It’s easy to talk tough

In a speech to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce this week, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson advocated a more aggressive and muscular approach to American foreign policy. For example, Isakson explained, the only reason that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is dabbling in the Ukraine is because “they knew we weren’t about to go in and confront them.”

And the proposed nuclear deal with Iran? “It’s a choice between strength and acquiescence,” Isakson said. “And I think it’s about time we stopped acquiescing to the Iranians and start to show our strength.”

He took a similarly aggressive line toward ISIS.

“If somebody would cut off your head, burn you in Times Square, or kill themselves in order to kill you, there’s only one way to deal with it,” he told the chamber. “Kill them first. We need to get aggressive and take them out.”

The senior senator from Georgia appears to be drawing heavily on the approach pioneered by two highly respected Austrian experts in international affairs. You know them as Hans and Franz, from the old Saturday Night Live skit and more recently in a series of State Farm commercials. In the skit, two skinny, out-of-shape comedians pose in absurd muscle costumes and call other people “girly men” and “sissies”. The reason it’s funny is because we know that it’s just pretense.

It’s a lot less funny when politicians do it. To use the example cited by Isakson, no U.S. president is going to send American troops to confront Russia over Ukraine, for the same reason that President George W. Bush did nothing when Russian troops invaded the country of Georgia in 2008. It’s just not worth a potential world war. Bush knew it. Putin knows it. And Isakson knows it.

Then there’s ISIS. We need to “kill them first,” we need to “get aggressive and take them out,” Isakson says. Mighty big talk. But Isakson then rushes to assure us that it “doesn’t mean a land war in the Middle East.” Oh no. All we need is to give our military “the authority and the orders they need to do what’s necessary in that part of the world.”

What exactly does that mean? The United States has launched some 6,000 airstrikes against ISIS, we’ve conducted special forces raids to take out its leadership and we’ve put more than 3,000 military advisers and trainers on the ground. Short of this land war that we are assured isn’t necessary, what more should we do?

It’s particularly revealing to hear Isakson stress the importance of giving our military “the authority and the orders they need to do what’s necessary.” In his State of the Union speech back on Jan. 20, President Obama pleaded with Congress “to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.”

Eight months have passed. Isakson and his fellow Republicans control the Senate and House. They control the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Isakson is a member. But despite the president’s pleading, they have done nothing to give our military “the authority and the orders they need” because they can’t even agree among themselves about what that resolution should say, and because they don’t want the responsibility should something go wrong.

Even Hans and Franz would be appalled.

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