Thursday, September 19, 2013

McCain and Cornyn Need a Reality Check

People say I'm a traditionalist.

Like being a traditionalist is a bad thing!

Actually, although I may be a traditionalist in some things, I'm not necessarily a traditionalist when it comes to politics.  Take, for example, the stodgy warrior traditionalism of Republican senators John McCain and John Cornyn.  Despite the 16-year difference in their ages, both Johns are white-haired white men whose blind allegiance to Washington's conventional Republican playbook is beginning to make me wonder if they can think for themselves or not.

Judging by their intransigence over how they view the conflict in Syria, a view they're basing on misguided military dogma, they may be poster children for just how out-of-touch traditional politicians are in Washington.

Actually, whether they're Democrat or Republican, all of America's representatives and senators have become generally unpopular, as faith in Washington's ability to do what's best for our country continues to erode.  In terms of how President Barak Obama and Congress have handled our response to Syria, the American public has come out as being overwhelmingly disappointed in their rhetoric and posturing.

Some experts even blame the timing of Obama's desire to strike Syria - made during a Labor Day recess when politicians were in their home constituencies, and therefore more vulnerable to pesky voter feedback - as part of the reason for why we appear to have come out on the losing end of this international crisis.  What was the president thinking, Washington pundits scoff, asking Congress to make a decision when they weren't comfortably ensconced amongst pollsters and lobbyists, whose direction politicians trust more than their electorate's?

McCain Pain 

Things deteriorated to the point where Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times challenging Americans to let our longtime rival in international affairs broker a truce of sorts over the chemical weapons in Syria's arsenal.  Although dubious in its sincerity, and brittle in its tone, Putin's letter confused a lot of Americans because, frankly, parts of it made a lot of sense.

For his part, McCain reacted in fury to Putin's audacity.  In an apparent brain freeze that transported him back to the belly of the Cold War, McCain shot off an op-ed of his own and got Pravda, Russia's venerable media organization, to publish it.  Trouble is, not only is what he shared with the Russian people even less noteworthy than Putin's entreaty, it's straight from 1965, right down to his use of Pravda, an organization that is a shadow of its former self, and, according to the BBC, hardly ever read anymore.  The only one benefiting from this display of dated hubris has been the increasingly irrelevant mouthpiece of Soviet propaganda!

In his blistering response to Putin's populist diplomacy, McCain barks to whomever his Russian readership might be that he is "more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today."  He then spits out a laundry list of accusations, faults, and even some facts about the many deficiencies in Putin's governing style.  This is the way to win over the hearts and minds of people who've allowed Putin to acquire his power through overt manipulation?  McCain even blasts Putin for criminalizing homosexuality, when by some accounts, Putin is only responding to demands from his homophobic citizenry.

Shouldn't McCain have known all this?  How's he been a politician so long if this is his idea of appealing to voters?

His must be a uniquely Arizona charisma.  But Arizona is not Russia.  Trotting out a tired old political speech ploy, McCain tries to yell his Russian audience into believing he knows what they need.  He awkwardly lectures about how Putin treated Sergei Magnistky, who was purportedly killed for exposing corruption in Russia's government.  He sneers - almost enviously - at Russia's economic reliance on its abundant natural resources.  He belittles the "international stature" Russians think Putin has won for them.  And then he signs-off with a patronizing "I believe in you" mantra:  "I believe you deserve a government that believes in you and answers to you.  And, I long for the day when you have it."

Shucks, McCain!  Do even we Americans have that kind of government anymore?  We're the ones who told you before Putin did that we don't want to go to war with Syria!

Stormin' Cornyn

Not to be outdone, Cornyn has taken some pages from McCain's dated paradigm in a letter his office sent to me in reply to an e-mail I sent him regarding Syria.  And you think I just complain about politicians on my blog!  No, I send them e-mails regarding my concerns, and about ninety percent of the time, I never hear anything back.  This time, however, when I wrote my congressman and Senator Cornyn, I heard back from both of them.

My congressman, Representative Joe Barton, with whom I rarely agree, sent a glorified press release saying that until concrete proofs emerge verifying the culprit behind the chemical attack and America's vested interests in becoming involved militarily, he's against striking the Assad regime.  Which, I was surprised to learn, has been my position.

Cornyn, however, took the path most of Washington seems to be frolicking down (for your reference, a copy* of his e-mail is below).

He wants America to not only bomb Syria, but to topple the Assad regime, regardless of whether it was responsible for chemical warfare.  He acknowledges what we've all acknowledged:  that a chemical attack took place.  But Cornyn has automatically assumed that it was Assad who perpetrated it.  Cornyn worries about America's international credibility if we don't obliterate Assad, as if our international credibility has been strengthened in the wake of our obliteration of Saddam Hussein.  All of the violence Cornyn chronicles in his letter depicts the heinousness of Assad, without acknowledging the violence committed by the disparate rebel groups, whom Cornyn apparently considers implicitly worthy of receiving our support.  I guess Cornyn hasn't heard about the Muslim Brotherhood and several other rebel groups our State Department has already branded as terrorist organizations.

It all makes me extremely skeptical of the secret intelligence our elected representatives in Washington are being fed.  Are our politicians reading those briefings?  Do they believe those briefings?  Do they even understand what those briefings are telling them?  Because what we civilians out in the real world are learning in whatever free press we have seems to conflict a lot of times with the attitudes and actions being taken - or not taken - by our representatives, senators, and president.

Then Cornyn takes off on a bizarre rabbit trail alongside his hawkish stance on Syria.  He begins to complain about Rosoboronexport, the Russian arms broker that is providing weaponry to Assad's government.  Cornyn tells us that our own military is contracting with Rosoboronexport for Mi-17 attack helicopters to be used in Afghanistan, and he's been fighting in Congress to make President Obama stop the practice.

Wait!  What?  Hold it!  We're buying helicopters through a Russian arms broker for the war effort in Afghanistan?  Is that a red herring, to hide the fact that Cornyn really doesn't know what he's talking about regarding Syria, or is it some blockbuster scandal that even Drudge Report hasn't yet exploited?  Turns out, it's no secret that our defense department is spending over $1 billion on the multi-contract project, mostly because the Russian aircraft have pressurized cabins suitable for Afghanistan's high altitudes, and because, thanks to Russia's war in the country before ours, Afghan pilots have extensive experience with them.

But really!  Getting your knickers in a twist because a Russian contractor has helicopter contracts for Afghanistan instead of an American contractor?  And using Assad as the excuse for wanting to void the contracts?

Doesn't that sound like a good old traditional power play over money?  Concern over the plight of yet another besieged Middle Eastern country simply masks what an American contractor's lobbyists may be feeding him in private?

Combine that with McCain's dated rhetoric about American politicians wanting true freedom for Russia's oppressed people, and we've got a flag-draped parade of nostalgia oozing out of Capitol Hill.


Meanwhile, who's talking about all of the refugees needing food and shelter as they wait for Syria's mess to coagulate?  According to the United Nations, there are over two million "persons of concern" who are homeless because of Syria's civil war, and they're pushing neighboring countries who've offered them sanctuary to the breaking point.  So far, the United States has donated approximately $800 million for the relief effort, while the next most-generous country has been Canada, with $100 million.

China, by comparison, has donated a ridiculously paltry $200,000.

It certainly seems like America has already taken the lead when it comes to the humanitarian crisis emanating from Syria.  Perhaps instead of rattling sabers and swashbuckling for glory and dollars on the international stage, the McCains and Cornyns of Capitol Hill need to be out there, prodding our global neighbors to start coughing up for the cause.  Not for political reasons, but for the sake of our basic humanity.

Then again, I guess I'm one of those fundy traditionalists who expects everybody to do their fair share.

*This is the full text from Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, dated today:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the United States’ policy toward Syria.  I appreciate having the benefit of your comments on this matter.

On March 18, 2011, the Syrian people commenced widespread and peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad and his regime.  President Assad and his government forces launched a violent response.  According to the United Nations, as of July 2013, the death toll in Syria exceeds 100,000.  U.S. intelligence reports have since confirmed that an August 21 chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the Assad regime resulted in almost 1,500 additional civilian deaths.  The violent oppression by the Assad regime continues unabated, utilizing devastating force against its own citizens. 

Since August 2011, President Obama has called for Assad’s resignation, supporting United Nations Security Council action to facilitate his removal.  Yet to date, the Security Council has been deadlocked due to obstruction by Russia and China.  As you know, President Obama has proposed a limited military strike against Syria in response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons.  In making their case for a brief, limited attack against Syria, Obama Administration officials have repeatedly said that U.S. missile strikes would not seek to topple the Assad regime.  Nor would the proposed attack secure the chemical weapons themselves, or seek to change the power dynamics in Syria’s ongoing civil war.

In my view, a U.S. attack that allows Assad to remain in power with a large stockpile of chemical weapons would not promote U.S. national security interests, and such an intervention could easily become a disaster.  While I find it concerning that President Obama would take a hard stance against the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons and then fail to back it up with concrete steps, I am also concerned that launching a half-hearted, ineffectual attack would do nothing to uphold America’s credibility. 

The President has failed to make the case that a short, limited military campaign would promote vital U.S. interests and national security.  He has failed to lay out clear, realistic objectives.  And he has failed to offer a compelling description of how his proposed intervention would advance America’s broader foreign policy strategy.  As a result, I cannot vote to authorize the use of military force at this time.

Furthermore, since the atrocities in Syria began, I have pressed the Obama Administration to end all U.S. government business dealings with Rosoboronexport—the Russian state-owned arms broker that facilitates the Russian Federation’s arms transfers to Syria.  I am deeply troubled that the U.S. Army continues to do business with Rosoboronexport, purchasing dozens of Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan military, as the atrocities in Syria have continued.  It is unconscionable that U.S. taxpayers would be forced to pay for a contract with a Russian firm that is simultaneously enabling the Assad regime to murder its own people. 

Because the Obama Administration ignored my requests, I offered Senate Amendment 3260 to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13 NDAA; P.L. 112-239), which prohibits the use of funding for the U.S. government to enter into any further contracts or business agreements with Rosoboronexport.  I am pleased that this provision was included in the final version of the FY13 NDAA, as signed into law on January 2, 2013.  However, I am deeply troubled that despite this law, reports indicate that the Army has entered into a new contract with Rosoboronexport to procure additional helicopters.  I will continue to press the Administration to end these business dealings.

You may be certain that I will keep your views in mind as the United States’ policy toward Syria is discussed.  For more information regarding my position on Syria, I encourage you to visit my website at:

I appreciate having the opportunity to represent Texas in the United States Senate.  Thank you for taking the time to contact me.

United States Senator

517 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Tel: (202) 224-2934
Fax: (202) 228-2856

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