Because Syria’s convulsion has become as serious as Barack Obama has been careless in speaking about it, he is suddenly and uncharacteristically insisting that Congress participate in governance. Regarding institutional derangements, he is the infection against which he pretends to be an immunization…
Now, concerning Syria, he lectures Congress, seeking an accomplice while talking about accountability. Perhaps he deserves Congress’s complicity — if he can convince it that he can achieve a success he can define. If success is a “shot across the bow” of Syria’s regime, he cannot fail: By avoiding the bow, such a shot merely warns of subsequent actions…
Obama’s sanctimony about his moral superiority to a Congress he considers insignificant has matched his hypocrisy regarding his diametrically opposed senatorial and presidential understandings of the proper modalities regarding uses of military force. Now he asks from the Congress he disdains an authorization he considers superfluous. By asking, however reluctantly, he begins the urgent task of lancing the boil of executive presumption. Surely he understands the perils of being denied an authorization he has sought, and then treating the denial as irrelevant.
U.S. forces in the Middle East tasked with carrying out military action against Syria were ready to go this past weekend and were caught off guard by President Barack Obama’s decision to first seek congressional approval…
“I thought that was the night,” a Defense Department official told CNN.
“We were standing multiple watches. Everyone was pretty sure it was going to happen,” the official added…
The official said key units are now in a “strategic, operational pause” as Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel make their case to Congress for a limited military strike to degrade Syria’s ability to launch chemical weapons.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi hinted at the possibility of weeks of debate on a U.S. strike in Syria to allow for more input on a resolution authorizing military action.
“We have been told we have more time,” Pelosi said Wednesday at an event at the online payment company Square in San Francisco. “They can accommodate a couple of weeks of debate. Our members want to have a say in shaping the resolution.”…
Pelosi also confirmed she will not be whipping whatever version of a use-of-force resolution the House ultimately considers.
“It’s not anything you whip,” Pelosi said. “I’m not whipping. I’m not persuading on this.”
Kinzinger told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto on Wednesday that President Barack Obama wasn’t effectively explaining the strike on Syria in a meaningful way to the American people or to Congress, making it a hard idea to sell, and that might be one of the reasons why the resolution might struggle to pass the House.
“The President of the United States is not making the sales calls. Secretary Kerry did a great job of laying American interest out, but President Obama, it’s almost it’s like his heart is not fully in it,” Kinzinger said on “Your World with Neil Cavuto.” “It’s the right thing to do but look, he’s out there not selling this to the people.”
— The Old Orrin: To get 16 or 17 Republicans — a tall order — supporters need to go beyond the small band of moderates and allies of John McCain, and pick up some bona fide conservatives. The backing of Utah’s Orrin Hatch, a 79 year-old in his seventh term who may feel freer after surviving a right-wing challenge last year, would send a signal.
— The Non-Crazy Right: Supporters in the House got a lift this week from the backing for a strike of Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers. Still, much of the Obama-hating House Republican caucus wants to vote no. Again, if an influential conservative, such as Texas’s Mac Thornberry, the probable next chairman of the Armed Services Committee, offers his support, it would matter; the same is true of House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce.
— The D’Alesandro Touch: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — who learned politics growing up in Baltimore, where her father and brother, both named Thomas D’Alesandro, served as mayor — realizes a rejection would be a disaster for Obama and Democrats. There is strong resistance from the party’s left wing, including members of the Black Caucus and the staunchest foes of the Iraq War. Pelosi has clout with these members.
With the Syria vote, a Democratic president is imploring his House colleagues to help bail him out, but the Amash amendment shows a distinct willingness by House Democrats to leave their president out in the cold on foreign policy.
Among the House GOP, 40 percent voted for the Amash amendment. A higher percentage of the Republican Study Committee, the House’s conservative caucus, voted for it (45 percent), and that share almost doubled the rate of support from non-RSC Republicans (24 percent).
The Amash amendment failed by only twelve votes. Now, some of the Republicans who voted “no” on the Amash amendment — the same group who are expected to be more likely to vote “yes” on a Syria resolution — have already indicated their opposition on Syria, meaning that the numbers, at this point, may be tilting against passage.
There’s still time for Obama to save his Syria plan, but the situation in the House looks dire.
Arizona congressman Matt Salmon’s constituents have called his office 500 times about Syria, he tells National Review Online in an interview, but only two callers have expressed support for intervening there. “This is not hyperbole!” he says emphatically…
Salmon agrees the dynamics of the vote are likely to mirror the July vote on an amendment from Representative Justin Amash to reign in the NSA’s broad surveillance powers, except the vote against authorizing Syrian intervention is likely to have more support. The authorization “will fail by 20 votes,” he predicts.
Salmon praised President Obama for coming to Congress for authorization, but he fears whether the president will abide by the will of the legislature. It would be a constitutional crisis if Obama overrode the will of Congress on Syria, he says, describing that scenario as the “most significant flouting of separation of powers in this nation, if this happens.”
Massie said he’s been getting ovations at district events when he speaks about his opposition to joining the Syria conflict. “My phones are blowing up,” he said, and everyone is opposed to intervening. “I think if you had the vote today – while members were in their districts – the resolution would fail,” Massie said. Polls show a majority of Americans are opposed to striking Syria.
But Massie said he expects the White House and congressional leaders to mount a furious and effective lobby campaign once they return to the capital. “I’m concerned that after a week back in D.C. that the resolution may pass,” he said. “The strategy among leadership is to present you with a classified briefing and then, when the briefings are over, to tell you, ‘Now you have more information than your constituents so it’s okay if you vote differently than they want you to vote.'”…
“I think it’s a moot point,” Massie said. “It doesn’t matter if the vote succeeds or fails, the president will take action.”
Obama has three options on Syria: do nothing; do everything; and or choose a middle way I call muddle through. The first is unconscionable and would lead to hanging a closed-for-the-season sign on U.S. credibility for the remainder of Obama’s term. The second is reckless and would result both in an open-ended commitment and most likely to America owning Syria in some fashion. The third option — the so-called “limited strike” — could easily prove ineffective and thus carries risk, too…
Once military action starts, whole new worlds of potential disasters open up. The pressure and expectation to strike again increase with each new horror Assad inflicts, either with chemical or unconventional weapons. A tit-for-tat escalatory cycle kicks in, whereby the U.S. is drawn in deeper without producing quick or determinative results. Washington gets into a proxy war with Iran, Hezbollah, the Russians, and a Syrian regime that will do just about anything to survive. And who are America’s partners in such a campaign? The Israelis, Saudis, Qataris, and the jihadist groups on the ground — each with its own agenda? What a collection of allies.
Because of these uncertainties, a congressionally mandated authorization for the use of force could help the president by bounding U.S. actions. The president’s critics may call it hiding behind Congress; I’d call it developing limits so that the U.S. hopefully doesn’t get sucked into a rabbit hole. We can’t afford it. Let Congress say so and make disaster less likely.
Consider the possibilities:
One: Congress votes against authorizing military action in Syria, so Obama decides not to move ahead with military action. But wait: Obama already informed the nation that as commander-in-chief, he has “decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets … based on what I am convinced is our national security interests.” If that’s true — and if Obama also believes he has the authority to act without congressional authorization — how can he possibly refrain from military action merely because he can’t get enough votes in a famously dysfunctional, do-nothing Congress?
Two: Congress votes against authorizing military action in Syria, and Obama — the one-time constitutional law professor — goes ahead with airstrikes anyway, ignoring the clearly expressed will of Congress.
Three: Congress votes in favor of authorizing military action in Syria, leaving Obama permanently beholden to congressional Republicans. This means the White House can kiss its domestic legislative agenda goodbye.
If Congress does get to Yes on Syria, it won’t be hard to see why. What’s happening here is that Congress is being given a way to rein in the White House on Syria without saying No to authorizing the punitive strikes the Obama administration wants to launch…
Ultimately what this will do is give those members of Congress who appear inclined to support the general need for action against Assad a way to argue to constituents that they have placed substantial limits on the White House’s authority to wage war. Members of Congress were shocked by the broadness of the White House’s initial request for authority, but — whether by mistake or by design — it has given Congress a way to appear to be taking action to place tight limits on Obama’s warmaking authority.
This will be widely seen as kabuki, and to a great degree, that’s what it is. But it’s also going to be clarifying. Now members of Congress will be forced to take a stand on whether they support the basic idea that limited strikes will actually have an impact in deterring further use of chemical weapons by Assad and on whether the advertised upsides of limited strikes really outweigh the multiple risks — including many more civilian deaths — associated with them. The public is highly skeptical. Despite all the noise coming out of Congress, the true nature of Congressional opinion remains unclear.
In an exclusive interview with Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News, Rice said the White House is “quite confident” that Congress will approve Obama’s plan to launch punitive cruise missile strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
“We think that the Congress of the United States and the American people understand that we have compelling national interests at stake here,” said Rice, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
When she described the current plan as the least bad option, Smith said, “If every option you have is a bad option, and the one you’re considering costs lots of money and has lots of risk, why don’t you sit here and go ‘wow, we might let somebody else take care of this.’”