Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, speaking at the dawn of the Cold War, is credited with the phrase, “politics ends at the water’s edge,” a now widely held point of view that suggests the United States should speak to the rest of the world through a unified and authoritative voice.
A one-time isolationist and an all-the-time Republican, Vandenberg became an internationalist following the end of World War II. He also chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, helping Democrat Harry Truman build bipartisan support in Congress for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and NATO.
While a united front was essential to Vandenberg, he maintained that bipartisan foreign policy does not “involve the remotest surrender of free debate in determining our position. On the contrary, frank cooperation and free debate are indispensable to ultimate unity.”
Vandenberg’s was a time of great enemies that united our nation and allies across the world to common purposes. Our enemies and their tactics are decidedly different today. As too is our modern capacity to strike instantly and globally.
Those entrusted with our national security now have the cause and the means to act quickly and decisively. Protecting America and Americans means never ceding that authority or ability to anyone. Even Congress.
In opening up decisions on Syria to a public, domestic policy-style deliberation, President Obama has diminished our military’s effectiveness and invited questions about the capacity of the United States to act in the face of domestic political opposition. Both of these are dangerous developments.
In matters of domestic policy, great deliberations and debate can occur among our elected leaders and the public-at-large because of the transparency of our system and the openness of the process. While the public often knows far too little about important domestic matters such as health care policy or banking reform, ample and accurate information can be found by those willing to become informed.
The objective of domestic policy is the advancement of us all. While we will have sharp disagreements over what outcomes best serve the common good, the destruction and dominance of our adversaries is never a means to an end in domestic policy matters.
I consider myself informed and eagerly embrace the chance I have to influence matters of local, state and federal importance with my voice or my vote. I also have perfectly valid opinions on the general direction of U.S. foreign policy and our country’s place in the world. As a citizen, I have the right and obligation to hold our elected leaders accountable on all matters foreign and domestic.
But when it comes to matters of national security and our international interests, I will never have the information I need to make an informed decision on implementation. The same applies to anyone answering a public opinion poll that asks whether the United States should launch military strikes against Syria.
As commander in chief, President Obama has the power and well-established authority to launch military strikes that could diminish Syria’s capacity to use weapons of mass destruction. But in this case, he wrongly ceded that authority to Congress in the interest of deliberation and multilateral coalition-building.
When it became clear Congress would not act as the president asked, it weakened the United States and created an international power vacuum that is being filled by the Russians.
Preserving our national security, promoting our interests and protecting the safety of our citizens are, far and away, our utmost objectives when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. To a far lesser degree we, as the world’s only superpower, have a role to play in encouraging and enforcing commonly agreed-to norms of international behavior.
Our military capacity to engage our enemies and evil anywhere in the globe at a moment’s notice sometimes must be utilized. Most of the time, that capacity is utilized at the judgment of our military leadership to achieve long established objectives with broad political support.
Whether it has been the use of drone strikes against known terrorist combatants or giving the command to take down Osama bin Laden, President Obama has often shown the necessary resolve.
The president must and should make the public case for drawn-out military interventions that put troops on the ground as occupiers and targets. Congressional approval should be sought and received for these types of conflicts.
There are, however, circumstances where the president must act decisively. I honestly do not know if it is in our interest to act in Syria or if we have the capacity to act in a way that could protect the innocent. That decision rests with President Obama and should have been made without a protracted and indecisive political debate.
Dan Demeritt is a Republican political consultant and public relations specialist. He is a former campaign aide and communications director for Gov. Paul LePage. He can be contacted at: