Parting Ways With the American People

Some three fourths of Americans oppose making war on Syria. Hence the Republican leadership class’ reflexive advocacy of entry into Syria’s civil war is cutting one of the few remaining ties that bind it to ordinary Americans.

Since September 2008, when President George W. Bush, Congressman John Boehner, Senators Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Lindsay Graham and the entire Republican Congressional leadership plus Karl Rove and his big donors backed by The Wall Street Journal editorial pages were key to foisting the $816 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program on a country that opposed it three to one, the Republican Establishment has united with the Democratic Party again and again to legislate the ruling class’ domestic priorities. Before President Obama elevated the Syrian civil war onto the national agenda, the same cast of characters was chiefly occupied with gathering votes to secure funding for Obamacare against a popular movement to de-fund it.

In short, by 2013 the Republican Establishment had proved itself so alien to the domestic concerns of that majority of Americans who dislike the direction in which the ruling class is pushing it, that the party was becoming irrelevant. Despite the Bush Administration’s disastrous commitment to Nation-Building however, the memory of Ronald Reagan’s and Dwight Eisenhower’s forceful, levelheaded patriotism still lingered about the party.

But by urging war on Syria more vehemently than Obama, the Republican Establishment may have finished off the Republican Party, as we know it. Surely it has discredited itself.

President Obama and his followers say: “strike!” even while acknowledging that no military or political plans exist by which such strikes would make things better rather than worse. Reflecting the public, few Democratic and Republican lawmakers support the war publicly. Obama, while claiming the right to act without Congressional approval, has asked Congress to take responsibility for whatever war he might choose to make – and for its results. In the likely event that Congress were to say No, Obama is poised to pin responsibility on Republicans lawmakers and on the people they represent for America’s decline among nations and for whatever ill consequences may follow from all he has already done with regard to Syria.

We cannot be shocked that persons of the intellectual caliber of Obama and his officials would propose entering into a war without a notion of how they propose to leave it or of what they propose to get out of it for America. We dare not let ourselves take seriously their assertion that intervention in a struggle among fanatic sectarians can be either neutral about the substance of their hatreds or even favorable to moderation. Nor can we pretend surprise that persons of their moral caliber should use bloodshed abroad as a political weapon at home.

But we have a right and duty to remark and to reprove the manner in which the Republican Establishment is impugning the character of Americans who oppose the war. That manner, Obama-like, eschews argument in favor of insult. To argue is to deal with the opposite position on its own terms. But the Republican Establishment attacks the American people for being “isolationist” – an epithet that no one applies to himself.

Thus Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal refuses to take seriously Senator Rand Paul’s point that the Constitution (and good sense) requires that war be waged only subsequent to careful deliberation about ends and means and vote by the people’s elected representatives. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 argued that point. But Stephens dismisses Rand Paul’s agreement with them as “faux constitutional assertions.” What valid constitutional concerns might be, he does not say. Rather, he smears the very idea of such concerns as “the isolationist worm eating its way through the GOP apple.”

Eisenhower and Taft

Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Taft

What is it that makes isolationist worms of the majority of Americans? The answer seems to be what Stephens and the Republican Establishment deem an excessive concern for the interest of the United States of America rather than of mankind in general. That is the reason for comparing Rand Paul to Robert A. Taft, the 1930s and 40s’ Mr. Republican. The comparison is well taken, since Taft wrote an excellent book, A Foreign Policy For Americans (1951), premised on the fact that US officials have only the legal and moral authority to act as the American people’s fiduciary agents. Rather than arguing the contrary, Stephens merely tells us that Rand Paul, like Robert Taft, is “already yesterday’s man.”

In sum, then, the Republican Establishment wants the American people to lend ourselves to an un-serious military venture in order to prove that we are serious about America’s greatness, to show we are not isolated from the world’s troubles by mixing ourselves in them without a plan for improving them or to shield ourselves from them.

This is from the same people who tell us that the best way to rid ourselves of the evils of Obamacare is to provide funds for it.

Like the Pharisee in the Temple, the Republican Establishment flaunt their differences from ordinary Americans. We should agree.

Angelo M. Codevilla

Angelo M. Codevilla is professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and is a Senior Fellow of The Claremont Institute. He served as a U.S. Senate Staff member dealing with oversight of the intelligence services. His new book Peace Among Ourselves and With All Nations was published by Hoover Institution Press.

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    • gabe says

      I did not read Mr Codevilla as providing such an extensive endorsement of Taft as, perhaps, you did.
      Codevilla claims Taft asserted that American foreign policy should be “premised on the fact that US officials have only the legal and moral authority to act as the American people’s fiduciary agents.” Is it that which you take issue with?
      It seems fairly reasonable to me and does not require that one buy in wholesale to the rest of Taft.

    • Thomas Dahlgren says

      Perhaps you are having difficulty recognizing the difference between support for any particular policy of Taft, and the appreciation for the underlying principle expressed by Taft?

  1. WarrenBonesteel says

    Just in case you hadn’t noticed, the democrat establishment has parted ways with it’s base, as well. Depending on the poll wrt this issue, between 60% and 80% of Americans are now ‘isolationist worms.’

    I think the author of this article needs to reconsider their position as being …outside of the mainstream, shall we say.

  2. teapartydoc says

    The Republican leadership has been getting more out of touch over the past few decades. The lights are on but nobody’s home. Sorta like a zombie version of a politcal party–undead, wandering around looking for brains (money) to eat. If you see a zombie, the best thing to do is shoot it in tne head. Someone needs to put it out of it’s misery (and ours).

    • Nick Jihad says

      This all makes sense, once you understand that Republicans see themselves as just one of two contending factions in the Party of Washington, DC.

  3. askeptic says

    Is it time for a Country Constitutionalist Party, one dedicated to the principles enunciated in that document that so many today ignore, or deride?

  4. Howard Roark says

    I think Mr. Codevilla makes a salient point when he observes how the R’s have united with the D’s to legislate the ruling class agenda.

    The steady expansion of government reach and remit, at the expense of personal liberties and freedoms, and accompanied by steadily increasing national indebtedness has been about the most bipartisan aspect of our Federal Government over the past sixty years.

    Both parties have ably represented the growing oligarchy in this country, as Big Government, Big Business (made of various “Big” sectors) and Big Labour all conspire to squeeze the average citizen out of any shreds of power they may have once held. It’s a governance system that calls to my mind the fascistic government of Mussolini more than any other.

  5. Dave Boz says

    And why the focus, exclusively, on “Republican Leadership?” Can you list the members of the “Democratic Leadership” who have stood on principle and opposed Mr. Obama’s war? This is going to be another thoroughly bipartisan muck-up, after which partisans will spend their time telling us why it’s the Other Party’s fault. Perhaps Mr. Codevilla will join them, loudly.

  6. visigoth says

    I actually support the Obama policy, to the extent we may divine it. Hit Assad but be certain it is non-decisive. Why? Because he was winning and therefore threatened to put the local conflict to bed too quickly. The national interest in Syria is the opposite as is generally understood. Death, death, death and yet more death should be our aim in Syria, Egypt or also Iran. Luckily Libya seems to be Mission Accomplished now, having been converted into (or revealed to be) a nest of feuding tribal Islamists. We are simply returning to the post-Ottoman state of affairs, all attempts through colonialism or nation-building having proven unattractive in the Arab-Muslim world. What would a Roman Senator or an American frontier commander say to the news that the Goths are at war among themselves or that the French were busy scalping the Indians? I’ll drink to that! would be appropriate. Every Islamist that is seen off in Syria or any violence within the arbitrary nation-states drawn by French generals is one we will not have to worry about later. Just as important, as the various factions each labor to destroy their neighborhood infidels, deep mistrust and malignancy is a-breeding between them so they will be more difficult to arrange into a monolith that might actually threaten us. War is Islamic doctrine. It is a sacrament for them and one we should encourage them to indulge among themselves just as long and bitterly as possible. So, Viva Obama!

  7. Strabo says

    Count me as part of the Visigoth crew! Although I’m sure that such an ingenious plan would never occur to the wretched clownshow that currently infests the White House.


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