US President Barack Obama gave Congress say Saturday on whether the US should enter the fray in Syria, but the move has left some in Washington unhappy and others scratching their heads.
The draft resolution was sent to Congress after an 11th-hour change of heart from Obama on authorizing military force against Syria, despite the fact few lawmakers had asked to be given say over the matter.
None of the four leaders of the House and Senate had requested a chance to vote, according to a report in Bloomberg News, and giving Congress a say, which is not required, went against the views of Obama’s top national security advisers.
Officials said Obama was ready all week to authorize a strike as retaliation for a chemical attack allegedly carried out by Syrian President Bashar Assad on August 21.
The about-face came about after a long stroll with top adviser Denis McDonough, and was based partially on an assessment by army chief Martin Dempsey that a strike need not come right away, Bloomberg reported.
But the move left Secretary of State John Kerry, who delivered an impassioned case for action Friday, holding the bag, some said. Kerry said the Assad regime killed 1,429 Syrians in the carefully planned attack.
“History would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency, these things we do know,” Kerry said then, adding that inaction would send the wrong message to both allies and foes in the region.
Giving lawmakers a say over the matter runs the risk that US planes will stay grounded, as British Prime Minister David Cameron found out last week when his parliament shot down military intervention.
Lawmakers are also reportedly unhappy with the content of the draft resolution, and it will likely undergo a number of changes in both the House and Senate, congressional aides told Politico.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a discussion Tuesday on authorizing force, chairman Robert Menendez said Saturday, though leaders from both chambers said a vote would likely not take place until the week of September 9.
According to Politico, the resolution was written up without any say from Capitol Hill, and is so broad as to give Obama the option of sending in ground troops, a move few lawmakers would support.
“There’s nothing in here about ‘no boots on the ground.’ That’s going to be a problem, a big problem, for a lot of people around here,” a Democratic aide told the website.
As currently written, the resolution would give Obama permission “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria in order toprevent or deter the use or proliferation (including the transfer to terrorist groups or other state or non-state actors), within, to or from Syria, of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical or biological weapons or components used in such weapons.”
Obama’s advisers would not say what the president will do if Congress does not approve military action. If he presses on with a bombing campaign despite their opposition, he would likely cast Congress as obstructionists allowing an autocrat to kill civilians without consequences.
“Here’s my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community,” Obama said Saturday. “What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?”