By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
Last week, President Obama announced from the Rose Garden that he would ask Congress to authorize the use of force in Syria as a response to a systematic chemical weapons attack against innocent civilians. While this decision was a surprise to many, including some Obama insiders, it was just what politicians in Alabama and the nation had been asking for.
For many days prior to the announcement, scores of Congressmen weighed in on just how important it was that the President let Congress debate the issue. Representative Mo Brooks (R) of Huntsville was one of 105 members of Congress who signed a letter to the White House calling on Obama to seek authorization for force from the people’s representatives. And the Commander-in-Chief listened.
While this might seem like an obvious action on the part of our President, it is not necessarily so. Historically, Presidents have typically not hesitated to act without legislative approval in military situations similar to this. President Clinton even used military force in Kosovo when the House was tied on the issue, 213-213.
Obama’s announcement came at a moment when Congress was in summer recess. Now, though, members of the legislature, including those from our state, will be headed back to Washington with Syria at the forefront of their agenda. Leadership in both houses has promised a vote on the issue, most likely by the end of the week.
Hopefully, however, five days will turn out to be longer than it seems. The same politicians who were calling for the ball to be thrown to Congress seem not to know exactly what team they are playing for, and five days does not seem like an abundance of time to figure that out, especially in the context in which the some politicians want it framed.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R), of our home state, for example, has stated that he wants not only to debate Syria before the vote, but also to debate “our broader strategy in the chaotic Middle East.” Confidence in the House and Senate is low, of course, but surely there is no one who believes that Congress, particularly in its current gridlock, can figure out our Middle East strategy by the end of the week.
National politicians are not making a one week vote look workable either. Senator Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky has even (off and on) threatened to filibuster if the bill reaches the floor, which, ironically, would deprive the Congress of the right for which it had so loudly cried: the right for an up or down vote on military action in Syria.
So, the political landscape around Syria begs many questions. Why did Obama even draw a red line if Congress is to decide its enforcement? Would he, like Clinton and many Presidents before him, defy Congress and act with military force if the resolution failed? But another question also looms: why did Congress beg so openly to make a decision they do not seem ready or willing to make? And how will our representatives vote?
If you have an opinion on military action in Syria, please contact your US Senator here or US Representative here. Congress asked for a vote, so they will get one.