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Kerry’s Flimsy Case For War

Above: Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement about Syria at the State Department in Washington, Aug. 30, 2013. (Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)

As Kerry Makes Obama’s Flimsy Case for War, Where Is Congress?

Statements from Secretary of State John Kerry reveal White House determined to convince public that war serves national interest, but will public demands for debate take place before the missiles fly?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry took to national television on Friday in order to present the Obama administration’s case for war against Syria.

Though Kerry vowed the “mistake of Iraq” was not again taking place, his rhetorical case for war did little to inspire confidence in administration’s framework for war though much to remind potential viewers of when Colin Powell presented the case for war at the U.N. on behalf of the Bush administration a decade ago.

Demonstrators march on Aug. 29 near the White House to protest possible U.S. military intervention in Syria. (Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images)
Demonstrators march on Aug. 29 near the White House to protest possible U.S. military intervention in Syria. (Saul Loeb / AFP – Getty Images)

The document released by the White House is available here.

However, as the AP reported on Thursday, Kerry’s case seemed to confirm that though circumstantial evidence exists, nothing in the unclassified report released today by the administration would be considered a “slam dunk“.

In subsequent comments from the president himself at the White House, Obama indicated that though “no final decision” had been made, he said “my military” is looking at a variety of options.

Coinciding with Kerry and Obama’s comments, a new NBS poll shows that nearly 80% of Americans want the White House to bring the decision to engage militarily against Syria to Congress.

To that end, though drastically late to the table in most regards, rumblings among members of Congress signal a changing dynamic in Washington.

Though earlier in the week, Alan Grayson, an outspoken progressive Democrat from Florida admitted to Politico that most members of his party would only “become more vocal about the Syria attacks after they take place,” developments in the last twenty-fours prove that there may yet be a role for the legislative branch to play in stopping—or at least slowing—the Obama administration’s rush to attack Syria.

And even as much of the public challenge against the White House push for war so far has come from the president’s political opponents in the Republican Party, a letter drafted by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) on Thursday and signed by more than fifty colleagues shows that Obama may not receive full acquiescence from members of his own party in Congress before launching missiles strikes.

Citing the Congress’ constitutional “obligation and power to approve military force,” Lee’s letter “strongly” urges Obama to receive “an affirmative decision” from Congress prior to authorizing any “U.S. military engagement” in what it termed the “complex crisis” in Syria.

“While the ongoing human rights violations and continued loss of life are horrific,” Lee’s letter(pdf) continues, “they should not draw us into an unwise war—especially without adhering to our own constitutional requirements. We strongly support the work within the United Nations Security Council to build international consensus condemning the alleged use of chemical weapons and preparing an appropriate response; we should also the U.N. inspector the space and time necessary to do their jobs, which are so crucial to ensuring accountability.”

A separate letter, sponsored by Rep. Scott Rigell of (R-VA), represents the Republican opposition to rushed intervention in the House, it was also signed by some Democrats.

As The Hill reports,

There is some overlap between the two campaigns; 12 of the Democrats signing the Rigell letter have also endorsed Lee’s message.

The congressional pushback highlights the dilemma facing Obama as he tries to bring an end to Syria’s bloody and long-running civil war.

Comments by Rigell also suggest that events in the UK on Thursday night—where members of Parliament voted down an effort pushed by Prime Minister David Cameron to authorize British involvement in a strike on Syria—are having an impact on the way members of Congress are now viewing the situation.

“This beautiful Capitol is empty largely and yet a vigorous debate took place in the parliament in Britain,” said Rigell in an interview on MSNBC Friday morning. “I find it ironic given the history of our two countries that here we have the president operating—and I say this understanding the seriousness of it—it is not the King’s army. He must come before Congress.”

However, as Republicans like Rigell continued to put the focus on executive authority in what still seems like a partisan attack against a president with whom House GOP members have refused to share almost any common ground with throughout his term, Lee’s language was focused more on the inanity of the policy itself, cautioning against the damage an attack would have not only on U.S. standing in the world, but on the people of Syria and the wider Middle East.

“We must learn the lessons of the past. Lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and others,” said Congresswoman Lee. “We must recognize that what happens in Syria does not stay in Syria; the implications for the region are dire.”

All of this, however, says little about the deeper issues over the wisdom (or lack thereof) concerning a U.S. attack on Syria, but as Just Foreign Policy’s Robert Naiman writes, the debate in Congress is necessary not only because the Constitution demands it, but because the debate itself “surfaces key information.”

And over all this, as Bob Dreyfuss at The Nation observes—because Obama “doesn’t care about objections from Congress” and Kerry has now laid out the rationale—”it appears that the president of the United States will bomb Syria” despite warnings from all quarters. Dreyfuss writes:

Obama, who says that the attack is designed in some vague way to bolster the international treaty and convention against the use of chemical arms, is meanwhile flouting plenty of other parts of international law. He doesn’t care. The administration says that even [after] the British parliament voted against war, even if the head of the United Nations says don’t do it, even if the Arab League (which backed the bombing of Libya) says it won’t support an attack on Syria, well, who cares? We’re America! We do whatever the hell we want.

So it seems anyway, and as of this writing, despite the calls for Congressional action and debate, there is no sign from leaders of either party in the House of Representatives that lawmakers will be called back to challenge the president.

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