The GOP Wants To Have It Both Ways On Syria

Dana Milbank | Photo by James Kegley

Dana Milbank | Photo by James Kegley

Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is in a spirited debate — with himself.

Four months ago, Inhofe demanded that “President Obama step up and exhibit the leadership required” to show Syria’s Bashar al-Assad “that his barbaric actions have consequences.” Writing in USA Today, Inhofe added: “Continued inaction by the president, after establishing a clear red line, will embolden Assad and his benefactors in Tehran to continue their brutal assault against the Syrian people.” Inhofe floated the idea of a “no-fly” zone or even “boots on the ground.”

But last week, as Obama moved toward military action to enforce his “red line,” Inhofe issued a statement saying that “[o]ur military has no money left” for a strike on Syria. On “Fox News Sunday,” Inhofe reiterated his position that “I would oppose going in and having military intervention against Syria.” He said that Obama should not have drawn a red line in the first place.

As Inhofe’s conversion on the road to Damascus indicates, Republicans don’t like what Obama is doing in Syria — whatever it is.

Some protested when Obama threatened to bomb Syria without congressional approval; others then criticized him for seeking congressional approval. They complain that Obama’s use-of-force resolution is too broad; they argue that it would amount to only a “pinprick.” They assert that he should have intervened long ago; they say that he has not yet made the case for intervening. They told him not to go to the United Nations; they scolded him for not pursuing multilateral action. They told him to arm the rebels and, when he did, they said he had done it too late and with insufficient firepower.

Genuine disagreements within the GOP can explain some of the contradictions. And it’s a fair criticism to say that Obama waited too long to act, even if there was never a consensus for action. But the one thing that seems to unite the opposition is the belief that Obama is wrong, no matter what.

Typical of that approach is Paul Ryan, the 2012 vice presidential nominee, who issued a have-it-both-ways statement Tuesday that offered no support for military action. “The President has some work to do to recover from his grave missteps in Syria,” Ryan said. “He needs to clearly demonstrate that the use of military force would strengthen America’s security.”

In 2011, Ryan called for a muscular response to Syria, which he accused of a “brutal crackdown” and killing its citizens. Said Ryan then: “We have a responsibility to speak boldly for those whose voices are denied by the jackbooted thugs of the tired tyrants of Syria and Iran.”