Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 14, 2016

Strike on Syria Coming Soon — With Hill Informed, but Not Asked for Permission

A punitive assault on Syria will be launched as soon as the end of the week, but not before details of the strike have been relayed to all the senior members of Congress entitled to advance notice of such military action.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made that much clear this morning. He echoed the other hawkish former senator with a top foreign policy job in the Obama administration, Secretary of State John Kerry, leaving no doubt that air strikes are inevitable and relatively imminent.

The Pentagon has moved four destroyers into the eastern Mediterranean and has fighter jets and bombers on standby “to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take,” Hagel told The BBC, adding, “We are ready to go.”

One predicate to the strike is that the United States will formally declare, probably by the end of the day, that its intelligence agencies have conclusive evidence that Bashar Assad’s government launched a large-scale chemical weapons attack in the 2-year-old Syrian civil war.  

In addition to consultation calls with top congressional Republicans, including Speaker John A. Boehner and Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Corker, President Barack Obama has also been reaching out to foreign leaders in hope of shaping a broad international coalition to support those strikes. (The United Nations would not bless military action because of the veto power of Russia, which is sympathetic to the Assad regime.)

The administration believes that the relatively limited military actions it envisions does not require advance permission from Congress — only a heads-up to members of the leadership.

Some conservative Republicans strenuously disagree, and are sure to complain after the coming strikes that Obama has broken his constitutional vows and far exceeded his powers as commander in chief.

But Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck made plain on Monday that the House leader disagrees with those people in his ranks, and that there’s no chance lawmakers will be called back early from their August recess to debate an authorization resolution.

“The speaker made clear that before any action is taken there must be meaningful consultation with members of Congress, as well as clearly defined objectives and a broader strategy to achieve stability,” Buck said.

The hint there is that GOP leaders are already looking beyond the punitive, but limited strikes, and hoping the administration has a plan to sell Congress in the fall — whether formally or informally is not yet clear — for helping stabilize the Syrian situation without resorting to more intense and risky forms of intervention.

Getting the military involved is not at all popular with the voters; a Reuters poll this week found only 25 percent favoring an intervention in light of the chemical weapons attack. And many lawmakers expect that if Assad is toppled, he will be replaced by an extremist regime that would not behave more to the U.S. government’s liking.

  • Robin Cohen

    America doesn’t support this and it will cost Obama in 2014.
    Does Congress have the guts to deny funding? Too bad he’s not up for reelection.

    • Layla

      No, but the US House is and 1/3 of the Senate. Time to clean out the traitors and the dead wood, both sides.

      • Robin Cohen

        Indeed it is. We should NOT support another war.

  • Buford2k11

    Umm…Hey John A. Boehner…how are you proposing to pay for this next war? Take a pay cut?…John McCain gonna write a check? FOOD STAMPS that’s it…Maybe next time Carrier McCain goes to Syria, we drop him instead of a missile? Maybe Ted the Cruzer can defund this thing now…Stop pushing for a bad decision…

    • uncletumbleweed

      The administration believes that the relatively limited military actions it envisions does not require advance permission from Congress — only a heads-up to members of the leadership. (administration is President Obama…)

      • Gyre

        Wishful thinking. Hoping that Congress doesn’t notice it’s not even being consulted.

  • Layla

    Vote this WORTHLESS CONGRESS OUT, BOTH SIDES, as well as their leadership.

  • George Turner

    About the only halfway decent option I see for Syria is for the US to use its ties to militaries throughout the region and convince a number of countries to form an allied coalition under a unified command, to fill the rebel power vacuum with generals and forces from Egypt (though they’re busy at the moment), Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Turkey, the UAE, and even Pakistan, with the aid of NATO or other troops if needed. The goal would be to displace Al Nusra, Al Qaeda, and other jihadist militants while simultaneously displacing Assad, Hezbollah, and the Syrian leadership, basically putting a foot down to stop the civil war and restore public order by removing everyone in charge on both sides. It’s a double-decapitation strategy.

    The region needs to attempt what Europe perhaps should have done to handle the breakup of Yugoslavia, treating it as a failed state and ensuring that any breakup is peaceful, dousing the fires of sectarian hatreds and vengeance by putting a lot of boots on the ground. As evidenced by the flow of money and weapons, neither the Gulf oil states nor other moderate countries want to see a victory for either Assad or his jihadist opponents (who are just going to stir up more trouble back home if they win), which means regional powers might agree to create a stronger third horse and insert it into the fight. They’ve looked for a viable (and moderate) rebel army to back, and unfortunately one doesn’t presently exist, and since it seems no country is willing to stick its neck out and commit troops in a conventional war against Syria, a coalition is required. It would let them share out the blame and responsibilities.

    If such a force insisted that it will fully protect the rights of both Shias, Sunnis, and Alawites, and the sponsoring countries ensured that their deployed forces reflected that diversity (especially at the higher command levels), they might avoid a strong sectarian backlash from Shias in Iran, Lebanon, and southern Iraq and gain broad support from the region’s public, which wants an end to the violence and the threat of a major sectarian bloodbath that might engulf other states.

    If Syrians on both sides are more afraid of their neighbors (and their currently bleak future) than they are of an invasion and occupation from a broad coalition of Muslim moderates under the watchful eyes of the UN, then they might welcome such forces. Of course Iraq argues that this might not be the case, and that despite logic and reason they’ll just welcome a third group of targets to the party.

    Unfortunately, convincing any of the countries in the region to cooperate, contribute soldiers, and agree amongst themselves to a unified command would take a lot of leadership and persuasive power, which the Obama Administration has largely squandered in the region. So I just figure we’ll lob some missiles, cluck our tongues, and moan about the lack of a morally viable rebel army we could support.

    • Gyre

      You’re not going to get Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan or Kuwait. Saudi will waffle around the edges but actually expose themselves to the wrath of the other Islamic countries? I don’t see any of these throwing in.

  • Dominick

    The U.S. government is a clear and present danger to decent people everywhere. It has not an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of moral credibility left and has no business dictating or even proposing that anything happen or not happen in the Middle East or anywhere else. And this president . . . How empty. I have the small consolation that I never voted for him, the biggest conman in U.S. history, and never believed the hype about hope and change. But now he’s done it. Say goodbye to your vaunted national security. Say hello to totalitarian state.

  • El Puma

    We are not the world police; that said, it is a difficult proposition to simply stand by at this critical moment. I am thoroughly glad this is not my decision to make.

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