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GOP Hawks Splintering over America's Wars

Wednesday, 08 June 2011 05:58 PM

Republicans used to be reliable foreign policy hawks who voted in unison to back U.S. military action abroad.

Lately, not so much.

Recent votes in the House of Representatives on a measure rebuking President Barack Obama over his handling of the Libya conflict and on another urging him to produce a plan for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan have revealed a Republican Party much less in lock-step on America's wars.

What is happening, observers ask, when Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann and 86 other Republicans -- even more Republicans than Democrats -- support a resolution by Democrat Dennis Kucinich to pull the United States out of Libyan operations?

The Kucinich resolution failed to pass June 3 but only after House Speaker John Boehner put up a less dramatic alternative that nonetheless castigated Obama for not offering a "compelling rationale" for involvement in the Libyan war.

The Wall Street Journal worried on its editorial page this week that House Republicans were turning "isolationist" on Libya and joining liberal Democrats who are veteran critics of U.S. military force abroad. The number of Republican skeptics on Afghanistan has grown too, but at a much lower level.

As U.S. forces leave Iraq and look set to start withdrawing from Afghanistan this summer, analysts see a re-evaluation going on in both political parties of the American military's role in a time of economic crisis and global change.

They point out that the Afghan war has become ever more expensive, at about $110 billion a year, as concern grows about the U.S. national debt, now over $14 trillion.

The "Arab spring" shaking the Middle East and North Africa is bringing more challenges, including the Libya conflict where NATO is leading a coalition conducting air strikes to shield civilians from Muammar Gaddafi's forces.

"I don't think it is neo-isolationist to question what is happening there (in Libya) -- whether it really is serving the objective, whether there is a strategic purpose that will achieve decisive results," said Anthony Cordesman, a former defense official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Isolationism is "probably too simplistic a term" for what is going on in Congress, said Norman Ornstein, a long-time observer of the legislative branch and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "I don't think it affects the core, mainstream leaders of both parties."

But Ornstein said there are more lawmakers who want to cut government spending, including stalwarts of the Tea Party movement and libertarians like Ron Paul.

"They (the libertarians) don't think America should be very much involved around the world. They don't like government involvement at home," Ornstein said.



Some Republicans continue to strongly support U.S. participation in NATO operations in Libya. John McCain, a Republican senator and war veteran who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential election, introduced a resolution supporting the U.S. intervention, with several Democratic co-sponsors.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had scheduled a vote on McCain's resolution for Thursday but that meeting was abruptly postponed Tuesday after talks over whether to rewrite the measure did not produce a consensus.

Meanwhile Democratic Senator Jim Webb and Republican Bob Corker introduced a Senate resolution Wednesday similar to the House-passed measure critical of Obama's handling of the Libya war. It demands the administration give a detailed justification of U.S. operations in Libya, and prohibits U.S. troops on the ground there.

After years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans may simply be getting weary, said Sarah Kreps, assistant professor of government at Cornell University.

"There seems to be battle fatigue and debt fatigue in the country and the operation in Libya is just intensifying both of these sentiments," she said.

A Democratic measure calling for an Afghanistan pullout plan got 26 House Republican votes May 26 -- not many but triple the number of Republicans who backed a similar proposal a year earlier. Popular among Democrats, the Afghanistan measure nearly passed, falling short with a vote of 204-215.

Ornstein said he thought the number of Republican critics of the Afghanistan war could still grow.

"I believe that over time, if Afghanistan proves to be more vexing, if we keep having (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai spitting in our eye, we may see more than 26 Republicans the next time," he said. (Editing by Warren Strobel, John O'Callaghan and Vicki Allen)

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Republicans used to be reliable foreign policy hawks who voted in unison to back U.S. military action abroad. Lately, not so much.Recent votes in the House of Representatives on a measure rebuking President Barack Obama over his handling of the Libya conflict and on...
Wednesday, 08 June 2011 05:58 PM
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