A brief overview of the U.S. Senate’s incoming freshman class’ foreign policy views is not pretty. Even those newly elected senators who seem to indicate some skepticism of foreign military intervention and a willingness to cut military spending couch their views in vague, cloudy terms. They also appear to be holding themselves to such contradictory standards as to render any kind of anti-interventionist sentiments they may espouse completely meaningless.
Take Republican Senator-elect Steve Daines of Montana, for example. He has taken some positions that may make the anti-warrior and civil libertarian take some heart, as they promise at least a dim hope for a thin ray of light in an otherwise dark time.
While serving as a U.S. representative, Daines demonstrated strong support for Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster to get a straight answer from the U.S. Justice Department on the targeting of U.S. citizens with armed drones. He has also come out in opposition to deploying more U.S. troops to Iraq, opposed the use of funds for combat operations in Iraq, voted for a House resolution calling on Obama to comply with the War Powers Act, and has voted for a legislative amendment declaring that the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq does not permit any new military operations. He also appears to favor some reductions in military spending.
At the same time, however, he has stated a commitment to such boiler plate propositions as “America’s leadership is essential to maintaining peace and security throughout the globe” and that the U.S. should “stand for human rights in every corner of the world”–statements that seem completely at odds with his assertion that the U.S. should not act as a global police force. His pro-Israel views and pro-Netanyahu sympathies are also fairly typical examples of the militaristic wing of the GOP’s assumptions about foreign policy. How Senator Daines will cast his future national defense and foreign policy votes, considering these mutually contradictory statements, seems to be something of an open question.
Colorado’s new Republican Senator, Cory Gardner, may also be of some concern to those who would like to see the U.S. acting less belligerently in the world. He made it clear on his campaign web site that he’s committed to perpetuating the current status quo of the U.S. military’s global presence. And in a race that otherwise focused primarily on domestic issues, Gardner was fairly effective at putting incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall on the defensive regarding ISIS. He successfully tied Udall to the Obama administration’s foggy strategy and blamed Udall-Obama for not doing enough and not doing something sooner.
But in stating his own opposition to deploying more U.S. troops to Iraq, Gardner wasn’t exactly clear as to what he would have done instead. His eagerness to portray his opponent as weak and ineffective for being reluctant to get involved in a foreign conflict, however, might be telling, not to mention his criticism of Udall for saying that ISIS is not an imminent threat to the United States. Gardner seemed unaware that Udall was simply repeating what many U.S. intelligence officials and other terrorism experts were already saying. If he had any intelligence to the contrary, he didn’t share it. At least he appears to be as committed to ending the NSA’s indiscriminate mass surveillance as Sen. Udall was. As a congressman, Gardner voted for the narrowly defeated Amash-Conyers amendment to end those programs in 2013.
Moving onward and downward, however, we also have two new U.S. senators who appear to have been dredged up from the very bottom of the scum infested neoconservative pond: Joni Ernst of Iowa and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Based on her “white paper,” Ernst’s famous campaign quip about slashing pork and making Congress “squeal” appears to preclude any critical review of ongoing U.S. military aid to Israel. She also made a major issue of her opponent’s desire to defund U.S. military interventions in the Middle East, even calling in one of the GOP’s leading uberhawks, Sen. Lindsey Graham, to back her up as to how such a position is shockingly incorrect by the presumptuously “realistic” standards of neocon hawks. And just in any case there was any doubt at all as to her militarist bona fides, her cheerleaders trumpeted her quick return to weekend service in the Iowa National Guard just two days after her election victory. (Keeping Iowans safe and secure from the jihadist hordes, no doubt.)
But the absolute worst of this gang has to be Cotton. You may have read of his criticism, while serving in the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, of journalists James Risen and Eric Lichtblau that went viral in 2006. Risen and Lichtblau had just broken a story on the Bush administration’s secret program to access the private financial records of thousands of Americans. Cotton, without of course providing a shred of evidence or logic to support his theory, speculated that the story possibly endangered the lives of his fellow U.S. soldiers and so therefore the two journalists should have been tossed into prison. Considering the Obama administration’s attempts to criminalize journalism critical of the U.S. government, and particularly their harassment of Risen to force him to reveal sources for his 2006 book on the CIA, perhaps Cotton and Obama will be able to find some common ground in an inspiring display of bipartisan cooperation.
Cotton has also declared the disastrous Iraq War to be “just and noble” and that U.S. victory in Afghanistan depends upon raw will. Scarcity of resources available to the U.S. government appears to be only a minor factor. The money quote from Cotton while campaigning for Congress a couple of years ago: “You may be tired of war, but war is not tired of you.” Yikes.
There may be some bright spots in this incoming Congress, such as Nebraska’s GOP Senator-elect Ben Sasse, who appears to have expressed at least a little skepticism of new military interventions. But such bright spots, which are awful dim as they are, are very few and far between. If there’s an overall theme to this new GOP dominated Congress, it’s the eagerness to expand the scope of the U.S. military’s missions throughout the world. Indeed, in the wake of the GOP’s sweeping Congressional victories, the current Senate’s most hawkish members went right to work on proposals for expanding military operations barely 24 hours after polling ended on election day. Their plans appear to include a complete shutdown of the Obama administration’s attempts to negotiate a deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program.
But while many of the new congressional hawks are concentrated in the GOP, particularly in the Senate, one must not overlook the utter uselessness and/or obtuseness of Congressional Democrats over the past several years when it comes to understanding this latest evolutionary stage of America’s endless cycle of war. With few exceptions, they backed up their president on leading NATO in the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime, which subsequently plunged Libya into chaos and violence. Too many others backed up Obama on wading into the Syrian quagmire, such as Sen. Udall, who voted to arm “moderate” anti-Assad rebels.
And what of the supposedly rising anti-interventionist wing within the GOP? Unfortunately, Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Justin Amash seem far more concerned about following constitutionally correct procedures than confronting U.S. foreign policy root and branch.
With such a rogues gallery of the blind, the deluded, the venal, and the timid, the only thing that can give us any real hope for altering America’s aggressive and belligerent course is the fact that most voters cast their ballots not because they perceived a lack of U.S. involvement in foreign wars, but out of frustration with the sputtering economy. Exit polls reported that as many as 70% of voters perceived a bad economy, with 78% saying that they were concerned about the direction of the economy next year. (And if Republicans can’t resist the temptation to get cocky, they should keep in mind that 60% expressed displeasure with the GOP’s congressional leadership.)
If the Republican Congress insists on pushing more foreign wars at the expense of the domestic economy, their majorities are not likely to last much longer beyond 2016, no matter who wins the White House that year. The punitive swing of the electoral pendulum appears to be the best that foreign policy anti-interventionists can hope for right now.
But what would come after that is anybody’s guess, considering both parties’ intransigent penchant for foreign meddling and military intervention.