Syria Now The Top Issue In Washington

This Week’s Courier Herald Column:

Congress returns to Washington this week after their five week summer recess.  There are a short eight days scheduled for votes this month, the final month of the federal government’s fiscal year.

By design, Congress left town knowing there were votes they would have to take during September to fund the government through a budget or more likely, a continuing resolution.  They also find themselves with the expiration of yet another temporary farm bill.  On what terms the debt ceiling will be increased will also weave into current debates.  That’s a full plate for any month.

And yet, many members of Congress actually returned to Washington a week early.  There is serious work to be done besides the petty squabbling and posturing that has become more Kabuki Theater than governing when Congress faces a deadline.

The President has asked Congress to approve military action in the Middle East.  As a result, many of the routine partisan talking points that were to be dusted off for yet another budget battle have been shelved.  Congress is instead having a rather unfamiliar public and private debate over what it should do, and more importantly, what is America’s role on the world stage.

Cynical observers of modern politics are no doubt enjoying watching a President who was “elected to end wars” asking for military action because a dictator has chemical weapons.  They are no doubt also enjoying those who refused to hear of any reason to slow a march to war a decade ago now find that the Commander in Chief suddenly doesn’t have the authority to do much of anything.

Yes, sadly, for some there is only one game in Washington and that is one of partisan politics.  And yet, watching most in Washington who have remained officially undecided there does appear to be the appearance of genuine reflection on what their personal vote will be, and most importantly, why.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this debate from a purely political standpoint is that those who are diametrically opposed to each other on a philosophical scale on many issues have aligned themselves both for and against the resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria.  The final vote will not be along party lines for either party.

As such, we are witnessing what we have not seen out of Washington in quite a while – an actual mutual attempt at governing.  While Washington remains a hyper-partisan arena where raw politics is never far below the surface, it should not be lost that many appear to be approaching this very significant, very delicate issue in search of the best answer.

Like most truly complex problems there does not appear to be a “right” answer, only choices that will all result in less than optimal results with many far reaching consequences, with too many of them unknown.  With so many variables and an uncertain outcome, it is natural – even desired – that Congress remain hesitant to approve a plan to move forward.

For his part, the President is preparing to address the Nation Tuesday evening to lay out his vision and reasoning for limited strikes.  The country should pay close attention, and should also look for the as yet unanswered question of what victory will look like.

When President George H. W. Bush led a true international coalition into operation Desert Storm, the mission was clear.  Kuwait was liberated and secured, and then the fighting stopped.

The success of that mission made public acceptance of action in Iraq and Afghanistan much easier a decade later.  The ease, unfortunately, left the question of victory too vague.  The question still appears unsettled today.

Just as the success of Desert Storm made Iraq and Afghanistan easier, the difficulties in finding victory in those operations are making the decision to move forward in Syria more difficult.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.

We are told that there will only be air strikes, with no “boots on the ground”.  Our goal is to weaken a leader in the midst of a civil war, but not to have “regime change”.

And yet, weakening a leader already opposed by his own people who come from multiple feuding factions also stands the risk of a deepening conflict.  If the country spirals into anarchy, are we not exacerbating the problem of outside influence that we are already using as a justification for these strikes?  If so, what is the plan and what are the assurances that American and our soldiers will not become mired in this problem as it devolves too?

The problem is complex, and the open questions remain real.  The answers remain too vague.  Before there is military action, the answers need to be clear.  If they are not, this is an action that our country does not need to take.


  1. gcp says:

    Syria? Why are we still in Afghanistan after almost 12 years? Where are the debates, the filibusters, the questions, the criticisms from either party concerning Afghanistan? Does anyone know? The failed Obama/Bush foreign policy continues.

  2. Noway says:

    Put me down as against any military involvement. Not one more American cent and not one more drop of American blood. The general who was testifying with Kerry couldn’t even tell us what the strategy of our involvement was. No more…

  3. pettifogger says:

    Don’t take this as inherent distrust for the President (although I admit to it), but does anyone really think that if the Administration was as confident as they’ve alleged that this would involve limited (less than Libya) air strikes and no troop involvement (JSOC), Obama would be doing this dance with Congress and the public?

    If we were really going to just drop some JDAMs or lob some tomahawks at targets in Syria, wouldn’t that have happened a few weeks ago?

      • pettifogger says:

        I understand the cover of legislative approval, but I read it as signaling what we don’t know, which is the ultimate extent of our involvement.

        I don’t think he’s bluffing and seeking cover for his secret plan of all out war, but I do think there are questions, known to the administration, regarding how our involvement may evolve and exceed the original pitch to the country.

  4. Jackster says:

    Could someone define for me the difference between a declaration of war, which I think we’re used to needing for military action, and a “limited engagement” ?

    I mean, is it just me, or is the limited engagement just the beginning? I honestly need the difference articulated before I sign on to such an action.

  5. Three Jack says:

    The 1991 ‘Gulf War’ resolution barely passed the senate and only after Bush41 agreed to give in on a tax increase…”read my lips…”. This seemed a fairly simple decision with over 30 countries joining with the US to stop Iraq from further invading Kuwait and possibly other countries if not addressed. There were multiple UN resolutions passed, a clear mission and a president with personal experience in war yet it passed 52-47 (ironically voting in opposition were Georgia Senators Sam Nunn and Wyche Fowler).

    So if the current president wants support, he should be forced to give in on his trophy legislative accomplishment just as Bush41 had to go back on his tax pledge. ObamaRoberts Care should be used as the prime negotiation point by those in opposition. Repeal it and you can have your “unbelievably small” (SecState Kerry) wrist slap for Syria. Otherwise be exposed as a completely inept fool with zero leadership ability again.

    • Three Jack says:

      Also voting againt the first Gulf War despite worldwide support and mulitple UN resolutions were Senators Kerry and Biden. It is laughable at best to watch these 2 now supporting an attack on a country that has done nothing beyond its own borders when they would not do so against a country already invading other countries. Think about this the next time you see Kerry chatting up this invasion.

      • Three Jack says:

        Not revisionist at all. Iraq massed troops on the Kuwait border around the same time as budget negotiations were taking place then invaded on 8/2. Bush messed up, he gave the dems tax increases and higher spending then many of them turned on him when the war vote came up.

        Either way, those in opposition to the current Syrian resolution should be negotiating with the administration to get something in return for helping the prez try to save face.

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