Late last month, when U.S. air strikes caused civilian casualties in Afghanistan, an angry Hamid Karzai issued an ultimatum.
If future U.S. strikes are not restricted, we will take “unilateral action” and America may be treated like an “occupying power.”
That brought this blistering retort from one Republican hawk.
“If President Karzai continues with these public ultimatums, we must consider our options about the immediate future of U.S. troops in his country. If he actually follows through on his claim that Afghan forces will take ‘unilateral action’ against NATO forces which conduct such air raids to take out terrorists and terrorist positions, that should result in the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and the suspension of U.S. aid.”
Who was the GOP hawk shaking the fist at Karzai? Sarah Palin.
Insiders attribute Palin’s shift from the neocon party line to the departure from her staff of Randy Scheunemann and Michael Goldfarb, and their replacement by Libya war skeptic Peter Schweizer.
Perhaps. But there are other straws in the wind that the GOP is coming to see that, like his “big government conservatism” ballyhooed by The Weekly Standard, Bush II’s compulsive interventionism has proven as great a disaster for his country as it did for his party.
Last week, House Speaker John Boehner had to scramble to cobble up a substitute resolution to prevent half his GOP caucus from joining with Democrats to denounce President Obama’s war in Libya as unconstitutional and to demand a total U.S. pullout in 15 days.
The author of the end-the-war resolution that seemed likely to pass was Dennis Kucinich. That Republicans would vote for a Kucinich resolution testifies to the anger on the Hill that Obama took us to war without congressional authorization and has treated the War Powers Act with manifest contempt.
Boehner’s resolution, which gives the president longer to comply with the act and involves no deadline for withdrawal, passed 268 to 145.
But Kucinich’s resolution, which would have cut off funds for the Libyan war, still garnered 148 votes, among them 87 Republicans.
More than a third of House Republicans voted to pull out of the NATO coalition attacking Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, which would have forced a NATO withdrawal from that civil war. This is historic.
Yet another reflection of anti-interventionist sentiment can be seen in Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ valedictory tour, where he felt compelled to assure U.S. allies in Asia we are there to stay.
In Afghanistan, Gates seemed to warn the White House not to make too large a withdrawal of forces in July, when President Obama begins to reverse the 30,000-soldier surge of 2009.
What explains the shift in political and public sentiment away from military interventionism?
First, the length and cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — the first in its 10th year, the latter in its eighth — with their endless bleedings of American blood and treasure for inconclusive results.
Over 6,000 dead, 40,000 wounded and $1 trillion sunk, with a real possibility a U.S. pullout from Iraq in December could result in civil war, and a fear that the Afghan War, where the Taliban now conduct jailbreaks of 500 men in Kandahar and fight on the Af-Pak border in battalion strength, may ultimately be lost.
A second cause is our fiscal crisis. America cannot afford any more wars, or more billions in foreign aid to balance budgets of Arab countries whose treasuries have been looted by departing despots.
Third, there is the sense in Congress that it has let itself be steadily stripped of its constitutional power to declare war.
Harry Truman conducted America’s first undeclared war in Korea, calling it a “police action.”
Historians now believe Congress was misled or lied to when it approved the Tonkin Gulf Resolution authorizing LBJ to attack North Vietnam.
While George H.W. Bush got the support of both houses for Desert Storm, Bill Clinton launched his war on Serbia in defiance of a House vote not to authorize it.
George W. Bush got congressional approval for the invasion of Iraq by declaring that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction it did not have. We went to war for nothing.
Finally, the Libyan war Obama entered, egged on by Britain and France, but without the support of Congress, makes little sense.
Though Gadhafi is a repellent figure, the architect of the Lockerbie massacre, we have no vital interest in who rules Libya. Yet when Gadhafi falls, it will now be up to us to see to it that Libya is united and repaired and has a democratic government.
Obama has already committed us to take the lead in a $40 billion rescue of Egypt and Tunisia. Can we also afford to rescue a Yemen that is in terrible shape and a Libya that has been at war for months?
The return of the anti-interventionist right is welcome news. It may assure a real debate on foreign policy in the Republican primaries of 2012.