There has been a shift in the way the Republican Party traditionally conducts its foreign policy business. The question is whether it's substantive or greatly bloated due to a polarizing president with a "D" in front of his party affiliation in the White House.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry needed to expertly tweak international and American public opinion to build support for a limited strike on Syria to send a message about the illegal use of chemical weapons. Instead, Obama and Kerry looked like they were politically twerking -- with the same response from their international and domestic audiences as Miley Cyrus got from the audience watching the Music Video Awards. Only this time Russian President Vladimir Putin is singing the tune.
Polls have shown support for the strike steadily plummeting. The most telling was a Gallup Poll that found support for military action in Syria low in contrast to past conflicts. But the poll's most shocking part was the partisan and ideological breakdown. Democrats favored it 45 to 43 percent and Republicans opposed it 58 to 31 percent. Liberals opposed it 51 to 37 percent -- while conservatives opposed it 59 to 33 percent
Conservatives oppose a military action more than liberals? Has you-know-what frozen over?
The Democrat/liberal numbers aren't surprising. Democratic liberals have often separated from their own party on war issues, even if it meant losing future elections, their agenda and even influence in the courts. Liberals bailed on LBJ and Hubert Humphrey, contributing to Richard Nixon's 1968 victory which gave him a chance to start transforming the judiciary, bureaucracy and policies. Some Democrats saw little difference in the parties in 2000 so they voted for Ralph Nader over Al Gore and, with help from the Supreme Court, helped elect George W. Bush President. P.S.: Bush didn't turn out to be the same as a Democrat.
Republicans had a strong isolation list strain in the early 20th century, but since the mid-50s they touted themselves as the party strong on national security and protecting America's world image. Some of today's Republican opposition is due to not wanting to spend the money and genuinely rejecting neocon type military operations. But rank partisanship also plays a role in the huge number of GOPers rejection of a military action that they would have likely backed if a president with an "R" affiliation was seeking it. Partisanship 101:
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions: "I do believe if President Bush had told Bashar Assad 'You don't use those chemical weapons or you're gonna be sorry, we're coming after you, and this'll be a consequence you will not want to bear,' I don't believe he would have used it."
Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer told conservative talker Hew Hewett that he wasn't actually opposed to hitting Syria but wasn't supporting Obama's strategy, "The reason I'm for staying out is because this president doesn't know what he's doing."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- who's re-election battle is against a Tea Party opponent on the right and a strong Democrat on the left -- leaked an advance copy of his Senate speech saying he'd vote no on Syria. It was a speech that insisted he was "no isolationalist," but basically declared Obama too incompetent to mount an operation that McConnell claimed was too weak anyway. He wanted it both ways. No one will ever confuse McConnell with the Senate's great former Republican leaders who focused on bigger things than their own political scalps.
So should the new Republican Party's slogan be "Give Peace a Chance?" No. Perhaps it should be: "Give the Consistency of Your Past Principles a Chance."
Nationally syndicated columnist JOE GANDELMAN
is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers
overseas and in the United States.