The Case to Congress
As you’ve no doubt heard, President Obama gave a statement today in which he said he had decided to strike Syria. But then said he plans to have Congress approve the strike.
Here’s how the Administration plans to sell this to Congress:
And they detailed the coming campaign to get Congress on board:
- Hammer home the potential threat to staunch ally Israel’s security
- Provide detailed intelligence about the alleged attack
- Underline that the United States ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, and make a case that American legitimacy — not just his own — is at stake.
- Make the argument that failure to act could lead, one day, to terrorists acquiring chemical weapons from regimes like Assad’s — and turning them on America.
Item One: Assad’s alleged decision to use Chemical Weapons that he originally obtained to deter Israel against rebels presents “a potential threat to staunch ally Israel’s security.”
In recent months, Israel has successfully struck at Syria twice, and Syria didn’t even try to retaliate. Why does the US have to take a stand for the norm against using CW, when the Israelis are perfectly capable of doing so. I get that Israel can never be viewed as a neutral party with Syria, they do have unrivaled ability to stand against the use of gas against civilians.
Item Three: The US ratified the Chemical Weapons Treaty. But Syria did not. In the same way that Israel didn’t sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Why do we expect Syria to abide by the former when we don’t require Israel to abide by the latter?
Item Four: A strike on Assad is likely to strengthen the Syrian rebels. Who are made up, increasingly, of a bunch of extremists with ties to al Qaeda. If we make it easier for the rebels to replace Assad, doesn’t that actually raise the likelihood terrorists will get Assad’s CW?
I’m glad the Administration has decided to go to Congress. But their argument is just as weak as it was.
How much do you want to bet that Obama’s call for Congress to vote on action on Syria, Congressional Republicans are muttering to themselves behind closed doors that this is an attack on Republicans?
See your tweets Emptywheel about the White House Situation Room picture. Note that the digital clock readout in the upper left or so of the picture shows the time for Damascus, Tehran and Cairo.
The woman sitting 2 seats to Defense Secretary Hagel’s left is Lisa Monaco who currently serves as the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (formerly John Brennan’s White House position).
As near as I can tell, reading comments at sfgate and the Great Orange Satan, support for bombing Syria isn’t there.
Obama is a good poker player. His decision was a brilliant move. Up to Congress now to vote and finally earn their pay.
I don’t really get the references to the CWC here as if it is the all-controlling item on the matter. Doesn’t Syria’s being a party to the 1925 protocol forbid this more or less just as well?
Craig Murray has some insight. Read the first 6 comments as well.
@Bay State Librul: It’s a brilliant move for domestic politics, perhaps, but there’s nothing brilliant about it otherwise.
Obama said there was nothing militarily that was time sensitive about an attack, meaning that a delay to get Congress on board would not be an issue for the US military. As Richard Engel noted on MSNBC right after the speech, in Syria there is something time-sensitive about this. If the use of CW is important enough that the US should act to prevent future deaths, then whatever deaths happen between now and a future Congressionally-approved strike will be evidence of the time-sensitive nature of things from the Syrian perspective.
But the larger problem is this: what does Obama target, in the strikes he is apparently determined to take?
Assuming the evidence is accurate, and Assad has indeed been using CW, he’s shown that he doesn’t think any reaction either domestically or internationally will be worse for him than not using them. Will the US target a big spot in the desert? How about a military outpost? Perhaps a military supply depot?
From where I sit, the only target that will deter Assad from future strikes is to target Assad. And that will open a huge can of worms elsewhere in the world.
As much as Obama and others are talking about Syria, the unspoken (and larger) issue is US/Russia relations. Will the US take action in Syria, knowing that Russia disapproves? When you add in Snowden and the pressure around the Olympics and Russia’s anti-LGBT laws, the US and Russia are on shaky ground as it is.
My nightmare right now is seeing Assad as the 21st century Archduke Franz Ferdinand. A red line was crossed . . . and the War to End All Wars emerged.
Syria doesn’t pose an serious risk to Israel despite what some Stalinists think. Militarily Syria is weak and lacks Arab support. Russia and Iran need a functioning Syria not a decapitated one.
That’s why it’s a poker game. Many risks but at least democracy will be played out in a vote.
Our elected officials who represent us will weigh in and what happens, happens.
Let the debate begin.
@Bay State Librul: To you it may be a game. To many others, especially in Syria, it’s life and death.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad there’s going to be a vote about this. The irony that the British Prime Minister would accept the results of a vote on this and the US president would act unilaterally was not lost on me, and was apparently too much to bear for the White House.
But that doesn’t change the costs — not stakes in a poker game, but the very real lives that will end — involved in this mess.
Obama’s argument is not weak, it is insane.
I use the term poker literally.
Not you, not me knows what will happen.
just like the shootings in Connecticut, I do not take the loss of life lightly.
It will be interesting to listen to Kerry tomorrow on TV.
I think Obama is not insane but takes actions in a measured and deliberate way.
I support the President without misgivings.
draft leg here:
@greenbird: thanks that puts the issue in perspective
@Bay State Librul: His earlier language about taking a strike to send a message but ruling out wanting to affect the civil war or to engage in “regime change” gave me serious misgivings.
That’s a politician speaking, who doesn’t understand either military action OR politics. That makes me nervous indeed.
@Bay State Librul: Only a Librul would find Kerry interesting on ANYFUCKINGTHING.
I think this is an astonishing opportunity. NO ONE is going to call their congresspeople to demand a strike on Syria. We can make the public opposition so overwhelming that it will be impossible for most Congresspeople to vote for it; and if they vote for it anyway, the teachable moment will be intense.
I agree the argument is weak. Hopefully a wingnut coalition of sorts might be able to sink this in Congress. And, as Stoller says, this is a debate that people can weigh in on by talking to their congress member–just as the NSA vote was.
Regardless of how this turns out, it is a very fortunate decision on Obama’s part (against his staff, we’re told) to commit to congressional approval.
Have to say I was really disappointed and surprised to see so much snark directed at the decision from folks I respect in twitterverse.
@Peterr: Yes, I’m nervous myself and hope all goes well.
@Snoopdido: Isn’t Jordan on that same time zone?
@Peterr: That’s my fear too.
Also, there are reports Assad is moving prisoners and others into the supposed targets. So the delay will increase the chances we kill a bunch of unrelated people in our strikes. Of course, the leaks did that all by themselves.
@greenbird: Right now, none of that is on the whitehouse.gov site.
@Casual Observer: Have to say I’ve grown awfully comfortable with my Congressman, Justin Amash’s votes of late. Mind you, I’m probably ignoring about 20 efforts to defund ObamaCare, but still.
@emptywheel: I would assume that Jordan is on the same time zone as Damascus. I find the inclusion of Tehran to be interesting, but it may just be that the digital clock setup they’re using always shows a few places from the same region.
Still, showing Tehran stands out, don’t you think? No Iraq, Saudi Arabia, etc. from the Middle East.
And certainly, while Syria is the top-level topic, Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah, is the unmentioned elephant in the room. It wouldn’t surprise me if part of the US targeting plans included Hezbollah forces in Syria.
@emptywheel: I see Amash already retweeting a bunch of vets in your district dead-set against the authorization. Seems like a very similar vote could set up–backbenchers in both parties voting against leadership in both parties.
@Snoopdido: The clocks aren’t a matter of possible strikes, but a matter of diplomatic/military considerations. If the situation in Jordan matters as much to the calculus as the situation in Damascus, having both clocks visible reinforces the situation — especially if they are thinking about contacting either the US embassies or the specific governments. Knowing they are in the same time zones is as important as knowing they aren’t.
@Casual Observer: I sincerely hope so, the leadership of both parties has been disastrous for the U.S. I would like to see the back benchers put an end to such unrestrained dangerous governance as we have had.
Robert Fisk’s opinion:
“I think that Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless army might just be winning against the rebels whom we secretly arm. With the assistance of the Lebanese Hezbollah – Iran’s ally in Lebanon – the Damascus regime broke the rebels in Qusayr and may be in the process of breaking them north of Homs. Iran is ever more deeply involved in protecting the Syrian government. Thus a victory for Bashar is a victory for Iran. And Iranian victories cannot be tolerated by the West.”
requested source link from dkos diary author/s.
in the meantime, here’s CNN fwiw:
(Here is the text of draft legislation delivered by President Barack Obama on Saturday to the speaker of the House and president of the Senate regarding authorization for the use of the U.S. armed forces in connection with the conflict in Syria. – per CNN)
also re source: draft legislation via wapo.
hope to have WH link soon.
President Obama says he will accept an approval he does not need but will ignore a disapproval that he does not want. In other words, he will accept forgiveness in advance but not a refusal of permission. So what does Congress actually get to decide? The shape and size of the rubber stamp — and possibly the color of the ink — that announces its own irrelevance?
Or does the Congress get to decide what will not happen and what will happen to a President who ignores the decision of Congress?
@Bay State Librul: @4 BO talked himself into a corner, and has been making it worse with every utterance. He has now leapt for the escape hatch Congress has given him, aka the Constitution.
Grrr, I’m so mad I’d beat you up, but I have to check with my mommy first. That’s just f***ing “brilliant”.
Putin remarked a month or so ago that dealing with the Administration was like shearing a piglet. There’s lots of squealing but not much wool.
BO is prematurely turning himself into a lame duck. Putin’s line might be updated to duckling and quacking, but the outcome’s the same.
Mr O is a lame duck. It comes with being in his second term as president: lame duck from re-election to the inauguration of his successor.
If the Republicans really hate Barack Obama and You-Know-Her so much, it seems to me that they would vote “no” on Obama’s proposed war of aggression against Syria and then impeach him when he goes ahead anyway. That would make the easily beatable Joe Biden President who would run for election in his own right in 2016 and lose to an even more right-wing Republican. An easy two-fer for the GOP, as I see it.
As well, since Al-Qaeda has made war on the United States and the Constitution defines treason as aiding and comforting those who make war upon the United States, then any move by President Obama to aid and comfort Al Qaeda in its efforts to overthrow the Syrian regime makes President Obama a traitor. Literally. Same for any other official of the United States government who votes to make war on Syria in order to aid and comfort Al Qaeda in Syria. Lucky thing for President Obama that most Republicans have never read or understood the Constitution and think that you can only remove a president from office for lying about blowjobs.
Obama has no good options.
What you are left with is his decision-making analysis.
If you don’t like Obama, you will castigate him.
If you like Obama, hopefully you will give him the benefit of the doubt.
I happen to believe that a vote is the best form of democratic debate.
What I can’t understand is that Congress is on vacation until September 9th. Get your fucking arses back to Washington and vote.
Imagine, for a moment if Romney was at the helm?
Why is this world so negative?
@Bay State Librul: Wait: both Hagel and Obama were golfing yesterday. Samantha Power didn’t make the first UN emergency meeting on this because she was in Ireland on a personal trip.
Moreover, this is not an imminent threat to the US (which is one of the big reasons why it has no foreseeable legal basis).
Rushing the decision does nothing but 1) force action before all the intelligence is in 2) raise chances of a stupid decision 3) raise chances of a poorly-worded AUMF, like the one Obama proposed yesterday.
And Boehner has issued a set of questions that have not been answered in the least. Until Obama starts answering those questions, Congress can’t act in reasonable fashion.
Time is not of the essence?
I disagree the sooner we debate the better the outcome and resolve.
If Congressmen have not made up their minds by now, we have a dysfunctional body politic
@Michael Murry: “If the Republicans really hate Barack Obama and You-Know-Her so much, it seems to me that they would vote “no” on Obama’s proposed war of aggression against Syria and then impeach him when he goes ahead anyway.”
Yeah, but they REALLY like bombing them dark-tinged furriners.
So I think they’ll say “yeah, go ahead and bomb, but take the money for it out of the Obamacare line item…oh, and the debt ceiling? Not gonna move it right now; saving it for a later crisis”
@P J Evans:
In reality, Obama has been a lame duck since day one.
Chrystal clear to me that Obama has been delegitimized from the early days.
England took a vote pretty fast and the PM will abide.
The excuses for delay drive me crazy, like Billiechick not answering questions at press conferences
@Bay State Librul: No. If time were of the essence we would have intervened over a year ago. There is very little possible urgency here that didn’t exist months and a year ago, which, again, is part of the reason why any intervention would be illegal internationally.
And again, if it is so urgent, then Admin officials would do well to stop golfing and attending comedy events in Ireland while pursuing this urgent issue.
@Bay State Librul: UK took a vote before intelligence case had been made and before any terms of engagement were laid out. I didn’t watch the debate, but apparently maybe half the MPs expressed concerns about both issues, without ruling out intervention altogether.
In that case, the haste is probably what sunk Cameron.
Personally, I would be putting Russia and China in a corner to hold the use of chemical weapons accounrable in Syria.
@Michael Murry: Once the war machine starts rolling, with authorization or without, its hard for me to imagine the CIC being particularly vulnerable to any action taken by Congress.
The U.S. and friends gave chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein to use against the Iranians and Kurds and then later condemned him for doing what they had assisted him in doing. No reason why the U.S. and friends haven’t dipped into their own stockpiles of chemical weapons and given a few to Al Qaeda in Syria, just so they could blame the Syrian government for using them, thereby “justifying” the use of America’s military as Al Qaeda’s navy and air force, just as President Obama did in Libya. How many times can the lying U.S. government go back to this same polluted well for yet another pail of prevarication to ladle out to a gullible American public?
I don’t like golf but love Seinfeld.
Hey, Obama can’t stay awake 24 hours, and needs some relaxation
The point about time is that other events may intervene.
How about with “all deliberate speed… how about two weeks for a time table?
@Michael Murry: See @6. (emptywheel, your opinion?)
@Bay State Librul: @33. I do not have any basis to dislike BO, I have never met him. I do however dislike many of the things he has done. There is now a 5 year list of things to dislike.
Those things include Rahm, Summers, Espionage Act, Afghan surge, domestic spying, lying, drones killing women and children. The list is endless. Point being that it starts at the beginning and is an almost unbroken string.
In answer to your question “Why is the world so negative?” It is not. A lot of rational folks do not like the stupid and conniving s**t this administration has done. In many ways it is worse than Duhbya’s. BO is an unmitigated disaster as a “Democratic” president. FDR is rolling in his grave.
@klynn @41 Right, and how would you do that, send in the cruise missiles?
@Michael Murry @43 Factually wrong premise. We sold Saddam chemical precursors so he could make his own.
Craig Murray’s latest post (today) promotes Scotland leaving the UK to be independent. Suddenly I’m wishing California might do the same. I can’t imagine Jerry Brown bombing anybody. Bet he could find the Constitution too. Place to start.
It is frightening to see how many people regard the employment of chemical weapons by the Syrian government as having been proved. So far the “proofs” adduced have been:
a Mossad intercept, regarding which no comment ought to be necessary.
Claims made by Gulf funded organisations
And repeated assertions.
At the same time, the US government has made several efforts to derail proper inspections of the sites and has insisted that no more evidence is needed because it knows.
If it knows let it explain how it came by that knowledge. In the meantime sensible and patriotic people will not allow their prejudices in favour of the US government’s credibility to overwhelm proper scepticism towards extremely weak evidence presented in a demagogic and sleazy manner.
@lefty665: Raises hand. I dislike Obama, in fact I can’t stand him. Comes from hoping in 2008, comes from being aghast, disgusted and furious ever since. I wish Michelle would drown him in the bathtub, if I can say that and be understood properly. I remember her in 2008 saying for the first time in a long time she was proud of America. I thought I knew what she meant then. I hope she knows what I mean now.
@Michael Murry: You’re reminding me of something Mary said once (early on, 2009) about Obama – different details, but essentially the same dynamic:
Also more Mary @22 in that thread: “I do think he’s an empty suit.”
@thatvisionthing: I was trying to depersonalize it. Not all of us who dislike what BO has done are crackers who are still talking about fried chicken and watermelon. Being aghast, disgusted and furious doesn’t make any of us racists, which is what Librul seems to be implying by reducing it to either “like” or dislike and other similar formulations.
Lots of us worked for “Change” in 2008 and got “Same” or “Worse” for our efforts. Me, I quit the Dem Party a couple of years ago. I could not stand defending the indefensible, and being told to shut up and toe the Party line.
It is curious that someone who calls him/her self a “Librul” would “like” a president who has done his damnedest to kill what’s left of the New Deal.
That was the thread where Mary took us to Ex Parte Milligan school, @47.
Mary quoting Milligan, 1866, which was about whether military commissions could supercede court trials for civilians:
If Congress goes along with kingly usurpation of law now… ! …I wish Michelle would drown them in the bathtub too. Compare such spinelessness to the spine showed by the House of Representatives in Milligan’s time. Again, Mary:
@lefty665: Well, this isn’t about race. If it was, I could have a long sidetrack on all the ways I think Obama has been a tragic fail racewise. But to your point, I don’t want to depersonalize it, quite the opposite. I care about my country and my Constitution and my American dream of a decent respect for the opinions of mankind and all the rest of it, all men are created equal; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; truth, justice and the American way if you’re old enough to remember what that meant; and I support the constitutional offices. But I can’t stand what the people holding these offices are doing to undermine all of that. It’s personal, I’m talking about them. Why do we get such useless nothings? I don’t want Michelle to drown the presidency in the bathtub, just Barack. With poetic license.
@lefty665: Also re 2008, my Obama sign, with history:
I hoped. And that’s where I’m coming from.
I don’t want Michelle to do that, even metaphorically. But a clue-by-four upside his head would suit me quite well.
@P J Evans: I don’t know, it feels really good to think about metaphorically, pretty much only metaphorically, that’s the art gallery for this picture, though if it would stop him from killing again… might be a better distraction than Miley Cyrus. And if they have established an American monarchy, blecch, at least it would be poetically wonderful if Princess Malia became president next. I’m remembering her wearing big peace sign T-shirts and asking her dad to care about endangered tigers. Love thinking about that. Poetic justice! Oh, I have a dream.
Of course, Congress could just get real and do its job.
Of course, Congress could just get real and do its job.
When rain falls up!
@thatvisionthing: Like you I was vigorous for change in ’08. But by Thanksgiving as transition and incoming appointments were being announced it was clear we were not getting any steenkin’ Change. Could there be any better example than Larry $#%^& Summers?
Librul’s framing of “liking” BO and therefore supporting him and giving him the benefit of the doubt trivializes facts, issues and history. That is a profoundly superficial way to form opinions.
I believe we have achieved part of Dr. King’s dream. We have had the opportunity to judge the content of BO’s character by his actions. Some of us have taken the opportunity, others apparently, not so much.
It took another couple of years after ’08 for the Teabaggers to threaten to come up on my porch and “take me” because of my yard signs for candidates I supported. It horrifies me to be agreeing with them on anything. But, I feel like Conyers must have felt in Amash/Conyers. Where they’ve got an issue right we need to hold our noses and work together. We ain’t going to get any help from the “leadership” and “serious people” of either party.
@Bay State Librul: One of the problems with pushing for an immediate strike is people w/in O’s Admin leaked like a sieve and gave up any tactical advantage with immediate response.
So frankly, by waiting we may regain some surprise.
@Lefty665: Stop me, I’m going to write too much and I have to leave, I’m late! But… I think if we all sat together equally and openly, as a community, as a country, we would find that we are not terrible, and we would end up liking each other, and all the differences would sort themselves into gifts serving the whole. We could think our way out of problems, we could welcome problems so we could think together some more and make more of our gifts. We could have fun. We need differences. We need a commons. I think the big stupid secret is that terror doesn’t stop terror, love and community does. If all those spies and thugs and war contractors spent their time and money looking for good possibilities in people and freeing up gifts instead of needing to find bad and control all, it’d be a whole new world. A start, anyway. I’m thinking obvious blossoming, always in our hands. I’m thinking Obama hasn’t tried caring yet. But that’s what he ran on in 2008, and that’s when people turned out like crazy, well actually like blessed sanity at last. This is so obvious.
It’s why I’d put my money on Snow White instead of Godzilla or Batman: https://www.emptywheel.net/2013/07/20/superheroes-and-monsters/#comment-575336 – we are all all, there is no bad guy.
Seems like a fairytale now. But I think it’s who we were supposed to be. And could be again.
Hey lefty, I never implied that you are racist. Never my intent, in fact you are probably a good shit. We just happen to disagree about this issue
To be precise, he said he’d decided that the U.S. should strike Syria, not that it will.
@thatvisionthing: Thank you! It is what we can be. It is the wonderment of America as a young country that de Tocqueville described.
@Bay State Librul. You are generous (to a fault), but not sure I’d go so far as to add the “good” modifier.
You were right about the attempts to de-legitimize BO from the beginning. It also seemed that he did little to combat them. He did nothing to challenge the status quo. He compromised with evil at every turn. When evil came back for more, he gave more.
I sometimes think a measure of the state of racism in America today is that someone who has accomplished as much as BO still has very severe limits on his willingness to challenge the white power structure. It helps me appreciate the personal courage of King, Jackson, Lewis and many many more. It takes guts to stand up to people who would just as soon kill you as look at you. We elect presidents to have intestinal fortitude.
I believed in and worked for a campaign of “Change”. I was also pretty sure that after 8 years of Duhbya and the profound derangement of post 9/11 America that we had a very narrow window to restore sanity, and a vision of America that we all share as thatvisionthing writes @60. But we did not get it. We got Duhbya’s third and fourth terms instead. We got “look forward, don’t look back”. We got drones killing women, children and US citizens. We got, we got, we got. With BO’s help the window is nearly closed.
What benefit is there in indulging a president who has nothing he is willing to stand and fight for?
What benefit in a Democratic president who has spent nearly 5 years trying to sell out the New Deal foundation of the Democratic party?
What benefit in a president who has personally ordered the drone and other strikes that have killed more innocents, than all the domestic mass shootings, or gassed Syrians, while he has been in office?
What benefit in a president who has expanded and intensified domestic spying and done his best to eviscerate the Bill of Rights?
What benefit in a president who is itching to violate international law and the Constitution to attack Syria.
Where is the doubt? What will it take to make you say WTF?
Like you, I am sure there are many issues where we agree. For me we are four years passed the “benefit of the doubt” stage. We are way into Harry Truman “Show me” territory.
Our monarch is not even pushing away the laurel crown of emperor.