Senate vote gives Obama 60 days to attack Syria
by Michael Collins
September 5th, 2013
The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved a modified version of President Obama’s authorization to attack Syria on Tuesday, September 4. Remarkably, the resolution gives the president sixty days to attack Syria. It doesn’t place any limits on the type of attack, although cruise missiles have been mentioned frequently.
The sixty days is far beyond what the White House floated as their target time frame. The administration spoke of a few days worth of cruise missile attacks. The resolution gives the president nearly two months to bomb and strafe Syria, a nation that has not attacked or threatened to attack the United States or its allies.
The president’s option to tip the balance of the civil war
The Senate authorization moves the effort from a focused missile attack to deter future use of chemical weapons to an opportunity to shift the tide of battle from the Syrian government to the Free Syrian Army and their Al Qaeda jihadist allies.
The Syrian government has been winning the war against the rebels in the past two months. Victories in the critical cities of Qusayr and Homs were decisive and poised the Syrian government for a strike on Aleppo, the nation’s largest city now divided between rebel and government forces with a portion of the city controlled by Kurdish forces. Jihadist factions of the rebels and the Free Syrian Army faction have battled each other, decreasing rebel potency. After multiple attacks on Kurds by the Al Qaeda faction of the rebels, it is reasonable to assume that their efforts would favor the Syrian government.
But, two months to “degrade” the Syrian Army might be too tempting to pass up if the president and his war supporters in both parties decide that they want to achieve their initial goals of ending the rule of President Bashar Al Assad, seeing the country dissolve into chaos, and ending any alliance between Syria and Iran and Russia.
Military intervention in Syria has long been a goal of the White House. Obama and Secretary of State Clinton pushed for a repeat of the Libya “no-fly” zone, which turned into an air-ground coordinated effort with Libyan rebels to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi. A veto by Russian and China stopped that pattern in Syria. That left the administration, and governments of the United Kingdom, France, Turkey and the Gulf oil sheiks without their essential tools for victory. The “Assad must go” coalition was limited to importing lethal arms, foreign fighters, and large sums of cash which seem to have no audit trail.
If the resolution passes, it remains to be seen if Obama takes advantage of the sixty days to effect regime change. He will have the opportunity to do just that.
The vote was ten in favor, seven opposed to the attack authorization. Seven Democrats and three republicans voted for approval. Five Republicans and two Democrats voted against authorization. Chairman Robert Menendez, D-NJ, and senior committee members Bob Corker, R-TN, Dick Durbin, D-IL, and Barbara Boxer, D-CA, led the effort for approval. Rand Paul, R-KY, along with four conservative Republicans, voted with moderate to liberal Democrats Chris Murphy, D-CT, and Mark Udall, D-CO. The 60%-40% split may or may not be replicated in the full Senate depending on public response to the latest gateway to U.S. involvement in another Middle East war.
The ideological alignment of the Senate vote is of real interest. Of the five Republicans voting against approval, all are strong core conservatives including Libertarian leaning Senators Rand Paul and Ron Johnson; the Senate’s most conservative member, Senator James Risch of Idaho; and Florida’s Marco Rubio, “the crown prince of the Tea Party movement.” With forty-nine members of the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives and the balance of mostly hard right Republicans, the ideological climate is more belief driven than the Senate Republican contingent.
If there is a conservative revolt against House Speaker Dick Boehner, Republicans, the House Black Caucus (on record demanding congressional consideration), and an assortment of constitutionalist and other principled Democrats could generate a lively debate. If the issues of Al Qaeda involvement and the murder of Christians by rebels are raised, the administration risks popular outrage making a vote for attack very difficult for any representative planning to run in 2014.
The authorization vote today was based on one day of closed session hearings on Monday plus Tuesday and Wednesday’s public hearings. Apparently the seven Senators voting against authorization were unmoved by the “slam dunk” case blaming the chemical weapons attack on the Syrian government. No evidence has been released for public review. If proving the case to the public is important, the Senate committee failed entirely.
The resolution blames the “regime of Bashar al-Assad” for the conflict in Syria and the 100,000 deaths estimated by the United Nations. This is factually incorrect and naïve, in the extreme.
The UN total was deaths on all sides. It did not parse the figure by government or rebel actions. The naïve element of the resolution is so fundamental, it is shocking that no one brought it up. The Syrian rebels entered cities to initiate the armed attack against Syrian government police and other officials. They chose an urban battleground. They city dwellers didn’t invite the rebels; they just showed up and started fighting. This was the essential step to reach the high death toll. What did the Senate expect; that the Syrian government would give up its cities?
The resolution has as one of its rationales: “4) it is in the core national security interest of the United States to use such military force.” Which national interest might those be? Syria is not attacking the U.S. Syria is not threatening to attack the U.S. The government of President al-Assad has not attacked any nation in the region. What are pro attack Senators talking about? Are they just throwing out totally unfounded excuses with the hope that no one will notice?
The authorization references the War Powers Resolution of 1973 as thought it means much of anything. That law failed to prevent two invasions of Iraq, the Afghanistan occupation, and numerous other military actions. In fact, the War Powers Resolution has not stopped one single military action by the government since it passed forty years ago.
As we slip and slide toward another violation of international law, the only hope is that “the people’s House” will reflect the true will of the overwhelming public opposition to the attack on Syria.