The draft language for authorizing force that Mr. Obama has sent to Congress is too narrowly drawn as a response to WMD. Congress should broaden it to give the President more ability to respond to reprisals, support the Syrian opposition and assist our allies if they are attacked.
If hawks want to ensure that the Syria resolution is defeated, by all means let Congress broaden it even more to make it that much more unacceptable to both houses. In that case, instead of losing by a few votes it can be overwhelmingly rejected. The resolution is already written in such a way that Obama would be authorized to wage a much larger war in Syria and potentially in other countries if he wished to, and he could continue ordering attacks for as long as the “conflict in Syria” continued. Jack Goldsmith explains:
It does not contain specific limits on targets – either in terms of the identity of the targets (e.g. the Syrian government, Syrian rebels, Hezbollah, Iran) or the geography of the targets. Its main limit comes on the purposes for which force can be used. Four points are worth making about these purposes. First, the proposed AUMF authorizes the President to use force “in connection with” the use of WMD in the Syrian civil war. (It does not limit the President’s use force to the territory of Syria, but rather says that the use of force must have a connection to the use of WMD in the Syrian conflict. Activities outside Syria can and certainly do have a connection to the use of WMD in the Syrian civil war [bold mine-DL].). Second, the use of force must be designed to “prevent or deter the use or proliferation” of WMDs “within, to or from Syria” or (broader yet) to “protect the United States and its allies and partners against the threat posed by such weapons.” Third, the proposed AUMF gives the President final interpretive authority to determine when these criteria are satisfied (“as he determines to be necessary and appropriate”). Fourth, the proposed AUMF contemplates no procedural restrictions on the President’s powers (such as a time limit).
As it is currently written, the resolution likely wouldn’t pass because it requests authorization for what could potentially be much more than a few “limited” strikes. If this resolution passed, Congress would be effectively signing off on U.S. strikes against targets both in and outside of Syria for as long as the war in Syria lasts. That isn’t what the administration claims that it wants to do, but why would anyone take their word for it? The Post reports on Congressional resistance to the current resolution:
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.
If there are real doubts that even a narrowly-worded resolution could pass, that suggests that an attack on Syria would be blocked by Congress, wouldn’t it? After all, Obama wouldn’t be crazy enough to launch attacks on Syria after Congress has said no, right? Not according to John Kerry:
A day after Barack Obama vowed to put any intervention in Syria to a vote of both the Senate and House of Representatives, Kerry said the administration was confident of winning a motion of the kind that David Cameron unexpectedly lost last week. “We don’t contemplate that the Congress is going to vote no,” Kerry said, but he stressed the president had the right to take action “no matter what Congress does” [bold mine-DL].
Many on both sides of the Syria debate have been puzzled by Obama’s reportedly “last-minute” decision to go to Congress. Hawks share Obama’s mistaken view that he doesn’t need Congressional authorization, so most of them don’t understand what he’s doing. Opponents of attacking Syria are pleased with the delay and the decision to have Congress vote on the issue, and some hope that this is Obama’s way of escaping from the ridiculous position he created for himself, but the decision seems very strange because Obama thinks he doesn’t need Congressional approval. In fact, what seems to be happening is that Obama is just pausing on launching the strikes until after Congress votes, and then will proceed with them regardless of the outcome of the vote. As far as the administration is concerned, Congressional approval offers some political cover, but Congress is viewed as little more than a rubber-stamp legislature on these matters whose views can be discarded when inconvenient.