NYT: Odd Memories of Iran-Contra, Obama First Term

Reagan image made of jelly beans, Reagan Presidential Library (Photo: Ryan Dickey)

Ronald Reagan didn’t just attempt to arm the Nicaraguan contras–he did so, in violation of U.S. law. (Photo: Ryan Dickey)

The New York TimesMichael Shear has a piece today (3/15/13) about the CPAC conference and Rand Paul–specifically the divisions that are emerging in the Republican party over U.S. foreign policy.  Paul, of course, led a filibuster of CIA nominee John Brennan over the White House’s drones. To Shear, it’s a battle between Bush-era neocons and Bush Sr.-era internationalists.

Some Republicans don’t think there’s much to this, though–the usual practice of the opposition party being, well, opposed to the White House. But Shear has a weird way of explaining this:

Some Republicans are less worried. They view Mr. Paul’s crusade as nothing more than the usual attempt by members of the opposition party to undermine the assertive foreign policy of an incumbent president.

In the 1980s, Democrats harshly criticized President Ronald Reagan’s attempts to arm Nicaraguan rebels. During the 1990s, Republicans derisively called President Bill Clinton’s intervention in Kosovo “Clinton’s war.” In Mr. Obama’s first term, critics assailed his expansion of the war against terrorism, including the expanded use of drones.

Huh. The thing about Reagan’s “attempts to arm Nicaraguan rebels” was that he actually did that. The Contras were essentially created by the United States. And Democrats didn’t just criticize the arming of the Contras, they passed a law that made it illegal to do so; the Iran/Contra scandal was about the Reagan administration continuing to support them in violation of the law. It’s strange to see that characterized as an “attempt.”

Moving on, some conservatives and Republicans did criticize Clinton over Kosovo–that one seems about right. Others of them, like John McCain, advocated sending in ground troops.

But when exactly did a lot of Republicans stand up and criticize Obama’s drone policy in his first term? The Paul filibuster was obviously not happening then. And the overriding Republican critique of Obama’s foreign policy has been that it hasn’t been militaristic enough–too soon to retreat from Afghanistan, too unwilling to intervene in other countries like Syria, too eager to close Guantanamo and so on.

If anything, the first term of Obama showed the Republican party advocating for a more belligerent and militaristic foreign policy–more or less as usual.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.