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The Republicans' Cynical Gamesmanship on Syria Continues Apace

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

As my colleague John Judis notes today, the Obama administration’s Syria policy is looking more a total shambles with every passing month and new ghastly humanitarian outrage by the Assad regime. While holding the administration to account on this, let’s not, however, overlook the role that Republican gamesmanship has played in this debacle. To wit, consider Rick Santorum, winner of the 2012 Republican Iowa caucuses and, as senator from Pennsylvania, a leading advocate for intervention abroad.

Here is Santorum Thursday night on CNN Crossfire, concurring with Tom Perriello, a former Democratic congressman from Virginia and head of the liberal Center for American Progress’ Action Fund, in asserting a national interest for the U.S. in intervening in Syria:

PERRIELLO: Well, whether it's more or less, it is a very serious threat. And I think anyone who thinks that it's not and not people looking to hurt us and our allies off base. I also think the growing isolationism in both parties is dangerous because there is no corner of the world relevant to the United States. I see Syria as an example of this. I supported a more aggressive posture towards Syria and many said this is not in our interest.
Well, what happens when we pull out the threat of U.S. force is safe havens for al Qaeda move in. So, you have a repressive dictator slaughtering civilians, you have the al Qaeda safe havens, that's both an issue for us morally but also strategically. Al Qaeda does remain a threat.

GINGRICH: Stay here.

SANTORUM: I just want to say, I agree with that. So, there, there's a point of agreement.

GINGRICH: Point of agreement.

So, when the debate over Syria is at the point where arguing for more intervention puts one opposite the Obama administration, as it does now, Santorum sees a national interest at stake over there. But what about just a few months ago, when Obama was asking Congress to approve air strikes in retaliation for Syria’s use of chemical weapons, and found himself  scrambling to line up support among many of the Republicans who’d been arguing for action? On the very day of Obama’s televised address on Syria, Sept. 10, Santorum had this to say, also on Crossfire:

"The bottom line here is we have no national security interest," the 2012 GOP presidential candidate said, just hours before President Barack Obama is set to explain in a televised address the stakes for the United States in Syria.

Santorum, who hasn't ruled out another run for president in 2016, co-authored the Syria Accountability Act, a law passed in 2003 that sought to use economic sanctions to end support for terrorism in Syria and the country's alleged collection of weapons of mass destruction.

He said he favored possible military action last year but now argues it's too late, arguing the Syrian regime has grown stronger while the opposition force has seen an increase in extremist elements.

Van Jones, co-host of "Crossfire," pointed to disturbing videos of adults and children dying from an August 21 chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb, and asked why those shocking images shouldn't fall under U.S. interests.

"Then we should be in Darfur," Santorum replied. "Then we should be in 50 other countries around the world." "We have no moral obligation to use military force when it comes to a humanitarian situation," he added.

So back then, when Obama was seeking support for military action in Syria, the line was that extremists had gotten too strong within the opposition for us to lend the opposition support; now that Obama’s once again reluctant to act, Santorum sees a national interest in us intervening more over there because of the rise of extremists. Which is it, Senator? And if Perriello and his fellow liberal interventionists succeed in bestirring the administration once again on this front, should we just plan on reverting back to the September 10 tape for your stance on the matter?