If you cobble together every major decision that President Barack Obama has had to make since he entered the Oval Office, none has been more perplexing and difficult as the decision to strike Syria for using chemical weapons on its own people.
As members of Congress grapple with how they are going to vote, there is no typical constituency on any side of this debate. Congressional Black Caucus members, some of the staunchest supporters of Obama, are not enthralled with voting yes to authorize a military strike, sounding like many libertarian Republicans who can’t justify to their supporters the cost of the action.
House leaders John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Nancy Pelosi have all encouraged their members to support the action, but they are standing out on a ledge and few are trying to pull them back in. Members are being accused of flip-flopping on the issue, but that’s not how anyone should see this decision.
President Obama has made a series of statements on the issue, including his famous “red line” speech a year ago. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, two military veterans, have made the administration’s case, but there is still a lot of doubt and confusion as to whether the United States firing missiles and/or drones into Syria will make a bit of difference.
Turn to cable news and reliable hawkish conservatives are on opposite ends of this debate. And then you have reliable dovish liberals who are saying the president must act.
Frankly, I would hate to have to vote on this issue; you can reasonably make the case for hitting Syria and the case against the action, all at the same time.
But one thing is clear: The American people are not in favor of the action. The NBC/Wall St. Journal poll shows nearly 80 percent of Americans wanting the president to get congressional approval to strike Syria.
The overriding issue for Americans is we are sick of war. After the debacle in Iraq, the long slog in Afghanistan, seeing thousands of our men and women return from the battlefield battling debilitating injuries, PTSD and the suicide rate through the roof, Americans of all stripes have said enough is enough.
That really is the most difficult issue President Obama has to overcome, even if we are offended by the use of chemical weapons on humans, especially children.
President Obama has made it clear that striking Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad will not result in regime change. Well if we’re going to hit him hard, and it won’t alter the course of the civil war going on there, exactly why are we doing it?
Now for those who support President Obama, the other quagmire is taking out Assad and not knowing who will take over the country. There are numerous rebels fighting Assad, and some factions are led by al-Qaida. So taking out the Assad regime could put al-Qaida in charge of a major country in the Middle East, and now we have Afghanistan all over again.
Those are the fears expressed by members of Congress, and you know what? Everyone is right and no one is wrong.
Then the final issue is the credibility of America if we do nothing. “Our word is bond” has always been something American leaders have touted to the world. Saying that we would make Assad pay for using chemical weapons, and then not doing so, would embarrass the U.S. globally and allow Obama’s critics to gloat that he is a weak leader.
I’ve tried to look at this issue from multiple angles and have not been able to find a sense of certainty on either side. Members of Congress are getting an earful from their constituents in town hall meetings, and competing interests on all sides are lobbying.
If there ever were a time the phrase “vote your conscience” applied, this would be it. And truth be told, no matter how a member of Congress votes, I can’t be mad. Because those voting for or against will be right and just.