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