Syria and the Irony of GOP Obstructionism

By asking Republicans to vote, Obama has exposed the party's lack of stewardship on domestic issues.

Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Barack Obama (Jim Watson/Getty Images)
Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Barack Obama (Jim Watson/Getty Images)

(The Root) — What is so blaringly disturbing about the recent debate over whether the United States should engage militarily in Syria’s civil war — and the call for congressional debate and action — is the complete lack of acknowledgment that America has been fighting its own intellectual civil war for five years.

The Republican establishment has engaged in visceral attacks on the nation’s president and its citizens — namely Hispanics, African Americans and the poor. The major tactic employed by GOP operatives in this war, and aided by Fox News talking heads and conservative billionaire donors, has been utter obstinacy: refusing to govern as long as the nation’s first African-American president resides in the White House. The obstruction has led to major watershed moments, like the first-ever downgrade of U.S. debt. Today Republicans threaten a government shutdown if the health care expansion, known as Obamacare, is funded as part of the federal government’s continuing resolution.

Loud voices from the right of the political spectrum call for the impeachment of Barack Obama, as if these elected officials — sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution — are blindly unaware that President Obama has committed no high crimes or misdemeanors (unless, of course, being black in the White House constitutes as both). Incessant xenophobic attacks on the president, Hispanics and Muslims have driven a wedge between the party of Lincoln and the broader American populace — a rainbow nation that is increasingly less white and more diverse. 

So what does any of this have to do with Syria’s civil war?

President Obama’s surprise decision this weekend to seek congressional approval before taking military action in Syria is a sign of his deliberate nature and his commitment to consensus. It is a welcome departure from the hubris displayed by the likes of George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Vice President Dick Cheney, who wielded biased ideological positions to drive military policy — even in the wake of insufficient empirical evidence to support their actions.

But Obama’s decision is also shrewdly political.

His challenge to Republicans on the question of Syria forces them to show their cards. Will they make a play for their holy grail of military intervention and imperialistic endeavor, or hold true to principles of small government and limited spending? And if they choose the former, how does the GOP justify ignoring crises in America, while policing democratic values abroad?

John Boehner’s House of Representatives has been the most inept, least productive and, by most measures, most counterproductive in the history of this republic. As Congress is now asked to weigh the value of children’s lives in Syria, it is crucial to remember its most senseless act of obstruction in the last five years: failure to pass gun-control legislation in the wake of the December 2012 massacre in Newtown, Conn.

The violent shooting of 20 elementary school children at first seemed to be a moment that could transcend the partisan rancor. It was not to be. Instead, Republicans became galvanized against the Obama White House’s call to act in the wake of such devastating violence.