Why Should We Care What the Republican Candidates Say About Syria?

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Every once in a while, somebody who’s a political adversary most of the time does something righteous and politically useful. Some of us call this happy occurrence “friend for a day.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the usually-pretty-war-friendly Heritage Foundation, weighing in on Republican proposals backed by Hillary Clinton to impose a “no fly zone” in Syria:

Luke Coffey, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said: “It makes for a nice tweet, it sounds good, it sounds like a policy idea. But when you get down into the details, you see why it’s not really going to work.”

The Heritage Foundation is a leading Republican Party think tank. And, as the New York Times noted in its headline, “G.O.P. Candidates Leading Charge in Call for Syrian No-Fly Zone.” I would like to congratulate the Heritage Foundation for displaying some intellectual integrity by not embracing a “stupid thing” just because most Republican presidential candidates are doing so.

The Times gives a tally of who is in favor of a “no fly zone” and who is opposed:

  • Supports “no fly zone”: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio
  • Opposes “no fly zone”: Martin O’Malley, Rand Paul, Bernie Sanders
  • Among Republicans: 6-1 in favor.
  • Among Democrats: 2-1 opposed.

About Hillary, the Times says:

Known for her hawkish views on foreign policy, Mrs. Clinton has long been at odds with Mr. Obama over Syria. As secretary of state, she pushed for taking a more aggressive approach, arguing for training and arming moderate Syrian rebels.

Folks who are still in denial that Hillary is “known for her hawkish views on foreign policy,” please direct your complaints to the New York Times.

Why would all these supposedly “serious” people come out for something that the usually-war-sympathetic Heritage Foundation flatly says is “not really going to work”? The Times offers this explanation:

Faysal Itani, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, said the calls from Republicans stemmed from a “general unhappiness with the perception of American power in the world” under the Obama administration.

“They see their enemies as emboldened and the president as having deliberately placed American power in decline, rather than it having happened to America,” he said. “Syria is where they think we should make a stand against the Russians and Iranians.”

So, this is what’s it’s all about. “No fly zone” = “make a stand against the Russians and Iranians.” But presumably, “Let’s have a war with Russia and Iran” didn’t test well in their focus groups. “No fly zone” is a marketing euphemism for “war.” Instead of “Let’s cut taxes on billionaires,” say “Let’s simplify the tax code.” Instead of “Drink this furniture polish,” say “Drink Yakov’s Golden Elixir“:

Yakov’s Elixir, the best that can be had,
Yakov’s Elixir, it’s good for what is bad.
Try this elixir, it’s sure to quench your thirst,
Buy this elixir, it’s best for what is worst!

Secretary of State Kerry successfully worked with the Europeans and the Russians to get a deal with Iran on its nuclear program. As far as I can recall, we decided in the end not to care what Republicans had to say about it. Why don’t we encourage Secretary of State Kerry to convene the same folks to work out a deal on Syria that the Russians and the Iranians can live with, and ignore what Republicans have to say about it? The Republicans’ own think tank says they’re blowing smoke. Why should we care what the Republican presidential candidates say about Syria?

Recently, 55 House Democrats led by Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes sent a letter to President Obama calling for international talks, including with Russia and Iran, to end the Syrian civil war. So far Senate Democrats have been pretty quiet about supporting a diplomatic resolution. You can urge them to speak up here.