To his credit, President Obama turned to Congress for authorization before beginning any military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad for an alleged sarin gas attack. As the coming debate tests lawmakers’ ability to be statesmen first and partisans second, it will say a lot about where the United States stands as a world leader in 2013.
It’s hard to be hopeful. If Congress declines to go along with Obama’s plans and he heeds its will, his presidency will be even further weakened – and Assad (and other global thugs) can feel emboldened. And bombing another country over Congress’ formal objections would be unwise (though President Clinton did it in the Balkans in 1999).
If Congress says “yes,” the United States will be acting without the endorsement of the United Nations or assistance of Great Britain, and inviting retaliation against U.S. allies Turkey, Jordan or Israel and further instability in the region.
Even the act of going to Congress carries a strategic cost, giving Assad time to hide weapons and move troops into civilian areas. There were reports of both Tuesday.
But consulting with lawmakers was the right move – and something that should not be the exception prior to foreign entanglements. At least for now, there are no plans to put U.S. ground troops in Syria.
So far the members of the Kansas delegation seem unenthusiastic at best about the president’s proposal. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said on Facebook: “This Marine knows from experience a country never engages in an aggressive action without a clear objective, a plan of alternative actions and a clear exit strategy. It is clear to me we have none of these.”
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said Saturday: “America cannot afford another conflict that taxes our resources without achieving goals that advance American interests, and I will not support authorizing military action against Syria at this time.”
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said on Facebook: “I have seen no evidence of an American national interest in this Syrian civil war.” Reps. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, and Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, seem similarly unmoved by the president’s case for even limited airstrikes.
Contrast that with the statements of Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, including his comment to CNN that “I’m going to make the case that the president’s response needs to be much more vigorous, much more robust and actually consider America’s strategic and national interests in the Middle East more broadly in Syria than some simple few missiles being lobbed into Syria.” Though no less critical of the president in such remarks, Pompeo gets credit for being engaged in what is a serious and defining debate for the U.S. and the Mideast.
All the Kansans in Congress should keep their minds open, examine the facts and take seriously the president’s question of what message it sends “if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price.” No matter the outcome, the nation will be better for the debate.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman