Libya Campaign Reveals the Doves

John Boehner

And you thought the only thing that Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich and House Speaker John Boehner shared were their humble origins in Ohio. Not so. President Obama’s decision to bring American firepower to the NATO campaign in Libya has brought the two men together. Both men say that Mr. Obama’s decision to launch airstrikes in Libya is a violation of the War Powers Act, which requires presidents to seek permission from Congress to go to war.

Opposition to military intervention abroad is a predictable position for Mr. Kucinich, who has been an opponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Wednesday, he led a bipartisan group of 10 representatives in filing a lawsuit on Wednesday challenging the administration’s actions in Libya.

But Mr. Boehner’s opposition to military engagement in Libya points to what many are describing as a major shift in the Republican Party’s historical eagerness to use American military power abroad. These days the party seems to be hawkish only on the deficit.

Earlier this week, Mr. Boehner warned President Obama that his administration would be in violation of the War Powers Resolution unless he seeks authorization from Congress for America’s military involvement in the NATO operations in Libya or the United States withdraws from those operations.

Indeed, Mr. Boehner is just the latest of many traditionally conservative Republicans who want to rein in the use of American military might abroad. Republican Representative Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, once an outlier in his party for his opposition to the Iraq war, introduced legislation in May to accelerate the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, James Dao reported.

The party’s new direction was on display at last week’s presidential debate. As our colleague Jeff Zeleny noted:

The evolution of thinking inside the party is coming into view as Republicans begin sorting through their field of candidates to select a nominee to challenge President Obama, who faces a decision this summer about a troop withdrawal in Afghanistan. It could leave some of the party’s presidential candidates at odds with its most influential voices on foreign policy, like Senator John McCain of Arizona, who continues to call for an aggressive military effort to stabilize Afghanistan. The evolution also highlights a renewed streak of isolationism among Republicans, which has been influenced by the rise of the Tea Party movement and a growing sense that the United States can no longer afford to intervene in clashes everywhere. The hawkish consensus on national security that has dominated Republican foreign policy for the last decade is giving way to a more nuanced view, with some presidential candidates expressing a desire to withdraw from Afghanistan as quickly as possible and suggesting that the United States has overreached in Libya.

The Republican debate spurred much talk in the blogosphere about whether there was indeed a fundamental shift in Republican attitudes toward what some call non-interventionism — and if so, whether that was a good thing.

Time’s Swampland blog described Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman as stepping into “dovish foreign policy territory” during the debate.

In an opinion piece for The Washington Post titled “Republicans for Retreat?” Marc A. Thiessen, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, seemed to agree. Mr. Thiessen found particularly worrying, “the growing sentiment for withdrawal from a country where there should be no question among Republicans that the United States has vital interests at stake: Afghanistan.”

Max Boot, in Commentary, also expressed concern about Republicans wanting out of Libya, saying Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime was on the brink of collapse and that “Washington Republicans would be well advised not to try to come to this discredited tyrant’s rescue.”

The White House attempted to fend off Congressional criticism of its Libya policy on Wednesday, issuing a report describing and defending the NATO-led opperation in Libya. Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, also responded to Congressional criticism on Libya in Wednesday’s press briefing. Politico has highlighted the exchange on Libya here:

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