Ethan: On the radio you said that President Obama should not be going to Congress to ask for authorization to strike Syria. I was quite surprised. Whichever side you are on, having our Congress united behind his decision seems vital to the effectiveness and strength of the attack.
Phil: What I said was that I was surprised he was choosing this path because he has done everything in his power to bypass and malign Congress for years. Suddenly he has the passion to find bipartisan solutions? Seems to me like political cover.
Ethan: To you he is being political. To me he is being deliberate and doing what leaders must: leading his country to unite behind a hard decision. And the fact that he would take the risk to go to Congress (something his political advisers advised against) shows me that he understands he must put petty differences aside for the sake of the country.
Phil: Really. Then why didn’t he – for the good of the country – take the risk of going to Congress before he declared there was a red line that Syria can’t cross?
Ethan: You wanted him to go Congress with a hypothetical? “If Assad does this, then I ask you to allow me to do this.” That is absurd. Congress has never authorized military force on such a hypothetical nor should they.
Phil: Okay, point well made.
Ethan: In terms of the red line of chemical weapons, that line was set internationally and acted upon by Congress before. Obama is simply asking Congress to affirm that the line still exists.
Phil: If this is an international red line, then why isn’t President Obama going to the United Nations asking them to vote on taking action?
Ethan: He knows China and/or Russia will veto any resolution calling for military action. It is the same problem George W. Bush faced prior to invading Iraq and why he also went around the U.N. It is also why I am skeptical of Republican opposition to Obama’s efforts. He is mirroring closely what past Presidents have done and what past Republicans have supported.
Phil: President Bush also tried to impress upon Congress the role that Assad was playing in terrorism by enabling weapons and terrorists to move freely through Damascus. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought congressional approval to address these facts, but was rejected by Senators Obama, Biden, Kerry and Hagel!
Ethan: Bush did not ask Congress for approval to attack Syria, nor did he ever launch such an attack. And the only thing Obama and Kerry did as senators was to encourage the administration to continue diplomacy as strongly as possible.
Phil: Nice diversion. Let’s leave it as the Obama administration finally got to see and understand what America was dealing with, and now what they see matters more clearly than it did from their Senate seats.
Ethan: OK, instead of debating the past, let’s look forward. How would you vote on the resolution if you were in the U.S. Senate?
Phil: Tell me, President Strimling, what is your goal and the tactics that will be deployed should you decide to act? Then I can tell you how I would vote.
Ethan: The goal, according to the Resolution voted out of the Foreign Relations committee, is threefold: “Respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction” by Syria, “deter Syria’s use of such weapons” against the U.S. and our allies, and “degrade Syria’s capacity to use such weapons in the future.” The tactics are obviously not outlined in a public resolution, but the president is authorized to use the Armed Forces as he deems necessary in a 90-day window.
Phil: Voting for this may provoke a nasty reaction by Syria and/or Iran and then we’re dealing with another full-scale conflict. And this time it seems plausible that it would involve Israel. I vote no.
Ethan: All of those issues were true with Iraq, but you supported that offensive. Where was this dove side of you when Bush received authorization for his full-scale war?
Phil: Just like your man Kerry now, Secretary Powell produced evidence of weapons of mass destruction, supported in public comments by the Clintons, McCain and others. On top of this, Saddam Hussein had already crossed the international red line of which you speak. The proclamation begins by going to the United Nations and broadcasting live for the world to hear. Finally, recall there was a coalition of more than a dozen countries agreeing to take action.
Ethan: Yes, I remember the “coalition of the willing.” I think we got about three troops from El Salvador and called it an international force! That said, I will accept your skepticism on whether chemical weapons were actually used by Assad. Powell and the war in Iraq have left us all doubting. And for that reason I too am hesitant to vote yes. However, if I met with the president and could be convinced that weapons of mass destruction were actually used on civilians and children, I would support the action. That is a line I cannot accept without retribution.
Phil: I could join you, if the president could convince me that he would be taking this same action against China or Russia if they used chemical weapons on their people.
Ethan: That is a scenario I hope our country never has to confront.