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Congress, Think Carefully Before Intervening in Syria | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Congress, Think Carefully Before Intervening in Syria


US President Barack Obama talks to bipartisan Congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington while discussing a military response to Syria, September 3, 2013. (Reuters/Larry Downing)

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

President Obama’s decision to ask Congress to authorize any action towards Syria is both courageous and correct. He ignored the inevitable scorn he would get from the armchair patriots who believe the U.S. president can dispatch the military anywhere, at any time, for any reason. He reportedly overruled the advice of most of his national security team that wanted to strike Syria without going to Congress. After the British parliament rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s appeal for authority to join the United States in the Syrian strike, Obama knew the vote in this bitterly divided and dysfunctional Congress would be “a tough sell.”

But he made the right call, responding not only to his constitutional obligation but to the more than 150 legislators from both parties who signed letters calling on the president to seek approval from Congress before taking action. According to polls, a strike on Syria, even in response to the proven use of chemical weapons, is opposed by a plurality of Americans. Neither the United States nor its allies faces any imminent threat from the Syrian regime. If the United States is a constitutional democracy, surely this is a case where the Congress, the people’s representatives, should determine whether the nation gets involved in—as the president put it—“someone else’s war.”

Now it is time for democracy to work. The administration has begun to detail its case that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people. Members of Congress should probe and test the administration’s evidence, given the credibility gap created by the faulty intelligence that led to the Iraq war, not to mention the lies and distortions peddled by the Bush administration to sell that conflict. Congress should also arrange to receive and consider the report of the U.N. inspectors, because their report will be accepted by other members of the international community and will offer clues about those behind the attacks even if the mandate of the inspectors does not cover who was responsible for the alleged use of chemical weapons.

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

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