Congress will get to have its say on whether it thinks President Obama should conduct limited military air strikes against Syria, and that is a good thing. However, the president lost the effectiveness of those strikes when he failed to take action sooner. Members of his national security staff were convinced it was the right thing to do, but he failed to heed their advice.
Indecision is a hallmark failure for leaders at any level, and Obama will be the loser on this issue, regardless of what Congress decides. And it’s extremely fitting that a usually divided and unyielding Congress is now on a hot seat, facing a decision it cannot avoid.
Especially troubling for members of Congress are the polls showing most Americans oppose Syrian air strikes. The opposition in four polls ranges from a high of 59 percent to a low of 41 percent. Those favoring military action range from a high of 42 percent to a low of 25 percent. The undecided numbers range from 5 to 34 percent.
Although the use of chemical weapons in Syria is an extremely serious issue, it is somewhat comical to finally see liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans in the same boat on both sides of the Syrian question. It’s a rare sight in Washington, D.C., these days.
I have especially enjoyed seeing far-left members of Congress like U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and columnists like Eugene Robinson abandon their liberal views in order to support questionable military action by their Democratic president. However, there are also some of their liberal colleagues on the other side. A number of conservative Republicans oppose any military action, and some of them have been accused of fighting anything Obama wants to do.
The Associated Press reported Friday that at least six of 37 freshmen Republicans in the House have said they would vote against giving Obama the authority to use military force against Syria, two have announced their support and the rest are undecided. An AP survey found 36 senators in support of air strikes, 29 against and 35 undecided.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, oppose air strikes. Vitter said events in Syria don’t pose a threat to the United States or its allies and U.S. action could spark a broader war. Fleming talked about the uncertainty and volatility of the situation in Syria.
They are the only two of Louisiana’s six Republicans in Congress who have taken a strong stand against military action. Four GOP members said they are still weighing the pros and cons. Reps. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, and Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, told The Advocate they are leaning towards voting against military action. Alexander is leaving Congress to become Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s veterans affairs secretary. Boustany represents this corner of the state.
Reps. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, and Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, think going to Congress is a good idea, but didn’t say how they would vote. Sen Mary Landrieu and Rep. Cedric Richmond, the two Democrats, also think Congress should be involved in the decision, but said they haven’t committed to support Obama’s actions.
It is easy to understand why many members of Congress are undecided. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., got to the heart of the issue in an AP report.
“I haven’t heard a word about how the targeted, limited strikes protect America’s national security,” Walorski said. “How does it fit into a long-term plan for the Middle East? What is the endgame? Giving (Syrian President Bashar) Assad two weeks to move all his weaponry around while we sit here and do whatever the president’s doing? I’ve got a lot of questions; my district has got a lot of questions.”
Supporters of military action also make convincing arguments. Two of them are Republican Reps. Luke Messer of Indiana and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran who is running against Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
“America doesn’t like to watch bullies stand by and do evil things to their people,” Messer told members of Obama’s national security team. “But the American people inherentlly understand, intuitively understand, that there are high risks to action here too. And if I were to make a suggestion, I think we’ve got a lot of work to do to help the American people understand why the risks of action are less than the risk of inaction.”
Congress can’t avoid getting involved now, but some members are skeptical. National Journal, a Washington, D.C., political news magazine, said they believe Obama asked them for support so they would share the blame if the exercise backfires.
“Perhaps the most unenviable job in the world these days is to be a member of the Congress wrestling with what to do about the crisis in Syria…,” National Journal said.
Maybe so, but isn’t it time they earned their keep? Six recent national polls show the job approval rating of Congress ranges from a low of 11 percent to 21 percent. Its disapproval rating ranges from a high of 83 percent to a low of 69 percent. Doing something — anything — has to improve those numbers.
Unfortunately, Obama’s reckless decision to draw that red line and then his procrastination after it was crossed makes it unlikely that much good would come from a military strike this late in the game.