Boehner: I support Obama's call for action in Syria

Not just Boehner but Cantor too. Proof that the GOP establishment is still deeply hawkish, or proof simply that this is the safe political play? Obama’s bumbled Syria so badly that he’s sure to be blamed if things go wrong post-intervention, whether Republicans back him or not. If Boehner backs him and the predictable clusterfark ensues, well, that’s O’s problem. If Boehner and the GOP oppose him and block the use of force, and then Assad gasses another 10,000 Syrians, the White House will inevitably accuse Republicans of being accomplices to mass murder. (As Michael Goldfarb put it to the Times, “Voting to let an Iranian proxy keep killing his own people with weapons of mass destruction may be as risky as it sounds.”) Evidently Boehner’s decided he’d rather risk a minor share of culpability for backing a foolhardy intervention than be scapegoated by Democrats and their media allies for whatever happens in Syria if the U.S. doesn’t act.


Key question: Does the Hastert Rule apply to AUMFs? Seems highly questionable that there’s a majority of the GOP caucus onboard for this.

“I am going to support the president’s call for action,” he told reporters. “I believe my colleagues should support this call for action.”

As some Republicans signal their reluctance to approve Obama’s request for authority to intervene in Syria, Boehner’s endorsement could be influential. The GOP speaker is often hesitant to get out in front of his unruly Republican conference on major issues, giving Boehner’s pronouncement on Tuesday all the more weight.

Following the meeting, Boehner’s deputy, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., backed the use of force, as well.

“The use of these weapons has to be responded to,” Boehner said.

Pelosi’s also supporting the White House against her old friend Bashar, which means we’re set for another fascinating split-caucus vote like the one in July that nearly defunded the NSA. You’ll probably see a majority of House Democrats back O for mindless partisan reasons, especially with Pelosi and her team whipping them, but there’ll be dozens of liberal no votes that’ll need to be replaced with Republican yeses. Figure 120 Dems plus 100 GOPers, nudged by Boehner and Cantor, to get to a majority. Or maybe Boehner expects (hopes?) that the AUMF is doomed in the House due to Republican opposition and he’s using his moment in the spotlight today to hedge against that. It’ll be easy for Obama to blame Republicans for blocking the use of force if the caucus is united, but if the top Republican in the House is willing to stand at the podium outside the White House and say that he supports the president, it’s harder.


This bit from Cantor’s statement is incorrect, though:

“The United States’ broader policy goal, as articulated by the President, is that Assad should go, and President Obama’s redline is consistent with that goal and with the goal of deterring the use of weapons of mass destruction. It is the type of redline virtually any American President would draw. Now America’s credibility is on the line. A failure to act when acting is in America’s interests and when a red line has been so clearly crossed will only weaken our ability to use diplomacy, economic pressure, and other non-lethal tools to remove Assad and deter Iran and other aggressors.

It’s true, Obama has said that Assad must go, but as with everything else he’s said about Syria, he doesn’t really mean it. America’s broader policy goal at this point isn’t to replace Assad, it’s to strengthen the rebels to the point of parity with Syria’s military. That, in theory, will force both sides into negotiations where they can broker a settlement; total victory of one side over the other would be a disaster because it would likely lead to sectarian cleansing. Here, as in Egypt, equilibrium is the White House’s goal. But don’t take my word for it:

Allied rebel commanders in Syria and congressional proponents of a more aggressive military response instead blame a White House that wants to be seen as responsive to allies’ needs but fundamentally doesn’t want to get pulled any deeper into the country’s grinding conflict…

Pentagon planners were instructed not to offer strike options that could help drive Mr. Assad from power: “The big concern is the wrong groups in the opposition would be able to take advantage of it,” a senior military officer said. The CIA declined to comment…

Many rebel commanders say the aim of U.S. policy in Syria appears to be a prolonged stalemate that would buy the U.S. and its allies more time to empower moderates and choose whom to support.


Kill Assad and there’s a chance that the regime falls apart, which would create a power vacuum to be filled either by jihadis on one side or Iran and Hezbollah on the other (to the extent that they haven’t already assumed power in Syria). Killing him would also probably force reprisals of some kind. A regime spokesman threatened to unleash Hezbollah if the U.S. attacks, but maybe they’d be willing to look the other way at a few targeted strikes aimed at discrete Syrian military units. Kill the guy at the top, though, and then it’s the other side’s credibility that’s on the line.

Exit question: If this is really about U.S. credibility, not about punishing the use of chemical weapons, what’s the stopping point on American escalation after further acts of defiance by Assad? Let’s say we bomb a few Syrian units and destroy his presidential palace. Two weeks later, Hezbollah attacks an American warship a la the U.S.S. Cole and another gas attack hits Damascus. What’s O’s move then? He told reporters today that “this is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan,” but rather a “limited, proportional step” to send a message. The extent to which it remains limited depends on Assad’s willingness to retaliate, though, and then in turn on Obama’s willingness to sacrifice further credibility by not retaliating against the retaliation. It’s not that there’s no strategy here, as many critics have claimed, it’s more that it’s the opposite of strategy — there’s nothing we’re trying to do in terms of U.S. national security, we’re simply trying to punch a guy hard enough in the face that he decides it’s worth his while not to punch back. What if he does?


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