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Topics: Barack Obama

Opposition to war in Syria isn't about Obama

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In 1971, a young Navy lieutenant, John Kerry, testified before Congress, urging an end to the Vietnam War and cataloging atrocities allegedly committed there by U.S. forces.

He has since come full circle, strenuously working in his capacity as President Obama’s Secretary of State to get Congress to vote in favor of a war in Syria.

Likewise, most opposition to war in Syria is now coming from Republicans – in some cases, from lawmakers who backed the Iraq War 10 years ago. “What does it take,” Ed Schultz asked on his MSNBC program last week, “to get a Republican to be against an airstrike?”

The answer, of course: “their flat-out hatred for this president,” which he insinuated is rooted in racism. Otherwise, he asserts, “they have never turned down a war.”

But that isn’t true at all. Just one war they turned down was the 2003 conflict in Liberia, which “anti-war” presidential candidate Howard Dean urged President George W. Bush to enter in 2003.

In Kosovo, Bill Clinton controversially intervened in circumstances similar to the present ones in Syria. It was unpopular (a 45 percent plurality opposed it, per Gallup), and the majority-Republican Congress refused to sign off on its continuation after it was already underway.

It would be disappointing to think that anti-war Democrats would support a bombing campaign just because Obama is president – or that, as Schultz and others have asserted, conservatives oppose this war for the same reason.

But both facile assertions confuse causation with correlation. Do Republicans oppose (and Democrats support) this war just because Obama is president? Or does Obama, a Democratic president, just happen to like the kind of wars that Democrats like and Republicans don't?

There are a handful of Republicans and quite a few more Democrats who oppose nearly all military action. For the rest, not all wars are created equal.

For a few decades now, Democratic presidents have clamored for humanitarian interventions in murky regional conflicts, and Republicans have typically criticized these missions as failing to serve any clear American interest.

These wars also tend to lack public support at the outset, as with Kosovo, Haiti (66 percent against, per CBS News in June 1994) and now Syria (51 percent opposed, per Gallup, to only 36 percent in favor).

Obama’s Syria plan is subject to these criticisms. Additionally, it lacks a true goal (aside from “sending a message”) and its possible effects on the Syrian Civil War are unpredictable.

It could also help radical Islamic fighters on the rebel side, including groups associated with al Qaeda. Also, this particular military operation would lack international support.

Republican presidents tend to favor a different sort of conflict – the kind that is decisive, with dramatic results (“regime change,” for example) and clear (or at least apparent, if not real) U.S. interests at stake. These wars are usually criticized as overly self-interested (“War for oil!”), but they tend to be popular at first – until reality sets in.

There is also a practical reason Republicans currently make up nearly three-quarters of the anti-war opposition in Congress. Many Democrats who will ultimately vote “no” are, out of deference, waiting to give Obama more of a chance to make his case.

Ultimately, the number of “no” votes could be very large and bipartisan – as often happens when other really bad ideas come to the House floor.

It is true that much of America's anti-war, pro-Obama crowd is now in hiding. It’s also true that Obama’s political adversaries have been far less restrained or cautious in supporting past wars.

But that doesn’t mean everyone’s a hypocrite — a word you’re likely to hear a lot in the coming weeks. Unless you oppose all wars in principle, they just aren’t all the same in character.

DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former editorial page editor for the Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).
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