Can you name the best friends in this picture?
Wednesday’s show focused on –what else?– the AUMF and Wednesday’s Senate Committee action on the resolution.
My guests included House Armed Services Chair Buck McKeon –undecided but looking to use the House vote on the AUMF as leverage to refund the Pentagon– General Jack Keane (ret), MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, historian Andrew Roberts and Brookings’ Michael O’Hanlon.
By far the most important of these conversations is the one with General Keane, for it makes clear what many opponents of the AUMF refuse to recognize: There is an alternative to both Assad and Al Qaeda in Syria, but this “third way” needs strengthening. Addition to that “third way’s” ability to win will come from subtraction from Assad of his air assets, which can be accomplished even with limited strikes. Aiding this “third way” in Syria ought to be the goal of the president, and making sure he moves that way ought to be the goal of the Congressional GOP.
Senator Rubio clearly believes this but he voted against the AUMF –a vote that GOPers as different as Joe Scarborough and I found stunning. I don’t think there is any doubt that the president has the authority to strike at Assad, and I don’t doubt for a moment that a majority of Congressional Republicans of Ronald Reagan’s era would have supported an AUMF designed to bolster that authority, which Reagan used in striking Libya and the largely forgotten “tanker war” with Iran. Senator Rubio defended his vote in an eloquent but ultimately unpersuasive statement that I reviewed with many of my guests. Evil is never helped by even token resistance. It can breed rapidly in the face of inaction. That is the choice facing GOP senators and representatives: Do at least a little or do nothing at all. The Congressional GOP should choose doing at least a little while working towards obliging the president to do what is needed and hasn’t yet been done, which is eliminating Assad and helping into power a friendly government that is not in any way allied with Al Qaeda. General Keane says that is possible. I believe him.
I know that for a fact that many Reagan-era legislators would have supported the AUMF. I know that because I had dinner with former California Governor Pete Wilson on Wednesday night and Wilson, who was on the Armed Services Committee during the Reagan Presidency, told me he would support the AUMF. Wilson was a representative Reaganite of the era. The Congressional GOP would have backed Reagan on any request when it came to defeating the country’s enemies.
Good Reaganites can and do disagree on this particular issue. To vote against the AUMF doesn’t make anyone an isolationist and it certainly doesn’t make Marco Rubio an isolationist.
But there is no denying that the loudest voices in this debate are the isolationists and the other SMAERLs. Most of the key talkers are against me on this issue, and they are all robust Reaganites. They fear a lot of bad things coming from anything this president “decides” to do. But the weakness of this president and the seeming inevitability of his collapse in the face of any push-back from Iran or Russia or the child-killer Assad (who should be known as “Chemical Bashir”) shouldn’t shift our focus from the focus of the country’s enemies: What will the Ayatollah Khamenei think of American collapse in the face of a “red line” crossed?
It is maddening to hear all of the arguments that were dismissed by W’s opponents now used in defense of President Obama’s requested AUMF and by the very people who undermined the mission in Iraq. But that frustration doesn’t change the national interest of defeating and not merely deterring much less surrendering to our enemies, especially the mullahs of Iran. As I urged in a column Wednesday, people need to read this piece on the “Supreme Leader” of Iran and then think through how he is viewing this debate. That is the key perspective here: What will the “Supreme Leader” see in the Congress’ action? He already knows he is pushing a weak president every which way. How much more aggressive will he become if he thinks –rightly or wrongly– that the Congress is isolationist?
The way forward for the GOP is to rally around Congressman Mike Pompeo’s proposed resolution, which should include Chairman McKeon’s call for a restoration of the beleaguered Pentagon’s budget. Such a robust resolution will send the president the backing he asked for with the direction he sorely needs, and allow the party of Reagan to coalesce again around peace through strength and a willingness to use that strength against the “evil-doers” like Assad and Khamenei.