Rising Tide of US Isolationism on Display in House Hearing on Syria

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A lengthy and at times testy House committee hearing Tuesday on President Obama's request for congressional authorization to use force in Syria revealed what pollsters have been noting in the country for several years: a rising isolationism that shuns a role for America as the world's policeman.

As one member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee after the other related home-district opposition to any Syria involvement or brandished stacks of printed-out e-mails from constituents demanding a "no" vote on the use of force over Bashar al-Assad's apparent use of chemical weapons, prospects for Mr. Obama's authorization remained up in the air at best.

The four-hour hearing with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, demonstrated the depth of divisions on the Syria issue and over an authorization vote Obama had hoped to use as evidence of a united American will to act against any use of long- banned chemical weapons.

But the hearing also showcased the rise of a strain of isolationism among conservatives who in the past could have been expected to line up more easily behind the use of American power and the need for America to stand up to the world's despots.

"They don't want the United States to get involved in a civil war where there are no good guys," said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R) of South Carolina, referring to his constituents. Even a group of 150 eighth- graders Mr. Duncan said he spoke to before returning to Congress understands that the US has "no clear interests" in intervening in the Syria conflict.

"They get it," he said.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R) of Florida vowed to oppose any military action against a country "that did not attack the United States," and then asked the three administration officials seated before him, "Where does this stop?"

Even Rep. Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, who argued that by its vote Congress would either "stand up for human rights or put [us] on the dangerous path to isolation," conceded that the most frequent question he got from constituents on the Syria issue was, "Why does America always have to be the world's policeman?"

The House hearing took place as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted narrowly in support of a committee-crafted resolution authorizing the use of force. But the 10-to-7 vote reflected not just deep divisions over the administration's request, but also qualms over a provision in the resolution calling for US military intervention to go beyond punitive strikes against the Assad regime and include measures that bolster Syria's rebels.

Senate committee leaders insisted after the vote that in recognition of the considerable concerns of the American public their resolution was considerably narrower than what the White House proposed to Congress.

"None of us want the US mired down in another conflict, so the committee has significantly limited the president's original authorization, while still providing for an appropriate use of force in response to Assad's use of chemical weapons," said Sen. Bob Corker, the committee's top Republican. "It prevents boots on the ground, limits the duration of any military action, and requires a progress report on the administration's overall Syria policy," he said.

Perhaps the most prominent rising face on the new isolationism is that of Sen. …