It’s not at all clear if Republicans, especially those knee-jerking and red-necking in the House, have assessed that a government shutdown is having a massive impact on American foreign policy. The nation has been brought to an unnecessary and crumbling cliff—mostly because a small contingent of mostly rural, outhouse lawmakers want to make a point. But, beyond the domestic impact and future Constitutional crisis this will soon raise are the rather dangerous ramifications abroad.
Which is strange considering Republicans are quick to brand themselves as more hawkish and pro-defense than Democrats.
It’s bad enough that a man-made default calamity could actually cause a global crisis as yet unseen, thus putting American security at enormous risk. But signs of diminished American diplomatic reputation and military strength are already showing. Interestingly enough, it was House Republicans–including some of the more rabid rabble rousers calling for the shutdown–that drove us batty over the tragic attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last year. Calling it a scandal, conservatives blamed the episode on a State Department refusal to beef up embassy security worldwide. Yet, here we are, over a year later, faced with downgraded embassy security due to an unwillingness to compromise on basic budget issues.
Would Congressional Republicans have done the same several years ago when President Bush was in the White House? We can only speculate, sure, but there’s much evidence for a confident “no.” Despite the lack of WMDs, House Republicans maintained extraordinary grit even in the face of a bold-faced lie that’s cost untold tens of thousands of combined American and Iraqi lives and more than $800 billion since 2003. Not funding U.S. security abroad in the post-9/11 world was not an option back then, even if the Bush administration had blown through a half-trillion dollar surplus like a line of cocaine.
Suddenly, at the expense of national security and interests abroad, Republicans are as fiscally conscious as Joan Crawford was ritually abusive. That has forced an incredible hand from political arch rival President Obama, who is resorting to extreme geopolitical measures just to keep it all together on the world stage. Commando raids in Libya and Somalia, while more than likely planned well before the shutdown, were an obvious stretch of administration messaging: “Our government is shut down, but we can still kick your ass”
Occasionally, this president wants to show that his capacity to use force shouldn’t be underestimated. Still, it’s worth wondering if the failure to extract the Al Shabab mastermind of the Kenyan mall attack was the result of a rushed operation inspired by the shut down. And, it’s worth asking if this is what typically defense-hawk Republicans want at this point: half-assed military ops, anyone?
Worse is the situation in Asia where the president has had to postpone a second in-person pivot to a Pacific region that's being slowly being gobbled up by Chinese influence and the emergence of old tensions. And the Chinese are quick to seize on it as Xinhua news agency recently commented that the world should start to "de-Americanize." Not sure if that helps the situation or just further irritates dangerously irrational conservatives on Capitol Hill.
Most Americans, however, are barely watching this aspect of the crisis unfold. We’re all pretty much glued to the shutdown clocks (a form of cable TV OCD that’s become annoyingly Kafkaesque), and furloughed government workers care about bullshit in Syria about as much as we care about bullshit in Egypt. Watching dollar signs disappear from dwindling checking accounts is all that matters at the moment.
CHARLES D. ELLISON is a veteran political strategist and weekly contributor to Philadelphia magazine. He is also Washington Correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune, Chief Political Correspondent for UPTOWN Magazine and a regular contributor to TheRoot.com. He can be reached via Twitter @charlesdellison.