For nearly two years, there have been nearly unanimous verdicts among Republicans on virtually every aspect of Barack Obama’s policymaking. His spending packages and environmental agenda: bad. Health-care insurance reforms: very bad. Escalating the war in Afghanistan and keeping Guantanamo open: surprisingly good.
But ever since Tunisia’s presidential palace began to totter under protesters’ challenges, leading to a series of cautious White House policies towards the region’s besieged régimes, Republicans have been unable to agree on anything. The country’s most powerful Republican, House Speaker John Boehner, has refused to criticise Obama’s handling of crises in Tunis, Cairo, or Tripoli.
Others have criticised Obama’s policy for being unreasonably tough on allies or indefensibly soft on tyrants. George W Bush’s former UN ambassador John Bolton, considering a presidential campaign, was quick to say the United States should defend Hosni Mubarak as a guardian of regional interests. All-but-announced candidate Tim Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor, argued the White House had been weak-willed in calling upon Mubarak to resign, alleging the administration’s “Tower of Babel” policy was “nearly incoherent.”
The American right is wrestling with its own incoherence in trying to formulate a foreign policy in the years since the latest Bush has left the scene. In three years, Republicans have gone from the party of democracy-at-all-costs-in-the-Middle East to one that can’t agree whether other countries’ free elections ought to be much of a priority for Washington at all. Most Republican office-holders have happily remained mum in the two months that the Maghreb has convulsed.
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