The Senate Syria Hawks Who Got Cold Feet

They called on the administration to do something. Now these Republicans are saying, not this thing.
Goran Tomasevic/REUTERS

The more the Obama Administration makes its case for the use of military force against Syria to enforce the international norm against using chemical weapons, the more Republicans hate the idea. Republican opposition to intervening in Syria has jumped from 40 percent to 70 percent over just the past week, according to Pew Research data presented today, while Democratic opposition only inched up from 48 to 53 percent. And despite being a "conscience vote," it seems likely that when all is said and done party affiliation will come into play as members of Congress consider the president's proposed course of action and decide how to cast their votes.

Case in point: A small handful of the avowed GOP opponents of the Senate authorization for use of force have a history of being outspoken critics of the president for not being more aggressive on the Syria question. These are their stories. (Emphasis added throughout in italics.)

Hawk: Ted Cruz of Texas

War cry: "U.S. foreign policy should be directed at one central purpose: protecting the vital national security interests of the United States. Arming potential al-Qaida rebels is not furthering those interests, but there is something that is: preventing Syria's large stockpile of chemical weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists. ... Right now we need to develop a clear, practical plan to go in, locate the weapons, secure or destroy them, and then get out. We might work in concert with our allies, but this needs to be an operation driven by the mission, not by a coalition. The United States should be firmly in the lead to make sure the job is done right, but our British allies, for example, are actively bolstering the units that could be used for chemical weapons removal. President Obama needs to assure us that the dangerous, arbitrary cuts to our defense budget caused by sequester have not eroded our ability to execute this vital mission." -- Congressional Record, June 20.

Walk-back: "I think a military attack is a mistake .... They're beginning from the wrong objective because this attack is not based on defending U.S. national security. It is not based on defending Americans or our allies, rather it is -- it is explicitly framed by President Obama, by Secretary Kerry as a defense of what they call international norms. And I don't think that's the job of our military, to be defending amorphous international norms." -- ABC News' This Week, September 8

Flip-flop type: Half-twist. Cruz has been opposed to arming the rebels in Syria, whose al-Qaeda ties he said made planned U.S. support for them "a recipe for disaster." "Don't give weapons to people who hate us," he said in June, so even given his flip-flop on using the military to prevent chemical weapons from falling into the wrong hands, one imagines an AUMF that includes greater support for the rebels, as the Senate version does in its non-binding amendments, is something he'd oppose.

Hawk: Marco Rubio of Florida

War cry: "According to administration reports and the assessments of some of our closest allies, chemical weapons have been introduced into the Syrian conflict. It's clear the 'red line' drawn by President Obama has now been crossed. The time for passive engagement in this conflict must come to an end .... We must not allow Assad to continue violating all international norms by using these vile weapons and allowing Syria to descend further into chaos and instability. This will have disastrous consequences for U.S. interests for decades to come." -- Official statement, April 25.

Presented by

Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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