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Tea party-linked lawmakers shun strike on Syria

Foreign policy concerns, financial cost at issue

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tea party-aligned lawmakers are standing up in almost universal opposition to President Obama's push for military action against Syria — distancing them from the foreign interventionism that defined the George W. Bush-era and providing some insight into how the tea party movement views the role of the military and America's role in the world.

Of the more than four dozen Republican lawmakers linked to tea party caucuses on Capitol Hill, not one has come out in support of Mr. Obama's call for a military strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad — though a few remain undecided on the issue.

Analysts said the stance underscores the emergence of a tea party view of foreign policy that is distinct from the broader GOP.

"Depending on your point of view, there are now either two or three political parties in America today," said Craig Shirley, a biographer of President Ronald Reagan. "There is the Democratic Party, the big-government Bush Republican Party and the populist Reagan Tea Party. Or, looked at another way, there is the Elite Party and the Anti-Elite Party. This is a paradigm in which the bombing of Syria is now being played out. It is as much a cultural difference as it is an ideological and philosophical difference."

Since the tea party's emergence in politics ahead of the 2010 election, political scientists have debated what the movement is and whether it has an independent political philosophy or is just a coalition of extremely conservative Republicans.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a tea party favorite and likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate, outlined his concerns in a letter to his colleagues this week, urging them to oppose the resolution making its way through Congress that would grant Mr. Obama 90 days to carry out military action and pressure the administration to provide more support to rebel forces.

Daniel W. Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, said that there is a case to be made that tea partyers share Mr. Paul's view of war, which is a "profoundly skeptical of the use of force except if you are talking about vital American interests."

"That said, you have to be wary of this, because it might be different from what these lawmakers might say now vs. what they would say when a Republican is president," Mr. Drezner said. "It is easier to adopt this position now then when a Republican is in power."

The tea party opposition stands in contrast to senior GOP leaders, including House Speaker John A. Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and 2008 presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Tea party activists say their stance is a rejection not only of Mr. Obama but of Mr. Bush, arguing their opposition is based on not just foreign policy concerns but on the question of spending.

"It is not just an Obama thing, it is also Bush," said Ted Stevenot, president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, a Tiffin, Ohio, tea party group. "They just get the credit card out to pay for these interventions. We can't afford this."

It was a different story in 2001, when not a single Republican opposed a resolution authorizing Mr. Bush to launch military action in Afghanistan in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

The next year just one Republican in the Senate and just a half-dozen Republicans in the House rejected Mr. Bush's call for the authority to use force in Iraq.

Tea partyers now say that the GOP support for the president's push for a limited military strike is indicative of the political tone-deafness that sparked their revolt in the first place.

"Look at who is in support of this — the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams of the world," said Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, a national branch of the grass-roots movement. "They are not only the problem in terms of how this goes but in terms of the economy. We have been doing it their way for far too long."

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