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Manchin Bill Would Force the Administration to Create Benchmarks in Syria | The Nation

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George Zornick

George Zornick

Action and dysfunction in the Beltway swamp. E-mail tips to george@thenation.com

Manchin Bill Would Force the Administration to Create Benchmarks in Syria

Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Last week we noted that Senator Joe Manchin was drafting a resolution that would create a forty-five-day waiting period for military intervention in Syria, which President Bashar al-Assad could avoid if he signed onto the international Chemical Weapons Convention and took “concrete steps” to comply with the terms of that treaty. Senator Heidi Heitkamp also supports the measure and has been working with Manchin.

Over the weekend, the actual bill was put on paper, and Manchin’s office told The Nation it is shopping the bill to other senators today, seeking support.

The full text of the resolution aligns with what was described to reporters last week, and also puts a little meat on the bones of a secondary aspect to the bill: a requirement that the Obama administration present a strategy to Congress within forty-five days of passage.

Many members have expressed concern that military intervention could quickly escalate into more prolonged involvement, and the bill would require the administration to clarify specific goals and benchmarks before launching any strikes:

That could be a very attractive provision to some senators—even if one believes the resolution only delays the inevitable, as Assad won’t sign the CWC treaty, it at least forces the administration to set specific benchmarks before intervention.

The bill also subtly reflects some of the growing uncertainty in Congress over the administration’s evidence of Assad’s culpability in the August 21 chemical weapons attack.

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Some members who have seen the classified evidence remain unconvinced, and yesterday on Meet the Press, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Buck McKeon, said plainly that “they haven’t linked it directly to Assad, in my estimation.” In his House testimony last week, Kerry hedged a little at times, blaming the attack on Assad or “generals under his charge.”

The preamble to Manchin’s resolution says, “Whereas the use of chemical weapons by the government of Bashar al-Assad against civilians in Syria…is an abhorrent act and a serious violation of international norms and the laws of war.” Notably, that language doesn’t pin the blame directly on Assad, and allows for the possibility that independent regime actors might have launched the attack.

Manchin’s office would not confirm the language was crafted with that uncertainty in mind, but declined to deny it.

Obama is proposing a war in Syria, not a limited strike, says Bob Dreyfuss.

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