Home > Politics > The Congressional Vote on Syria; Brilliance out of Desperation

The Congressional Vote on Syria; Brilliance out of Desperation

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So the President is throwing the issue to Congress. From the White House perspective, it’s so crazy it just might work.

It was looking bad. Like the president had painted himself into a corner with his own words about “red lines” being crossed if there were ever to be proof of chemical attacks in Syria. Astoundingly, the British parted with their American cousins for the first time since Lexington the War of 1812 and refused to go along.

The United Nations, which President Obama generally decried as feckless today, was a dead end with the Russians and the Chinese exercising veto power in the Security Council. Plus, uselessly, the U.N. inspection team that just left Syria is charged only with confirming that a chemical attack occurred, not which party was responsible for initiating it.

The vote in Congress on whether the U.S. will strike Syria in response to the Assad regime’s alleged involvement in the gassing of hundreds of its own citizens is not going to be along party lines. Strange bedfellows will be plentiful as hard core, dovish liberals join forces with folks like Republican, Rand Paul, whose libertarian views render him a foreign isolationist. Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner will be working for the President.

Commanders in Chief don’t have to do this and Mr. Obama, protecting Oval office power as best he can, says he could have moved on his own but insists he has an important moral case to make and that we may as well have a public debate about it. This is a good thing for democracy. Historians may argue Obama has just seriously diluted Presidential authority.

This move also gets the President off the hook. If Congress balks, it was them. More than that- it was the “people.” If they approve, he has the moral high ground he’d never have received from the United Nations anyway. The stunning defeat of a pro-American resolution in the British parliament had to have affected this move by the White House as well. It didn’t look good that the Brits could debate this but our Congress couldn’t. It also didn’t square with Senator Barack Obama’s own views years ago that Congress should have a say on matters involving military action.

Former Vice President Dan Quayle probably doesn’t have the greatest legacy for gravitas, but he was a savvy politician and it was he who suggested to George H.W. Bush that Congress get a vote on approving the use of force in the first Gulf War in the early 1990’s. The resolution passed, the nation was united on the military action and within months President Bush would be sporting a 91% approval rating.

In his response to the President today, Republican Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell said the nation is at its best when President and Congress act together in common voice and he is right. There is much more riding on the coming Congressional vote than just a few surgical cruise missile strikes in Syria. The debate will encompass the totality of American foreign policy; the U.S. as global policeman, the lines that can and cannot be crossed in regard to how we respond to future atrocities- the proof needed to determine they happened and who was behind them.

Impressive throughout the debate has been the prominence of the Iraq experience in coloring the world perception of U.S. intervention in foreign affairs. The blow to American credibility has been severe. It was Iraq and the wild goose chase for weapons of mass destruction that led the Brits to decide that this go round- no thanks.

So the debate to come is also about how we, ourselves, come to terms with Iraq. Does the U.S. become reticent, like in the post-Vietnam period, to project power on the world stage forever more? Can exceptions be supported when there are issues of genocide and crimes against mankind that shock us and shake our consciences. Do we even have an international conscience?

All worthy questions to be debated in the days ahead. For President Obama, good move from a civics lesson point of view. And brilliant move, politically.

  1. Crys Quimby
    August 31, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Is anyone surprised at this move? Great essay, Robert. Lots to think about here.

  2. Diane Waugh
    September 2, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    Well said, Robert. It’s been interesting to observe and cover these last few days…feels like a game of Chess to me!

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