Syria Debate Breeds Electoral Doubts in Both Parties

Both Democrats and Republicans fret about Syria's impact on their political fortunes

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Joshua Lott / Reuters

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) at a town hall event in Mesa, Arizona August 27, 2013.

Members of Congress in both parties heaved sighs of relief Wednesday after Barack Obama said he wants Congress to delay voting on his unpopular proposal for a military strike against Syria. But both Democrats and Republicans are still fretting about the political fallout of the Syria drama that has now dominated Washington politics for weeks.

Democrats complain that Obama has waffled, first calling for swift retaliatory action before abruptly deciding to slow the process and seek a congressional vote. “It plays into every stereotype that Democrats are weak and indecisive on foreign policy,” one Democratic operative who would only speak on background complained about the administration’s strategy. “What are they thinking over there?”

Republicans, meanwhile, are worried by a growing schism in their party over foreign policy, as well as the possibility of primary challengers picking off pro-intervention moderates. “I’m concerned with the debate that’s going on within my own party with the rise of the isolationists,” Sen. John McCain told TIME. “We haven’t seen anything like this in the Republican Party since the 1930s.”

(MORE: In Prime Time, Obama Struggles to Reason With Nation Over Syria)

“The isolationists set national policy right up until midnight on Dec. 6, 1941 as we watched Mussolini gas people in Abyssinia, as we watched Hitler in the Sudetenland,” McCain added. “We saw him in Czechoslovakia while the trainloads of Jews went into the gas chambers. We watched all these things happen when it was the ‘America Firsters.’ Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them a old adage but a true one.”

McCain’s rivals for control of the GOP’s foreign policy, including Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, scoff at such talk, insisting their position is much closer to the American people—and that interventionists like McCain were discredited by the Iraq War. The dispute could make it difficult for the GOP to craft a clear message against Obama and the Democrats in next year’s campaigns.

It’s impossible to predict political winners and losers now, as the outcome of the Syria drama hangs in the balance while the Obama administration pursues a possible diplomatic solution with Russia, about which many people are skeptical. “It’s too early to know [about the political consequences],” said Rep. Henry Waxman, one of the most outspoken Democrats in favor of responding to the chemical weapons attack.

But Waxman is among those Democrats hoping that Obama will, in effect, pull a rabbit out of a hat—both strategically and politically: “Hopefully we get a diplomatic solution for which President Obama would deserve an enormous amount of credit,” he said. “And the Republicans would be looked at as unwilling to stand up for American values of trying to stop the use of chemical weapons.”

Still, uncertainty over the endgame has placed political operatives in a bind, and powerless to sway an outcome on which their fortunes could depend. The Democratic National Committee has been almost entirely silent on Syria, and Obama’s vaunted Organizing for Action group merely urged people to watch Obama’s Tuesday night address, without promoting his position. A host of liberal and progressive groups like MoveOn.org, meanwhile, have rallied their members to oppose intervention.

Republican operatives have been somewhat more unified, teaming up to bash the president’s management of the crisis. After Obama’s address, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus blasted a “haphazard” administration strategy and Obama’s “rudderless diplomacy.” But Priebus offered no solutions of his own, and the vague criticism–as opposed to the specifics leveled against the president on other recent issues including the IRS scandals and the budget showdown–indicate how dangerous the issue is, and how cautious Republicans are about owning an alternative.

“The overriding theme that will dovetail with the GOP message is that this is another example of how the Obama administration has bungled a very important policy issue,” said Tim Miller, the Executive Director of the GOP super PAC America Rising. “It’s the feeling that this president doesn’t have his act together, and that on issue after issue – economy, healthcare, Syria, he has been unable to put forth an agenda that is effective and that Democratic candidates can run on.”

Democrats naturally disagree. “Hard for Republicans to argue that Democrats are weak and indecisive if while the President takes action to promote deterrence they do nothing while a dictator uses chemical weapons against innocent civilians in broad daylight and in clear violation of international law,” said former Obama campaign spokesman Ben Labolt.

Despite the dueling soundbites, operatives on both sides know that Syria’s political impact won’t be decided by operatives in Washington but by diplomats and officials in Washington, Moscow and Damascus.

With reporting by Jay Newton-Small and Alex Rogers/Washington
MORE: Putin Calls for Diplomacy on Syria in Times Op-Ed

16 comments
Reefman
Reefman

John Mc should spend more time with his family &Nfews if he has any with that barbyGirl .....& help the veterans that are sturving and killing them selves .....you can save Israel next life old man

AZWI
AZWI

John McCain reasoning for wars, is his own bloodthirsty lust for wars, and of course he's trying to appease the Defense/Oil Industries that own him 

jmac
jmac

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said the premise of the Iraq War, which he voted for, was based on a "worldwide intelligence failure" on Hussein's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. "

That's a lie.   That's a bold-face lie.   This is a Senator lying through his teeth.   The problem with them meme is that Fox News believes it, it's pushed to those who vote right, and they will be repeating this for the next sixty years. 

 The only "intelligence failure" came from W. in a State of the Union  repeating a lie from Britain about yellow cake in Africa that had already been proven to be false and taken out of a previous speech.    Condi's aide took the fall for it.   Collin Powell's chemical weapons UN report - "they're here, they're here" was refuted immediately by weapon's inspectors who had been on the ground in Iraq. 

The world was marching against that war - as many as 100,000 in some countries.  Bush had to pull the vote from the UN after Colin Powell's display.  It wasn't sold with "world-wide intelligence."   

Some reporter needs to make sure everyone knows that what this Senator said is a lie.  PLEASE.  Please don't let them get away with what they've gotten away with on what caused our economic collapse and now W's lies.  For God sake, his VP outed a CIA agent on that yellow cake lie because - it was called the lie it was.    

DanaP84
DanaP84

According to a report this morning, President Obama was so impressed with Vladimir Putin's ability to save him from having to bomb Syria that he's asked Putin to help him pass immigration reform through congress. Now that's going to be an interesting debate! http://goo.gl/4DATMA

jmac
jmac

I'm a democrat and I don't believe that Obama has "waffled".  I think Obama knew what he had to state about the use of chemical weapons, then went with the flow of the international community and his nation.   Good for him.  Give him another peace prize.

It reminds me of  Clinton reading an editorial in the New York Times and changing his mind and readjusting his thinking.   The wing nuts went wild.   

You want someone who doesn't waffle - elect McCain.   Call up W.   We had someone who never waffled from his original boyhood ideology.  Look what it got us.  

anon76
anon76

 “It plays into every stereotype that Democrats are weak and indecisive on foreign policy,” one Democratic operative who would only speak on background complained about the administration’s strategy. “What are they thinking over there?”

This pretty much encapsulates what is wrong with US Governance.  Putting political concerns before policy effectiveness is a sure way to get bad government.  Probably leads to a fair share of election losses, as well.

allthingsinaname
allthingsinaname

Oh gee I feel sorry for them. Now they have to act like a government.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

"“It plays into every stereotype that Democrats are weak and indecisive on foreign policy,” one Democratic operative who would only speak on background complained about the administration’s strategy. “What are they thinking over there

How's old Mudcat doing?

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

> "“It plays into every stereotype that Democrats are weak and indecisive on foreign policy,” one Democratic operative who would only speak on background complained about the administration’s strategy. “What are they thinking over there?”

Did this operative notice that 80% of the GOP was not going to vote to authorize a military strike?

> “The isolationists set national policy right up until midnight on Dec. 6, 1941 as we watched Mussolini gas people in Abyssinia, as we watched Hitler in the Sudetenland,” McCain added. “We saw him in Czechoslovakia while the trainloads of Jews went into the gas chambers. We watched all these things happen when it was the ‘America Firsters.’ Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them a old adage but a true one.”

Those who study the lessons of history also know that the trainloads didn't start until after 1942. Just sayin'...

> It’s impossible to predict political winners and losers now...

...but that won't stop us from trying!

Please: Give it a rest. 

jmac
jmac

@DanaP84 Well, we all know Republicans can't do it.    Putin can't help them out on that one because they're goose is cooked no matter which way they turn.   And they know it.

PerryWhite1
PerryWhite1

@jmac Hear, hear. I'm delighted to have a president who doesn't bluster and bully, but instead thinks, acts and speaks carefully. The 24-hour news cycle is going berserk without a sound-bite narrative to follow, so decides that things are "muddled."

Well, I don't find it muddled. I see the U.S. NOT showing all its cards at the beginning of the discussion, and getting what it wants.

jmac
jmac

@anon76 What exactly was the "policy effectiveness" on Syria?  That's one thing almost everyone agreed on - they're are no easy answers on the mess in Syria.   Probably one of the reason W. left it to mildew while he veered to the weak nation of Iraq and ignored North Korea and Iran.   

You would have thought in W's "waffling" on al Qaeda (none in Iraq at that time)  he have at least gotten bin Ladin ("dead or alive").   Instead he has Saddam's pistol in his library.  He should write under it "waffling".     

sacredh
sacredh

@PerryWhite1, it's adaptibility. Your opinions and views should adjust to changing situations and additional information. This past spring my wife wanted to buy an area rug that cost several hundred dollars. I told her we couldn't really afford it. Over the next couple of weeks I hit a couple of $500 scratch-offs. I told her we could go get it since we had unexpected money. The situation changed so my response changed. 

anon76
anon76

@jmac

"What exactly was the "policy effectiveness" on Syria?"

In this case, slowing down the rush to war and trying to develop any sort of consensus, be it UN, NATO, or even congressional.  Mudcat (I presume) was decrying this as appearing "weak and indecisive".  He shows no concern for whether this will keep us out of an unwinnable war while simultaneously keeping Syrians (and others down the road) from being exposed to chemical weapons.  If it all works out it will be a huge diplomatic victory, but all Mudcat (and Klein, for that matter) are concerned with are the appearances.

PerryWhite1
PerryWhite1

@sacredh @PerryWhite1 Exactly. I see even liberal pundits acting as if they kinda miss the bull-headedness of W., who made up his mind about everything when he was about 17 and never changed, despite new information or changing circumstances. 

Ridiculous. I want a president at least as smart as I am, and preferably a lot smarter. And I think we have one.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

I was wondering if I was the only one who remembered Mudcat.

And I agree, slowing things down-by hook or by crook-was the best short term result.