Last Sunday, as I sat listening to Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly assert “I don’t believe that my former colleagues in the United States Senate and the House will turn their backs on all of our interests, on the credibility of our country, on the norm with respect to the enforcement of the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons, which has been in place since 1925,” I pitied his position. As the discouraging parliamentary vote in the UK, the reluctance of the United Nations and the anemic support of the beleaguered American people left President Obama increasingly isolated in his intent to address the human atrocities committed by the Syrian government, it fell to Kerry to do a very awkward rhetorical dance: making a clear and impassioned case for intervention while stopping short of sending our soldiers into another unpopular, unsanctioned military action.
From a tactical standpoint, I applaud the decision to seek Congressional approval for any limited action in the war torn nation, where various estimated now place the civilian death toll at over 100,000. Back in the heady days of yore when the two parties were able to come to agreement on something, anything, this was the paradigm. I believe most of the nation agreed with Kerry, appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, when he said “The United States is strongest when the Congress speaks with the president, when the American people are invested.”
At the same time, I had to wonder if Kerry had lost complete touch with reality when he left the Senate for his new role in January of this year. In declaring his belief in the legislative branch’s commitment to our interests and credibility, a highly selective memory is required to forget the doings of the 113th U.S. Congress…or the 112th, or the 111th.
I understand that an authorization of military action would normally seem like the proverbial shooting of fish in the barrel when it comes to the strong war hawk arm of the GOP, but these are not conventional times. Indeed, as our own Sarah Jones points out “Republicans are once again unable to govern seriously due to their Obama Opposition Disorder and their inner party destruction.” Thus we are dealing with a party that, once upon a time, couldn’t rush to war and the securing of pork-laden security contracts fast enough under a Republican President, a group that lauded the expanded powers of the Executive Branch to make fairly unilateral decisions regarding the deployment of armed forces. Substitute a Democratic Chief Executive with a brown face and suddenly we have several days of “Will they or won’t they?” suspense. It’s ludicrous.
Fortunately for Syria’s destroyed and injured families, it appears that the most inept Speaker of the House in modern history (I might have just left it at “history,” but I confess myself ignorant of those of the 18th and 19th centuries), might just be able to herd the screeching, disagreeable cats that make up his caucus. The New York Times reported that “Speaker John A. Boehner said on Tuesday that he would ‘support the president’s call to action’ in Syria after meeting with President Obama, giving the president a crucial ally in the quest for votes in the House.”
But of course since no Republican can ever be allowed to risk offering the POTUS unqualified support for a just action, here’s number two House Republican Eric Cantor right on cue: “Understanding that there are differing opinions on both sides of the aisle, it is up to President Obama to make the case to Congress and to the American people that this is the right course of action, and I hope he is successful in that endeavor.”
So if the vote fails, it’s not, Cantor repeats, not another act of GOP cynicism and blame shifting. It is simply that President Obama will have failed to make a compelling case that our intervention in the region will save lives and buttress American interests. Apparently iron clad proof of chemical attacks seen on news stations across the globe, Syria’s importance in managing ongoing tensions with Iran and the larger Middle East and the support of tried and true Obama enemies like Arizona John McCain, may still not be enough to get this group behind anything at all that the President wishes to do.
I must admit that I am not entirely sure where I stand on the Syria question. I believe with all my heart that someone has to stop the killing, but at the same time, I’m well aware of the lessons recent history offers with regard to American-advocated regime change (Iraq, Libya, Egypt, etc). I’ve become fairly convinced that reinvention and democratization must be the will of the people in order to become sustainable. But limited efforts to divest Assad of his chemical weapons stock should be a no-brainer, especially on the part of the “we’ll be greeted as liberators” right.