Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

September 25, 2013

House of Burgess: Obama turns hawks to doves

President stumbles into reverse psychology.

By Rob Burgess
Tribune columnist

— Over time, I have come to realize I am mostly a pacifist. It takes a lot to convince me any given war is worth fighting. As our country seems to constantly be pounding away somewhere, holding this worldview can get lonesome.

So, imagine my surprise recently when a flood of conservative Republicans suddenly joined me.

“[President] Obama hasn’t come close to justifying war in Syria,” tweeted Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., Aug. 31. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., struck a similar note on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sept. 1. “What I would ask John Kerry is … how can you ask a man to be the first one to die for a mistake?” Paul said.

GOP support for the Obama request to Congress for permission to bomb Syria subsequently seemed almost nonexistent. “Several Republican leadership aides … say that there are roughly one to two dozen ‘yes’ votes in favor of military action at this time,” reported Politico’s John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman Sept. 5.

I began to feel like Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., who, during a March 2010 House Armed Services hearing, voiced concerns to Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, about Guam’s ability to remain seaworthy. Willard was answering Johnson’s queries regarding a proposed military installation on the island when a novel concern was expressed. “My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated it will tip over and capsize,” said Johnson. Willard reassured him. “Uh, we don’t anticipate that,” he said.

Similarly, I feel like a resident of a previously sparsely populated island of peace-lovers that has suddenly become overrun with new arrivals. I too worry my formerly lonely island is about to go end-over-end from the sudden burden.

Alas, I know this shift is fleeting. We’ve come to the same conclusion for very different reasons.

“Do you think that your view is suffering from politics here domestically?” Chris Cuomo, CNN “New Day” anchor, asked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sept. 16. “Do you believe if there were [a] President Romney that members of your party would have the same resistance that they’re showing right now?”

McCain momentarily halted his spirited avocation for strikes to reply. “You know, there are some, Chris, in all honestly, [who oppose it] just because they don’t like President Obama,” said McCain.

There would seem to be ample evidence to support this claim stretching back even before Obama’s Jan. 20, 2009, inauguration. On Jan. 16, 2009, radio host Rush Limbaugh told listeners a “major American print publication” asked him to “write 400 words on their hope for the Obama presidency.” He retorted he “[didn’t] need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails. … Everybody thinks it’s outrageous to say. … Somebody’s gotta say it.”

The teeth gnashing continued unabated.

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told the National Journal Oct. 23, 2010. As an Aug. 4, 2011, headline by satirical newspaper The Onion put it: “Obama Turns 50 Despite Republican Opposition.”

When Obama did win re-election Nov. 6, 2012, conservatives had no choice but to become more calcified; which leads us to today.

Whether as a cause or effect of these Republicans’ reflexive obstructionism, it seems a consensus has been reached against U.S. involvement. I now find myself in the unfamiliar position of agreeing with the majority stance on this issue.

“About 60 percent of Americans surveyed said the United States should not intervene in Syria’s civil war, while just 9 percent thought President Barack Obama should act,” wrote Lesley Wroughton Aug. 24, reporting the findings of a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

What more can I say, conservatives? Welcome aboard, I guess. You’d better be careful, though, because now you’ve got me thinking.

If the president supporting war can turn Republicans into peaceniks, how might their other principles be transmogrified using reverse psychology? The possibilities seem endless. I’ve already started a mental list. Watch out.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.