The Republican Party hasn’t been doing well as of late. A botched governing majority, a lost reputation, two lost legislative elections, two lost congressional majorities, a lost presidential election, a lost Pennsylvania senator, and no relief in sight. So what does the GOP congressional leadership do? Play the national security card.
Stymied in so many of their efforts to put President Obama and Democrats on the defensive, Republicans are returning to national security, an issue that has served the purpose well for them in the past.
Trying to raise doubts about Mr. Obama’s ability to protect the nation, they have raised the specter of terror suspects transferred from the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to prisons in American communities, issued warnings that the release of memorandums detailing secret interrogation methods has put Americans at risk, and presented a video montage ending with the Pentagon in flames on Sept. 11, 2001, and the question, “Do you feel safer?”
“I think what I’m trying to do here,” Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader, said in defending the video he and fellow Republicans have been circulating, “is push the administration to tell us, What is the overarching strategy to take on the terrorists and defeat them and to help keep America safe?”
I have a lot of bad things to say about both parties on foreign as well as domestic policy. But it’s hard for me to imagine the previous eight years of Republican governance as a golden era for national security. First there was 9/11. Perhaps it is too much to expect the Bush administration to have prevented the terrorist atrocity, but the administration did nothing over the Clinton administration to improve American defenses to prevent such attacks.
Then there was diverting troops and attention from Afghanistan before that war was finished, to invade Iraq. The Iraq debacle occupies a category all its own. Policy towards North Korea was spectacularly misguided and incompetent: refusing to talk to the North for years as it generated nuclear materials, before rushing to embrace Pyongyang while offering few immediate benefits to entice the North to change its behavior. The results of this strategy were, unsurprisingly, negligible.
Refusing to talk to Iran had similar consequences. Washington refused to engage Syria, even though Israel was willing to talk to Damascus. The Bush administration further tightened the embargo against Cuba, again achieving nothing. The administration also continued the Clinton administration’s policy of estranging Russia by expanding NATO ever closer to Moscow, incorporating countries that are security black holes, offering geopolitical conflicts with no corresponding military benefits.
In the midst of all this, the GOP in both the executive and legislative branches led a sustained assault on civil liberties and limited, constitutional government even when doing so did nothing to forestall another terrorist attack.
Given all this, is should surprise no one that the Republicans are no longer in control of government.
The Democrats may prove to be worse on all counts. I’ve long learned not to assume that things could not get worse. Still, it is hard to take seriously Republican demands that the American people trust them with the nation’s security. After all, look at what the Republicans did when they actually held power.