When 150 US legislators from both parties petitioned President Obama to give Congress a say in whether our military should launch punitive strikes against the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people, they probably never expected their wish to be granted. After all nearly everyone agrees that under the War Powers act the President has authority to order such a strike without seeking the approval of Congress. Some of the petitioners may have genuinely wanted to have a voice in the matter. However, since these are politicians I’m betting that many of the petitioners, both Democrats and Republicans, viewed their request as perfect political cover should the strike have unforeseen consequences their constituents turned against the action, especially since they didn’t expect their request to ever be granted in the first place.
Now these politicians are our most recent example of the old saying, “Be careful what you ask for… because you just might get it”. President Obama agreed to allow Congress a say in the matter by asking them to vote on a resolution authorizing a strike. Now each Senator and Representative will have to make his or her position known unequivocally with a vote and thus they will all be subsequently held accountable. Their political cover just vanished and that is probably not the result many of them wanted going in.
The success of that resolution is by no means a slam dunk. First of all this is a do nothing Congress where it has been nearly impossible for Democrats and Republicans in both the Senate and the House to agree on anything. For some war weary Democrats and Republican libertarians the last thing they want is any involvement in yet another foreign war. Then there are House Republicans that have apparently vowed never to agree with Obama on anything. The views expressed thus far by Senators and Representatives range from “the limited strikes being proposed don’t go far enough”, to “there is no way I can vote for any such resolution”, and everything in between. This is coming from a Congress that has shown little or no ability to compromise.
In addition the specter of the over hyped intelligence preceding the Iraq conflict hangs in the air like the stink of a skunk convention. Any one that believes that David Cameron’s defeat in the British parliament on a similar resolution had nothing to do with Tony Blair blindly following George W. Bush’s lead into that fiasco needs to take a course in reading political tea leaves. With many of our risk adverse Senators and Representatives tendencies of placing concerns about their chances of being reelected over the best interest of their country, I wouldn’t be totally surprised if we had a similarly gutless performance on our side of the pond.
However, it is time for the US congress to step up and make it clear to the rest of the world that in the United States politics does indeed stop at our boarders. As a country we cannot afford for this resolution to fail. If it does our credibility as a nation will be shot. Assad and other despots throughout the world are waiting to see if we mean what we say and once that is determined they will surely act accordingly. Why would Iraq ever give up on its ambition of building nuclear weapons if we proclaim to the world that we have proof that the government of Syria used chemical weapons on its people and then, after issuing a stern ultimatum before hand, we sat back and did nothing about it. Why would any other nation heed the similar warnings by future US Presidents if we demonstrate to the rest of the world that as a nation we are all bark and no bite. It is time for our Congress to prove that when necessary our government can be united into a single unified force which will act decisively when the situation requires.