I would be happy to describe what Senate Republicans tried and failed to do on Thursday afternoon with their proposed amendment to a military spending bill as a temper tantrum if I did not think it would be unfair to millions of American toddlers.
Even by the standards of GOP hawks in Congress the proposed amendment to the “Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act of 2019” was childish and absurd. (Almost as absurd as the name of the bill itself: What could they possibly mean by the words “America's security in the Middle East”?) The amendment, which was advanced by an overwhelming 68-to-23 vote, was introduced by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell himself and described as a "rebuke" of President Trump's foreign policy.
In what sense, though? It does not attempt to limit Trump's power to make foreign policy decisions without the advice and consent of the Senate. How could it? The policy of the GOP for half a century has been that the executive branch enjoys considerable latitude in foreign affairs. Instead the text was the legislative equivalent of calling Trump a big meanie. It took him to task for his "precipitous" decision to pull American forces out of Syria and Afghanistan and for failing to genuflect with sufficient respect before the altar of our no-doubt extremely competent and disinterested intelligence services.
The problem with this nonsense is that it is not even internally consistent. You cannot simultaneously suggest that the president is being hasty by withdrawing from Syria and call him a fool for publicly doubting the CIA's finding that Iran is complying with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal. If the argument is that the United States must continue to maintain a significant troop presence in Syria in order to counteract the no-doubt world-historic threat to “America's security” posed by Iran, why is it irresponsible of Trump to insist that the CIA is "naive" in its assertions about the Islamic republic's lack of progress toward nuclear weapons? Shouldn't he be praised for his hard-headed seriousness about the real danger posed by the mullahs? Republicans have been insisting for nearly 20 years that Iran is a budding nuclear power on the verge of blowing us all to smithereens. Wasn't Barack Obama a feckless liberal ninny because he failed to take this very threat seriously? Obama's argument for his administration's Iran policy was premised upon the same conclusions Trump is now rejecting. As I often tell my children, you can pick one but not both.
It is tempting to argue, of course, that the same accusation of inconsistency could just as easily be leveled at Trump here. But this is not the case. A nuclear-armed Iran would be dangerous not only to the region but to the United States and, indeed, the entire world. An Iran that continues to assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the fight against what remains of the Islamic State in Syria? Get real. If Iranian influence in Syria is a threat to the United States, the answer is not the indefinite deployment of American troops ostensibly charged with defeating ISIS, but regime change. Try selling that one to the American people 18 years into our failed Afghan conflict. As usual, faced with a choice between the impossible thing they want and the sensible thing they do not, Republicans are again opting for the nonsensical thing.
The only approach to foreign policy that is worse than the grotesque fetishization of realpolitik and the so-called national interest without regard for morality is the shrill, empty moralizing of today's GOP. Bad people are bad, mmmmkay? Sure. Are Republicans proposing that we should get rid of the bad people in question? No, they sigh. Do they think we would even be capable of getting rid of them if we wanted to without beginning another generation-long foreign conflict? No again. Then why are they whining and stomping their feet at the leader of their party, who won the White House in large part because he saw through the very stupidity that cost them the last two presidential elections?
Ask my 2-year-old.