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September 06, 2013 8:55 AM Syria Roundup

By Ryan Cooper

Things aren’t looking great for the White House’s effort to get Congressional approval to strike Syria—at Wonkbook, here’s the headline: “If the House voted on Syria today, Obama would ‘lose big’”.

However, at Salon Brian Beutler thinks the House (the major sticking point) will eventually come around, and the strikes will happen:

As unpopular as the proposed action is right now, and as willing as President Obama’s political enemies were to criticize whatever he did vis-a-vis Syria so long as they had no ownership of it, the establishment is extraordinarily deferential to the executive branch when the president readies his Tomahawks…
Congress, in other words, is massaging the authorization to make it as painless as possible for majorities to support it — one that appears confining, but really isn’t; which allows the president to do what he wants, but also allows members to pretend they didn’t know it would be interpreted broadly. And if things get out of hand Obama can probably just ignore the authorization anyhow, or if time allows he can return to Congress amid crisis in search of more power.

Greg Sargent chimes in on a related point:

There are two categories of opposition to Syria strikes among Dems. The first is focused primarily on a desire to see the resolution put strict enough limits on Obama’s authority, as opposed to being against the idea of the strikes themselves. This includes Dems like Chris Van Hollen, and perhaps DeLauro and Miller above. The White House probably can win these folks.
The second category includes those who are not persuaded by the underlying rationale Obama has offered for strikes, as opposed to merely being concerned about the scope of authorization. This includes liberal Dems like Rick Nolan and Alan Grayson, and probably most of those who are already firm No votes. Those in this camp who have not spoken out may also not be persuadable. And this could be a sizable bloc, too. As Markos Moulitsas notes, “the class of 2006 and 2008 were elected in large part based on opposition to war.” We just don’t know yet how big this group is.

Stepping back, Chris Hayes interviewed Secretary Kerry, who’s be leading the charge for strikes:

HAYES: Well, I think that part of the confusion or trepidation from folks is aside from that, what is the — what is the Syria policy the day after the missiles land? Is it the U.S. policy that we want the rebels to win?
KERRY: The U.S. policy is that we want Assad to leave office through the Geneva communique process that has already been agreed on, which the Russians have signed up to, whereby there is a transition government put in place with the mutual consent of the opposing parties. That means the Assad regime has to agree, the opposition has to agree.

Opinion is scrambled on this one. Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl are for it. Charles Krauthammer is against the current plan. Retired General Robert Shales is acidly skeptical:

I feel confident that what follows represents the overwhelming opinion of serving professionals who have been intimate witnesses to the unfolding events that will lead the United States into its next war.
They are embarrassed to be associated with the amateurism of the Obama administration’s attempts to craft a plan that makes strategic sense. None of the White House staff has any experience in war or understands it. So far, at least, this path to war violates every principle of war, including the element of surprise, achieving mass and having a clearly defined and obtainable objective.

Michael Gerson is for it:

What has been dismissed as “therapeutic bombing” would actually be a military response to the violation of an important international norm. Not every gesture is an empty gesture. And even if this military action were wrong or pointless, it would have to be sufficiently dangerous to justify the gelding of the executive branch on a global stage.
A limited military strike may be symbolic. But for Congress to block that strike would be more than symbolic. It would undermine a tangible element of American influence: the perception that the commander in chief is fully in command.

Fareed Zakaria worries about the regime change ratchet:

Just as Obama’s past rhetoric has pushed America more deeply into this struggle, the current efforts to win congressional support are already producing mission creep. At a meeting with House leaders, the President spoke explicitly about a “limited” strike that would “send a clear message.” The same day, his Secretary of State had to assure hawkish members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “this is not sending a message per se,” implying that the strikes would be more substantial. Republicans like John McCain have indicated that they have also been given more detailed assurances of a more intense intervention.

Andrew Sullivan, meanwhile, is going Full Sully:

The US has no vital interests at stake in the outcome of a brutal struggle between Sunni Jihadists and Alawite thugs. None. Increasingly, as we gain energy independence, we will be able to leave that region to its own insane devices. Our only true interest is Saudi oil. And they will keep selling it whatever happens. Israel is a burden and certainly not an asset in our foreign policy. The obsession with the Middle East is increasingly a deranged one. Taking it upon ourselves to ensure that international norms of decency are enforced in that hell-hole is an act of both hubris and delusion. We can wish democrats and secularists well. But we can control nothing of their struggle, as the last few years have definitively shown. And when we try, we create as many problems as we may solve. Look at Libya.
My own fervent hope is that this is the moment when the people of America stand up and tell their president no.

And Ezra Klein provides a handy potential downsides listicle.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper

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