Leading Conservatives in Media Divided on Syria Strike

Tuesday, 10 Sep 2013 12:15 PM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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While public opinion polls show Americans strongly against intervening in Syria, views among conservative publications and opinion writers are sharply divided.

While most agree the Obama administration has demonstrated incompetence in managing the crisis, not all say that is reason enough to vote against a congressional resolution backing military action in Syria.

Here’s a breakdown on where some conservative thought leaders stand:

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John Boehner: The House speaker came out on Sept. 3, saying he supported the president's call for military action in Syria.

"I'm going to support the president's call for action. I believe my colleagues should support this call for action. We have enemies around the world that need to understand that we're not going to tolerate this type of behavior."

National Review editorial board: The editors at the National Review came down in favor of taking action to topple Assad from power. However, its contributors and columnists are split on the issue.

"If we don’t act in this case, after all this windup, Iran and Hezbollah will take note of how little our admonitions to not acquire or use weapons of mass destruction really mean . . . For that reason, we would vote "yes" on the authorization . . . Any strike shouldn't be a pinprick or necessarily a one-off but part of a broader, longer-term plan to topple Assad and defeat his allies," National Review editors wrote.

Rich Lowry: The National Review editor supports military action but thinks Obama has shown weakness.

"Obama is clearly uncomfortable exercising American leadership. It forces him into all the same expedients that he once criticized, when it was George W. Bush resorting to them. Leading means not letting balky allies define the limits of your actions . . . It means, when necessary, turning to force. Not because you are a 'cowboy.' But because sometimes it is the only way to punish enemies and secure the nation’s interests."

Larry Kudlow: The CNBC talk host and National Review contributor has argued that a "no" vote in Congress on a Syria resolution will hurt both U.S. credibility abroad and hurt the domestic economy as well.

"None of this is as important as America's global credibility when the U.S. must not stand back and let rogue dictators use weapons of mass destruction. That said, Obama's foreign-policy blunders may end his domestic policy too."

Wall Street Journal editorial board: The Journal editorial, entitled "Leading from Behind," backed a military effort but said Obama turning to Congress for approval "will go down as one of the stranger gambles, if not abdications, in Commander-in-Chief history."

"A defeat in Congress would signal to Bashar Assad and the world's other thugs that the U.S. has retired as the enforcer of any kind of world order ... The world's rogues would be further emboldened and look for more weaknesses to exploit. The reason to ... authorize the use of force is not to save this President from embarrassment. It is to rescue American credibility and strategic interests from this most feckless of presidents."

Christopher Ruddy: The editor in chief and CEO of Newsmax gave support for a Syria limited strike, saying however that President Barack Obama first needed to make a compelling case in his address to the nation Tuesday night.

"Congress should back President Obama's plan to strike Syria. But I offer one caveat. When the commander in chief speaks to the nation on Tuesday, he needs to offer clear and compelling evidence that the Assad regime, and no one else, used chemical weapons . . .If Assad has used WMDs on his population, then we need to take the lead in condemning and punishing his regime — even if the world won’t stand with us and we do it alone . . . Congress is justified in granting the president limited authority in punishing Syria for using such weapons within a narrow time frame."

William Kristol: The editor of The Weekly Standard offered grudging support for action in Syria, arguing that a "no" vote would be "disastrous" for the nation.

"The statesmanlike case for voting 'Yes' on the congressional resolution to use force against the Assad regime has been made widely and well by conservative foreign policy thinkers. At the end, the case boils down to this: As a policy matter, a 'Yes' vote may be problematic in all kinds of ways. But a 'No' vote would likely be disastrous for the nation in very clear ways. Statesmanship requires choosing the problematic over the disastrous."

Oppose or Indifferent to Action

Andrew McCarthy: McCarthy, a National Review contributor and an expert on terrorism, wrote a lengthy rebuttal to the editors that concluded with a defense of the opponents of intervention.

"As for the editors' parting shot, conservative non-interventionists are not foolish enough to believe 'we can be done with the world.' We just insist on dealing with the world as it actually is — in the Middle East, it is more like Benghazi than Shangri-La. We want our liabilities limited by our reality, not our dreams. There are many ways for the United States to remain engaged and pursue its limited interests in Syria without military intervention and without empowering our enemies. That may sound 'simple,' but better that than delusional."

Victor Davis Hanson: McCarthy's colleague at National Review also voiced his opposition and questioned Obama's will to carry out the mission.

"Most Americans do not favor intervention of any serious sort, and Obama is not up to drumming up public support . . . In short, Team Obama does not have its heart in doing much of anything in the Middle East — not in Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, or in the War on Terror in general. Given that the American people have no great love for most of those killing one another in Syria, we would be wise to stay out, and send food and medicine to alleviate the suffering of the innocent."

Charles Krauthammer: The Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor initially supported taking action against Syria, but in recent weeks has grown weary of the administration's arguments for the resolution. In a September 5 column, Krauthammer determined that a "no" vote would be the wisest course of action.

"When Obama tells the nation what he told [Sens. John] McCain and Lindsey Graham in private — that he plans to degrade Assad's forces, upgrade the resistance and alter the balance of forces — Congress might well consider authorizing the use of force. But until then, it's no."

Newt Gingrich: The former House speakersaid in CNN column that Obama "did the right thing in going to Congress for a debate and a vote on a proposed national security action," but that the president picked the wrong topic.

"Unfortunately the president picked the wrong topic on which to have a national debate. Launching a few missiles at Syria is a tactical action that will not change history. … We need a national debate about stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons. … Congress should vote no on a meaningless public relations use of military force against al-Assad and then focus on the three national security debates that really matter."

Thomas Sowell: The Townhall.com columnist's opposition to granting Obama authority to strike Syria lies in his disbelief in Obama's motives.

"It would be nice to believe that [Syria intervention] has some larger purpose than saving Barack Obama from political embarrassment, after having issued an ultimatum without having thought through what he would do if that ultimatum was ignored. He has the authority to take military action if he wants to. The question is whether he can sucker the Republicans into giving him political cover by pre-approving his unknown actions and unknown goals."

Washington Times editorial board
: The editorial board of The Washington Times has not expressed a firm view on Syrian intervention. Instead, the editors contend Obama has numerous questions that must be answered before approval is given.

"Few think Mr. Obama has so far argued a persuasive case, but many are willing to listen further Tuesday night," the editors said, adding that the following questions must be answered first.

"How will a few Tomahawk missiles deter or weaken Bashar Assad? How might the chaos that follows enable a jihadist takeover in Syria, and will that benefit the civilized world? What is likely to happen if the missiles deter nothing, leaving the United States with diminished credibility and igniting a regional war? What then? Must the Obama administration get a blank check to draw on trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives, to be spent in yet another war in the Middle East? These are the questions the president must answer if he hopes to unite the nation for war."

Washington Times columnist Frank Gaffney
: Former Reagan administration Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Gaffney believes war would be the worst of bad options.

"Thanks in no small measure to the decisions made to date — including those that have hollowed out our military, reduced our presence and power-projection capabilities and contributed to the metastasizing of the Islamist cancer — there are no good options in Syria. Unfortunately, the worst of them at the moment appears to be our going to war there, and Congress should decline to do so."

Pat Buchanan: Buchanan has long opposed involvement in the Middle East and his recent column echoed that belief in urging Congress to reject the Syria resolution.

"If the Republican Party backs this war, it will own this war. And U.S. involvement will last not for days, but for the duration. And if our power is unleashed, our prestige and superpower status go on the line. Does the Republican Party really want to own a war that could end with al-Qaida in power or occupying sanctuaries in Syria? Does the U.S. Jewish community really want to be responsible for starting a war that ends with two million Christian Syrians facing a fate not unlike that of Poland's Jews?"

Peggy Noonan
: Noting the overwhelming public opinion against taking action, the former Reagan speechwriter and Wall Street Journal contributor, suggested caution may be needed in Syria, saying that sometimes "it shows strength to hold your fire."

"Are North Korea and Iran watching? Sure. They'll always be watching. And no, they won't say, 'Huh, that settles it, if America didn't move against Syria they'll never move against us. All our worries are over.' In fact their worries, and ours, will continue. Sometimes it shows strength to hold your fire."

Armstrong Williams: The political commentator wrote a scathing column opposing military action, saying, "Our dear leaders continue to engage in foreign policies that blatantly risk American lives with no thought to the consequences of their actions."

"No one has verbalized our objective. Do we intend this raid to be humanitarian or simply punishment? Is success measured by the number of bombs dropped and missiles fired? What comes after? In all honesty, neither side of the Syrian conflict benefits us. Hezbollah versus Al-Qaida? Better to let them both kill each other on their own."




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