WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans unveiled a new strategy Tuesday morning to defeat the Islamic State: Kill it with cliches.
House GOP leaders huddled with their caucus in the Capitol basement for an hour before emerging to hit the enemy with an unrelenting barrage of hackneyed phrases.
“The world needs American leadership,” said Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the new House speaker.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California opined that “we want our homeland to be secure,” while Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana spoke of the need to “go and root out and take on ISIS.”
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Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the No. 4 Republican leader, proclaimed that we must “rise to the challenge” and find “the courage and the resolve.”
And Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas announced that we must “stand shoulder to shoulder with France and our allies” and “show a path forward as we fight for a safer world for our kids to grow up in.”
Even after this furious fusillade of bromides, they did not tire, they did not falter and they did not fail to offer more banalities in response to reporters’ questions.
Ryan, who said we should “take a pause” in admitting refugees from Syria because “it’s better to be safe than to be sorry,” was asked what exactly this pause meant.
“We’ve assembled a task force” to determine that, Ryan said.
A task force! Islamic State might as well surrender now, to be safe rather than sorry.
So would the GOP leadership consider something that would be a major change in strategy: U.S. combat troops on the ground?
“I do not think any option should be taken off the table,” Ryan said. “I think all options should be placed upon the table.”
One option not on the table, apparently: coming up with an idea of what to do to beat Islamic State. Obviously President Barack Obama’s strategy – whatever it is – doesn’t seem to be doing the job. But the only thing the opposition seems to agree on is that he should do something else that works better – preferably something that leaves us shoulder to shoulder on the path forward, putting all options on the table as we root them out with courage and resolve.
Cliche is a substitute for rigorous thinking, and the legislature has not been doing a lot of that. Obama sent Congress a draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force in February, and nothing happened. Similarly, Congress did nothing in 2013 when Obama dumped on lawmakers the decision about whether to attack Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria for using chemical weapons.
Some GOP presidential candidates have floated alternative strategies. Donald Trump would “bomb the [excrement] out of them.” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina would send in 10,000 troops. Otherwise, there has been a lot of tired language in lieu of policy.
When NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Jeb Bush on Sunday how to defeat the Islamic State, Bush replied: “Well, you take it to them in Syria and Iraq.” Bush did have some specifics, though most were things Obama has been trying to do.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, interviewed the same day by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, offered the platitude that we should “put together a coalition to confront this challenge.”
Then there was the inimitable Ben Carson, asked by Fox News’ Chris Wallace what “specifically” he would do as president to respond to the Paris attacks. “Well,” Carson ventured, “obviously extending, you know, our support to the French, you know, that were our first allies, and we certainly want to stand with them.”
Pressed repeatedly on who he would call first to put together a military coalition, Carson gave a Palinesque reply: “I would call for all of the Arab states to be involved in this.”
House Republicans picked up the theme Tuesday at their leadership gathering. “We need a strategy,” Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona told the cameras. “That includes unleashing American air power in a way that can actually crush and defeat them in Iraq and Syria; a broader strategy diplomatically and militarily for the dozens of countries that we’re seeing ISIS presence in; stopping the flow of foreign fighters and then countering the radical extremism that we’re seeing.”
Crush and defeat them! Actually, those are aspirations, not a strategy. But there was no time to ponder this, because more cliches were being fired at the Islamic State by the second. “It’s time for this administration to step up its game,” McSally said. “It is a generational conflict, and we must lead now more than ever.”
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.