Friday, September 06, 2013

Once More (About Syria), With Feeling (and Editing)

The Wichita Eagle ran today a much condensed (and, I suppose, perhaps much improved) version of my post from Monday on my wish/hope that Congress will, in fact, send President Obama a "no" on Syria. For anyone who can't get enough of me, here it is:

Sometime in the next week or so, Congress will vote on whether to authorize President Obama’s plan to bomb military sites in Syria as a response to President Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, supports authorizing the attack, but he has made it clear that he wants a “much more robust” plan of action in Syria than the president has suggested. That implies that he might vote down any resolution that he doesn’t believe provides enough strength for America’s position. I think such reasoning is wrong--but if it gets him to vote “no,” I’ll take it.

Why? Because if Congress votes “no,” for a good or bad reason, it will mean two very good things: The United States will be less likely to involve itself in yet another Middle Eastern conflict, and (much more important) Congress will have taken at least one tiny step in the direction of perhaps standing up against the imperial, war-making powers that our presidents have routinely used and expanded. So however it comes, a “no” vote is what I’d like to see.

As I said, there are both better and worse reasons for doing this. Pompeo’s neoconservative talking points, which suggest that Obama and his team are simply too weak to manage any kind of proper military action, are a lousy way to get to my preferred end. All they really mean is that if Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., or Pompeo were in charge, bombing Syria would be a fine idea.

It absolutely isn’t, for many reasons: We have no international support for doing so; bombing one country because it violates an international convention while we continue to support another country – Egypt – that is also in violation of international conventions is terribly hypocritical; providing support for the rebel cause in Syria will position us on the side of organizations with a history of anti-American terrorism; there is little evidence that the Syrian government particularly cares about U.S. “credibility” anyway.

Still, I look at these things as someone who is worried about the dysfunction and corruption of our constitutional order. As much as I am opposed to much of the libertarian ideology, at least the isolationist, anti-war position of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has the same crucial political concerns. In this case, I truly wish Pompeo, beyond enjoying the money and influence of Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity, would actually take their point seriously – that the U.S. is not, and should never act like, an empire, no matter what course President Bush may have set us upon.

Of course, I am not naive here. Bush was only continuing the long tradition of presidents assuming for themselves an expansive reading of their authority as commander in chief. The War Powers Resolution may be the law of the land, but every president since Richard Nixon has dismissed it as unconstitutional, and there is little chance of it emerging as a legal cause to tie the president’s hands at this time.

Still, I believe in legislative supremacy. One vote won’t achieve that. But while a “yes” would just license power that Obama – like every president – has grabbed, a “no” just might become a line in the sand that those of us who want to limit America’s role in the world could build upon. So give me a “no,” please, for whatever reason.

No comments: