The Magazine

The Right Vote

Sep 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 02 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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It’s true that a Yes vote will be temporarily unpopular with the base. To support Obama now may seem to invite primary opposition from challengers who would be more in tune with popular sentiment to stay out of the Syrian civil war. For a few weeks after the vote, Republicans will hear such rumblings. But at the end of the day, Republican primary voters are a pretty hawkish bunch. It’s hard to believe they’re going to end up removing otherwise conservative representatives or senators in favor of challengers who run on a platform whose key plank is that Republicans should have voted to let an Iran-supported, terror-backing dictator with American blood on his hands off the hook after he’s used chemical weapons. What’s more, primary elections are more than half a year away. Republican senators and congressmen will have plenty of time to reestablish their anti-Obama credentials by fighting Obama on Obama-care, immigration, the debt ceiling, and a host of other issues.

A Yes vote can also be explained as a vote to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Syria is an Iranian proxy. Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons is a proxy for Iran’s ability to move ahead unimpeded in its acquisition of nuclear weapons. To bring this point home, soon after voting to authorize the use of force against the Assad regime, Republicans might consider moving an authorization for the use of force against the Iranian nuclear weapons program. They can explain that Obama’s dithering in the case of Syria shows the utility of unequivocally giving him the authority to act early with respect to Iran. An Iran debate would pretty much unite Republicans and conservatives and would help mitigate political problems arising from a Yes vote on Syria. The issue of Iran will most likely come to a head before Election Day 2014, probably even before primary elections earlier next year. An Iran resolution means the Syria vote won’t be the most important vote Republicans cast in this session of Congress—it won’t even be the most important foreign policy vote.

So, in the vote on the authorization to use force in Syria, Republicans’ self-interest coincides with the national interest. For reasons both fastidiously statesmanlike and crassly political, Yes is the right vote.

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