Hezbollah supporters fire weapons as they celebrate the fall of the Syrian town of Qusair to forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah fighters, in Bazzalieh village, Lebanon, near the Lebanese-Syrian border, Wednesday, June 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are agreed on one thing: they both want to get the United States more actively engaged in the fighting in Syria.
Obama announced last month that he hopes to ship arms to the Syrian opposition forces that are fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad. Boehner said this week that the president’s Syrian gambit “is in our nation’s best interest.”
Boehner’s endorsement of the move came as House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, announced, “After much discussion and review, we got a consensus that we could move forward with what the administration’s plans and intentions are in Syria consistent with committee reservations.”
But, make no mistake, an “in our nation’s best interest” quote from Boehner and an Intelligence Committee “consensus” ought not be read as congressional approval for a project that threatens to involve the United States in another war in another Middle Eastern country.
That’s a point made by a key Intelligence Committee member, California Democrat Adam Schiff, who announced this week, “I do not share that consensus, however, and wish to make my dissent clear. In my view, the modest chance for success of these plans does not warrant the risk of becoming entangled in yet another civil war.”
Schiff’s concerns are well-founded. And he is not alone. Polling shows that only 11 percent of Americans favor US moves to aid the rebels. And there are many in Congress—Republicans and Democrats, Obama critics and frequent Obama allies—who express profound reservations about the course chosen by the administration.
That ought to create a checking-and-balancing moment. After all, the Constitution clearly affords Congress the power to declare wars—and to define the scope and character of military interventions.
But, as Vermont Congressman Peter Welch asked this week, “Does Congress play a role?”
The answer, because of manipulations of the process by Boehner and his allies is basically “No.”
Congressman Welch, a Democrat who recently visited the Syrian border region, has emerged as an outspoken critic of moves to involve the United States in the conflict. Welch warns that “this is a significant military action. We are taking sides in a civil war.” It is this concern that led Welch and a number of Republican representatives to try and force Congress to engage in a serious debate about whether to get entangled in the Syria fight. Unfortunately, Boehner has manipulated the rules to aid Obama’s quest.