How congressional authorization of Syria strike might escalate into war

A bi-partisan group of Senators have written a compromise resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria.


A new use-of-force resolution for Syria sets a 60-day deadline, with one 30-day extension possible, for President Barack Obama to launch military strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad -- and it will also bar the involvement of U.S. ground forces in Syria.

The revised resolution was crafted by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, following several days of negotiations. The panel is set to vote Wednesday on the proposal.

A president can get in an awful lot of trouble in 90 days. And while the resolution prohibits ground forces except in an "emergency," Garance Franke-Ruta, writing in the Atlantic, sees the possibility of escalation:

But I wonder if there's not also a logic of escalation that comes into play now that Obama has requested Congressional authorization, creating a very real possibility that the result of a formal authorization for use of force will be a more aggressive or protracted intervention than what we'd have seen had the president not sought Congress's buy-in. If Obama had acted alone to order a bombing campaign over Labor Day weekend, that would likely have been the end of it. Outraged liberals and furious isolationist Republicans would have united in criticism of his use of presidential power, rallying forcefully against further intervention in a conflict the vast majority of Americans don't want the U.S. to enter.

Now, however, we are seeing pressure from Republican hawks for the administration to go beyond Obama's rather clinical rationale for intervention -- upholding the international norm against chemical-weapons use that the major norm-setting international institutions, such as the U.N., scarcely seem devoted to any more. Senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham want the outcome of the congressional process to be a strategic plan for resolving the conflict in Syria and removing Bashar al-Assad from power.

"We cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the president's stated goal of Assad's removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict, which is a growing threat to our national security interests," McCain and Graham said in a statement Saturday.

The same message is coming from a chorus of hawks in the press, who are arguing that an intervention that sends a message on chemical weapons but fails to change the balance of power in the underlying conflict is inadequate. "Congress should not support any resolution that does not, in addition to targeting chemical weapons, also aim to turn the tide against Assad and pressure him to seek a negotiated settlement," National Review's Mario Loyola argued, in one of many examples of people calling for a broader approach. Nor is it just hawks -- an intervention without "an objectives-based strategy" defies logic, according to Frederic Hof, the former Obama State Department point man on Syria. One writer has even accused Obama of flirting with "appeasement" in Syria.

Did anyone bother to ask the Syrian "rebels" if they even want a "negotiated settlement"? Time and time again over the last two years, the political and military opposition to President Assad have made it crystal clear that they will not sit down and negotiate until Assad steps down or is overthrown. "Turning the tide" against Assad is a pipe dream - unless we want to invade. I doubt whether Congress will approve of any resolution that grants the president that kind of leeway.

The hawks have a point about the idiocy of limited objectives for the strike, but the answer isn't escalation. With the American people dead set against any strike at Syria, drawing out the bombing campaign would be a political disaster and would lead to an uncertain situation in a very volatile part of the world.