Sunday, September 8, 2013

Syria Vote (2)

I have just spent almost two hours listening to highlight segments of the Sunday talk shows. The discussions have been animated, boisterous even, and with less predictable ideological commentary than usual. Here's what I take to be the summary right now:

  • The President will win the vote in the Senate, but lose in the House. Liberal Democrats will link with libertarian and Tea Party Republicans to effect the defeat.
  • This would be the first time a President has asked for authorization for the use of military force and been turned down by Congress.
  • If the vote is defeated, Obama will be crippled domestically, and the US' credibility will be seriously damaged on the world stage, especially vis a vis Iran.
  • A good many were baffled by why the President chose to go to Congress, when he could have struck without seeking authorization, and it was obvious he would lose the vote. No one suggested that he might have done this because he felt it was simply the right thing to do; passing the buck to Congress, to remove the decision from his shoulders, was the favored explanation. Almost everyone agreed that this course change represented the President "blinking", showing himself to be indecisive.
So what will happen? The President will put on a full court press this week, including a Tuesday evening speech. Israel, through its lobbying group, AIPAC, is going to flood Congress with 250 lobbyists to talk to every single member of Congress to let them know this is a crucial vote. Will it be enough? I don't really know, but here's what intuition is telling me: the President will get a conditional authorization to use force, subject to his spending a specified number of days trying to get Syria/Assad to stand down from using chemical weapons, to sign the Chemical Weapons Treaty, and possibly to destroy their current stockpile and/or turn it over to UN observers. Senators Manchin and Heitkamp are circulating such a resolution in the Senate right now. I think momentum will build for a compromise like this throughout the week.

My conclusion: the President will get a resolution he can support within 10-14 days. I'm not as confident as I was in my first post, but I think the political tide will turn by mid-week. Many, but certainly not all, will conclude that bringing the question to Congress is really a demonstration of strength, not weakness; that the President needs to forcefully make the point that chemical weapons use is unacceptable; that defeating the strike resolution would not just weaken the President, it would weaken the country; that we must send consistent messages to Iran; and that making a short-term diplomatic push (before striking) could make good sense.

An important week coming up.

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