Great to be back!

My dissertation supervisor at American University, Marian Irish, always used to say that political issues routinely changed sides when the previous minority party won elections. Then the newly ousted party would simply pick up the issues the new ruling party discarded and use the issues against them. Think of changing partners in square dancing (“alemande left”).

Issue-switchers use philosophy or principle opportunistically. The issues — such as deficits and overseas intervention — are perennial and resist pat answers. Party adherents see no inconsistency or irony in their alternations of views.

Republicans historically charge that big-spending Democrats’ deficit budgets lead the nation into inflation and ruin. Then George W. Bush turned Clinton’s budget surpluses into deficits and Republicans said nary a word. Now, as President Trump adds $2 trillion to the national debt — bringing it to $22 trillion, 105 percent of GDP — only last-Mohican Republican conservatives worry. (Relax. Japan and China run debts well over 200 percent of GDP without collapsing.)

President Obama’s (over)use of executive orders elicited Republican howls of “dictatorship.” Now Trump’s insistence that he can transfer appropriated funds is acceptable to Republicans and unconstitutional to Democrats. The Supreme Court originalists (now a majority) might reject Trump’s emergency claim. (They could rule the 1976 emergency statute unconstitutional.) The trouble with executive orders is what one president invokes the next can revoke. Better to pass them as laws. And if you can’t, live with it and blame the other party.

The biggest switch is the deliberate shrinking of American power overseas. Trump, echoing prewar Republican isolationism, disparages allies and overseas commitments. He has wondered out loud why we have forces in NATO, South Korea and the Mideast. Mattis and other generals scowl in disbelief. For them, at low cost a few U.S. troops stabilize situations that could explode in our absence.

Truman sent U.S. divisions to Europe in 1949 and to Korea in 1950 — without prior congressional authorization — as within his powers as commander in chief. Democrats supported it and Republicans protested. Sides switched during Vietnam.

Vietnam was never declared, merely passed as a 1964 joint resolution, what they now call “authorization for the use of military force,” an unpronounceable AUMF. Sen. William Fulbright (D-Ark.), earlier a strong supporter of presidential prerogative in foreign policy, felt betrayed that President Johnson had lied about not using the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to go to war. Democrats overrode Nixon’s veto of the (ineffective) 1973 War Powers Act to limit use of U.S. forces to 90 days.

Now it was the Democrats’ turn to protest overseas intervention. They ignored President Ford’s 1975 plea to save collapsing South Vietnam. (What could we have done?) Badly burned, the U.S. generally practiced “risk avoidance” that used spooks but no troops (e.g., Central America, Afghanistan). We left Beirut after the 1983 bombing of the Marines’ barracks.

The endless Afghan and Iraq wars have brought another shift. A Republican president who says he always opposed those Republican-initiated wars is pulling us out of the region. He faces opposition from the foreign-policy establishment — dubbed “the Blob” for its ubiquity. Blobsters tend to interventionism, with differences. State proposes political and economic pressures, the Agency whispers covert actions, and the military is willing to use force. Congress has never voted down an AUMF.

And Democrats who protested wars now side with the Blob! We must keep troops in Syria to prevent slaughter of our Kurdish allies and hinder Russian power. What, give Afghanistan back to the Taliban after all our efforts? Let Iraq turn into an Iranian client state (already is)? To be sure, some Democrats and liberals favor cutting our exposure in the Greater Middle East. Harvard’s Stephen Walt went along with Trump’s pullback from Syria but noted it is being done badly and without strategic grounding (actually, there never was one).

Democrats, once critical of the intelligence and justice agencies, now cheer our steadfast, courageous protectors. Sen. Frank Church’s (D-Idaho, 1957-81) criticism of intel agents’ abuses is forgotten. Remember when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was the liberals’ nemesis? Now the CIA and FBI are heros who speak truth to Trump’s untruths.

There are other swaps. Republicans once sounded alarms about Russia and accused Democrats of being soft on Russia. Now the positions are reversed. Republicans were long cool to Israel — Ike was downright chilly — while Democrats supported Israel. Now the Republicans give Israel whatever it wants (Jerusalem embassy) and acquiesce to Netanyahu’s abandonment of a two-state solution. Dems especially dislike Netanyahu and divide over Israel. Two newly elected Muslim women Democrats — imagine that a few years ago — denounce Israel.

The big question: Will Democrats rip themselves apart on this and other issues to let Trump win re-election? The Dems can thank God they still have Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the mother hen to keep the chicks from straying.