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Williams: Defaulting to duck and cover

Greg Nash

Now that was a threat.

After meeting with congressional leaders at the White House last week, President Obama indicated he might ask Congress to vote on potential military action in Iraq.

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For all the GOP hawks on Capitol Hill criticizing the president’s handling of foreign policy, one glaring truth is rarely spoken.

Today’s Congress is afraid of being asked to stand up, vote and be held accountable for any military action.

There is a pattern here. It fits with Congress’s fear of stopping the endless extensions of the Patriot Act. That would require them to offer aggressive oversight of the controversial bulk collection of phone data and email traffic by intelligence agencies fighting terrorists. The Congress does not want to be accountable in terms of handling that political dynamite.

The same pattern of political cowardice holds when it comes to going to war. This Congress prefers criticizing the president to the risk of casting any vote for war that can be later used against them. That frees them up to become the congressional equivalent of big-mouthed, schoolyard bullies. They stand on the sidelines and do a whole lot of woofing.

Without a vote, they are free to change their positions from day to day as they do talk shows and shamelessly score political points, complaining that the president is being cautious in his use of the military, or should have fought earlier, or has the wrong battle plan.

Win or lose, the loudest Republican voices suggest he is a liberal punk lacking the heart for the fight. And of course, these right-wing bullies are never wrong, at least in their own minds.

The last time the president called Congress’s bluff, he asked them to vote in support of missile strikes against the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. The GOP majority in the House predictably ran the other way. They did not even have a vote because so many in the GOP caucus opposed the fight.

A bipartisan majority on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed the president. But there was never enough support in the full Senate to back launching missiles.

Now the Republican hawks are lashing the president for not leaving a bigger military force in Iraq.

They must have missed the part where Republican President Bush agreed to withdraw the troops and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to have his legislature vote on legal immunity from local laws for America’s soldiers.

It was mind boggling to read an opinion column in The Wall Street Journal last week by former Vice President Cheney attacking Obama for allegedly being “so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.”

This is the same Dick Cheney who played a lead role in misleading the Congress into support for the war in Iraq by claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and close ties to al Qaeda terrorists. The war cost over $2 trillion and the lives of almost 4,500 Americans.

Since the end of the last Bush administration, the GOP has been lost on military policy. Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, failed to even mention the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

In every phase of military policy, mindless hawks dictate the GOP posture. They never acknowledge past mistakes. They certainly do not express a desire to record their position with a vote.

Another example comes from Sen. John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: Congress overrides Obama 9/11 veto | Pentagon breathes easy after funding deal | More troops heading to Iraq McCain comments won't derail Bergdahl case Senators already eyeing changes to 9/11 bill after veto override MORE (R-Ariz.). He was in a fury last week over the president’s decision not to send the Benghazi suspect, Ahmed Abu Khattala, to the military facility at Guantánamo Bay. McCain must think no one has tape of him advocating closing down the controversial jail when he ran for president, calling it a “bad symbol.”

Similarly, McCain said in February he wanted the administration to be more aggressive in finding a way to bring home the only prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. McCain specifically said “we should seriously consider” an exchange to win freedom for Bergdhal. But once the deal was made, McCain unloaded on the administration for making that exchange, and for failing to consult with Congress.

If the president had gone to Congress, the members would have dodged that one, too. They would have pointed to the commander in chief and said it was his responsibility to make a difficult call.

Last week an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll reported that only 37 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of foreign policy and a clear majority, 57 percent, disapprove. The president’s overall approval rating in the poll was tied for his lowest of all time at 41 percent.

The only good news for Obama, NBC News reported, was that “he looks like the homecoming king compared with the Republican Party.” The GOP had only a 29 percent favorable rating with the public, while 45 percent viewed them unfavorably.

Republicans have earned such dismal ratings.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.