Sep 02 2013

Aggressive War on Syria: State of Play

Obama’s proposal seeks broad war power despite vow of limits

By Michael Doyle, McClatchy

Sunday, September 1, 2013

While President Barack Obama insists he wants only a limited air attack on Syria, his proposed authorization of force would empower him to do much more than that. Congress is likely to impose tighter reins, as lawmakers have learned that presidents are prone to expand on powers once granted

The substantive part of Obama’s proposed authorization of the use of military force, conveyed to congressional leaders over the weekend, contains 172 words. That’s significantly more than either the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution authorizing the Vietnam War or the 2001 resolution authorizing retaliation for the 9/11 terror attacks, two measures that later became notorious for how aggressively presidents used them.

The proposed resolution gives Obama a go-ahead to use the military as he “determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria.” Specifically, the president could act to “prevent or deter the use or proliferation” of the weapons or to “protect the United States and its allies and partners” from the weapons.”

Tellingly, University of Texas Law School Professor Robert Chesney said in an interview, Obama’s proposed authorization did not include a sunset date. Chesney suggested that “if the administration is serious about wanting to act in such a truly narrow, time-limited way,” then a sunset measure could be useful.

“These details may not matter much if all the president intends is a modest shot across the bow, as he suggested a few days ago,” said George Mason University School of Law Professor Ilya Somin Sunday. “But they could be significant if U.S. military intervention goes beyond that – including if it ends up expanding farther than the president may have originally intended.”

Publicly, Obama has repeatedly said that “we would not put boots on the ground.” His proposed authorization, though, did not limit the kinds of military forces that could be used. It also does not specify the forces against which force can be used.

If it passed the House and Senate, the authorization would meet the domestic U.S. requirements of the War Powers Resolution, as well as give the Obama administration some political cover. It would not, however, necessarily address international legal requirements.

“Unfortunately, the president’s draft (authorization) states a violation of international law in every line,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a University of Notre Dame law professor. “Resort to military force is not permitted to punish the use of banned weapons; to address arms proliferation, or to respond to vague threats to the United States.”

National self-defense or actions explicitly authorized by the United Nations’ Security Council are the only two kinds of military action acceptable under international law, O’Connell explained.

Lawmakers not optimistic Obama’s Syria plan will pass

By Michael A. Memoli, Kathleen Hennessey and Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times

September 1, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

Members of Congress from across the political spectrum reacted with deep skepticism Sunday to President Obama’s bid for approval of strikes against Syria, with lawmakers raising doubts about whether a vote would succeed.

Few of the approximately 100 members of Congress who returned to Washington for a classified intelligence briefing Sunday said they would support the administration’s request to authorize the use of force, even though they showed little doubt that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government was behind the alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21.

The administration now appears to face a two-front battle to win the support of Congress, needing to convince skeptical representatives of a war-weary public on the one hand and more hawkish lawmakers seeking an even tougher response on the other. And it has just more than a week to do so.

“The administration better make a whale of a case or I think they’re very much in danger, certainly in the House, of losing this,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said.

“I can’t contemplate that the Congress would turn its back on all of that responsibility, and the fact that we would have in fact granted impunity to a ruthless dictator to continue to gas his people,” Kerry said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Those are the stakes. And I don’t believe the Congress will do that.”

But there were already indications that Congress could do just that.

Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the longest-serving member of the Senate, told reporters that the draft resolution sent to Congress on Saturday will be amended this week when senators begin to hold hearings on the issue, and that the Judiciary Committee he chairs has already begun working on alternative wording that would narrow the scope of the mission Congress would authorize.

“I will not support a blank check to go to war in Syria. But I will support a very narrowly drawn authorization for the specific purpose of deterring future chemical weapons use in Syria and other places around the world,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “And I will certainly oppose efforts that seem to have been articulated by some people to actually broaden the mandate.”

US politicians sceptical as Obama administration puts case for Syria strike

Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Sunday 1 September 2013 19.31 EDT

A classified briefing was held on Capitol Hill on Sunday a few hours after Kerry made the rounds of all five Sunday talk shows in the US, mounting a strong defence of President Obama’s unexpected plan to allow Congress a vote on military action against the Syrian government.

Presented with the awkward scenario that Congress would not back Obama, Kerry stressed that the president had the power to act anyway. But Kerry said he was confident of a yes vote. “We don’t contemplate that the Congress is going to vote no,” Kerry told CNN.

As members of Congress emerged from the briefing, it was clear that the Obama administration could not be sure of the outcome of the president’s high-risk strategy. In particular, Obama could not count on his own party to deliver the votes. “I don’t know if every member of Congress is there yet,” said Representative Janice Hahn, a California Democrat who said she would vote no on authorising a military strike. “The room was sceptical,” said Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat.

At an emergency meeting in Cairo, the Arab League called on the United Nations and the international community to take “deterrent” measures under international law to stop the Syrian regime’s crimes, but could not agree on whether to back US military action. In their closing statement, Arab foreign ministers held the Assad regime responsible for the “heinous” chemical attack, saying the perpetrators should be tried before an international court “like other war criminals”.

Deeper involvement in the Syrian civil war has prompted reluctance within the US military to bless even a one-off military strike. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and a multi-tour veteran of Iraq, has voiced such fears for more than two years.

Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian Republican, put the chances of an authorisation vote in the House of Representatives at 50-50. “I think the Senate will rubber stamp what he wants but the House will be a much closer vote,” he told NBC.

Legislators estimated that between 100 and 150 members of Congress attended Sunday’s classified briefing in the basement of the US Capitol, representing approximately a fifth of the Senate and House.

Scott Rigell, a Virginia Republican, praised Obama for going to Congress, even as Rigell said he would not vote for the resolution. “What I wrestle with, and of course I am continuing to wrestle with this, is how do we define success and our objective, and a full understanding and consideration of the ramifications,” Rigell said.

Syria resolution will be ‘a very tough sell’ in Congress, lawmakers say

By Paul Kane and Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post

Published: September 1

Leading lawmakers dealt bipartisan rejection Sunday to President Obama’s request to strike Syrian military targets, saying the best hope for congressional approval would be to narrow the scope of the resolution.

From the Democratic dean of the Senate to tea party Republicans in their second terms, lawmakers said the White House’s initial request to use force against Syria will be rewritten in the coming days to try to shore up support in a skeptical Congress. But some veteran lawmakers expressed doubt that even the new use-of-force resolution would win approval, particularly in the House.

“I think it’s going to be a very tough sell,” said Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), who is often a key crossover Republican in compromises with the White House. For now, Cole said he is “leaning no” on approving any use of force against Syria.

Aware of the growing bloc of Republican isolationists, senior GOP aides warned Sunday that a large number of Democrats will have to support the use-of-force resolution for it to have any chance. Advisers in both parties described the measure as a “vote of conscience” that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will not be lobbying lawmakers to support.

Obama’s allies said the first order of business will be to work with the administration to redraft the resolution, which was sent to Capitol Hill on Saturday night and barely filled one page. It had no prescriptions for what type of military action could be carried out or its duration.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the dean of the Senate and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters that the resolution is “too open-ended” as written. “I know it will be amended in the Senate,” he said.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a former chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said, “That has to be rectified, and they simply said in answer to that they would work with the Congress and try to come back with a more prescribed resolution.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a former Senate staffer who inspected chemical weapons attacks by Saddam Hussein’s government against its own citizens in Iraq in the 1980s, said he will push to add language that would limit the length of the mission and prohibit putting U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.

Such provisions could gain support from lawmakers who want to rein in the Obama administration, without hampering the goals of the mission – which the president has said should be limited to missile strikes against military targets.

Hollande Pushed to Join U.S., U.K. in Taking Syria to Lawmakers

By Mark Deen, Bloomberg News

Sep 2, 2013 1:41 AM ET

President Francois Hollande faces increasing pressure to give France’s National Assembly a say in his Syrian policy as the U.S. Congress prepares to vote on approving a military strike against the Middle Eastern country.

“The French should be consulted through their representatives,” Bruno Le Maire, an opposition lawmaker and former agriculture minister, said yesterday on BFM television. “The risk today is that France becomes a puppet of decisions made in the U.S.”

About two-thirds of voters are against intervention in Syria, a BVA poll for Le Parisien newspaper showed. BVA interviewed 1,010 adults Aug. 29-30. The results have a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

Hollande, who as France’s commander-in-chief isn’t legally required to consult parliament, had already asked lawmakers to debate taking action against Syria. The debate is scheduled for Sept. 4.

“Since the president of the U.S. has decided to consult Congress, the French president should do the same and organize a formal vote in parliament after the debate,” former Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said in a statement.

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