hope that the base tilts back towards hawkishness over the next two years. He’ll have lots of fans among establishment Republicans who’ll be willing to donate to help make the tilt happen.

As for McCain, true to form, he’s unhappy that the new Senate resolution isn’t aggressive enough in empowering Obama to help Syria’s rebels. I wonder, though, if maybe he’s thinking strategically in taking that position. Democrat Chris Van Hollen told WaPo yesterday that one of his big problems in getting House Democrats to support this clusterfark is that they don’t want to be seen as doing something too hawkish. Specifically, said Van Hollen, the more Obama seems aligned with superhawks like McCain, the less Democratic support there’s likely to be. McCain, being aware of that, might then figure that he needs to be pretend-outraged at how dovish the resolution is in order to firm up Dem support. The votes in both chambers are likely to be close; if he’s serious about making something happen, he might need to play bad cop.

Update: Good point from the comments. Does Rubio think it’s too late for an attack, or merely too late for a small attack? That is, would Rubio be okay with a more massive intervention in Syria? Because that’s not “opposition” in any meaningful sense. From his statement last week:

“My advice is to either lay out a comprehensive plan using all of the tools at our disposal that stands a reasonable chance of allowing the moderate opposition to remove Assad and replace him with a stable secular government,” Rubio said. “Or, at this point, simply focus our resources on helping our allies in the region protect themselves from the threat they and we will increasingly face from an unstable Syria.”…

Following Ros-Lehtinen’s lead, Rubio said “we are now left with no good options.”

“Failing to act would further embolden Assad and his Iranian sponsors, leaving the impression that America is feckless and impotent,” Rubio wrote. “And a limited attack would do nothing to change the dynamics of the conflict, but could trigger a broader and even more dangerous conflict in the region.”

A “stable secular government”? From where?

Update: A Rubio spokesman e-mails to clarify: He’s not advocating an attack of any sort, now or previously. He’s supported arming moderate rebel groups in the past.

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