Chaos Reigns in Congress as Syrian Military Strike Slips to Plan B

  • Share
  • Read Later
Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images

President Barack Obama delivers a statement on Syria during a meeting with members of Congress at the White House in Washington, DC, September 3, 2013.

The Obama Administration’s decision to prioritize the pursuit of a diplomatic solution to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons plunged Congress into a holding pattern Tuesday, complicating an already chaotic situation on Capitol Hill.

“There are so many moving parts,” says Congressman Aaron Schock, a Republican from Illinois. “The Administration’s statements continue to change over a 24-hour period. We’re going to strike, we’d like Congress’s approval, we don’t need Congress’s  approval—that’s what we heard last week—to now we may not strike if Assad gives up his weapons to Russia.”

President Obama’s aides have indicated that even as they continue to seek Congressional authorization to use military force, they will now pursue international discussions on a Russian proposal to secure Syria’s chemical stockpile. An Obama administration official said those efforts “will begin today at the United Nations, and will include a discussion on elements of a potential U.N. Security Council resolution.” The official said the administration would seek signs of progress within days, or press ahead with Congressional votes.

The latest hairpin turn left some lawmakers hopeful that the U.S. could avoid becoming embroiled in a bloody civil war with no good outcome. Others were bewildered by the development, as a military strike suddenly slipped to Plan B before the White House lobbying blitz had even begun to ramp up.

In the meantime, the Senate, which is scheduled to act first on the issue, has begun adjusting its timetable. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed on Monday a procedural motion that would have paved the way for an initial Senate test vote on the use of military force. A bipartisan group of Senate negotiators are reportedly working on a proposal that would call for a team of United Nations inspectors to sequester Syria’s chemical weapons within a specific time frame. Exactly how long is unknown.

A diplomatic solution negotiated under the auspices of the U.N. could be a face-saving solution for the White House. It would hand Obama a reprieve from making the unpopular decision to plunge the U.S. into a sectarian conflict with ripple effects across a restive region. And it would avert a Congressional standoff that Obama seems increasingly likely to lose. On Tuesday, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Ohio Republican Rob Portman said they would vote against striking Syria, adding their votes to a ledger that looks grim for the White House.

As they left a standing-room only meeting in the bowels of the Capitol, House Democrats indicated there was broad support within their caucus for a diplomatic solution. But Democrats, who were being counted on to supply the bulk of the votes on a resolution to authorize punitive strikes against Assad, are not off the hook yet.

“This is an opportunity. And it should be taken and looked at seriously,” says Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the chamber’s Intelligence Committee. House Democratic leaders noted that 173 current members of Congress had voted for a 2003 bill designed to stop Syria’s development of weapons of mass destruction—which suggests they may be asked to live up to their commitment. “They need to vet this out,” Representative Steve Israel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters Tuesday morning at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “If this is a credible diplomatic alternative, take it. If this is a subterfuge, stay away from it.”

Steny Hoyer, the House Democratic whip, emphasized the need to ensure that it was not a “rope-a-dope” situation designed to stall the U.S. from acting. The timetable for making that assessment was “days, not weeks,” Hoyer said. But others said that White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, who briefed members during the hour-long meeting, had not specified a timetable for determining whether Russia’s proposal was a genuine offer or a tactical ploy.  And House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi noted that if diplomatic negotiations dragged and Obama “sees an opportunity,” he still had the authority to strike.

House Democrats also sought to frame the proposal that emerged overnight as a longstanding White House position. “They’re claiming it was their idea in the first place,” says Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida, who opposes intervention, as he left the Democratic caucus meeting.

Obama made that assertion Monday night in an interview with Fox News. “I did discuss this with President Putin. This is something that is not new,” he said, adding that the topic was first raised with Russian leaders at the G-20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, in June 2012. “It doesn’t solve the underlying Syrian conflict, but if we can solve this chemical weapons issue, which is a threat to us and the world, then it does potentially lay the groundwork for further discussions around how you can bring about a political settlement.”

Republicans, who have panned Obama’s handling of the crisis from the start, were skeptical of the latest moves. But even some of the GOP’s most hawkish members conceded the Russian proposal was worth running to ground. “I don’t see Assad wanting to turn over his chemical weapons. I would think we have to assume from the start that this is a delaying attack by Russia,” says Republican Congressman Peter King of New York.

“Get a U.N. Security Council vote within a week and get a specified time in there,” King says, making clear his support for a possible diplomatic solution. “Can’t go more than a few weeks—the whole thing.”

With reporting by Zeke J. Miller and Alex Rogers

17 comments
EYES-WIDE-OPEN
EYES-WIDE-OPEN

Obama has done the talk; how about him now doing the walk!

PerryWhite1
PerryWhite1

I find this vastly amusing. The GOP demanded Obama consult with Congress, so he did ... and now they have absolutely no idea what to do.

"Be careful what you wish for."

Chelliah
Chelliah

The  Ruskis have outsmarted the west who could only think of bombing Syria. They never thought about the collateral damage nor history which many will remember is that the US constantly used chemical weapons eg Napalm in Vietnam and have constantly said that Saddam would use chemical weapons in the Iraq wars. Guess who used it. The US used Napalm.

After effects of the effects of Napalm are still being felt in Vietnam. Children are still being born deformed.

The US, UK and France have been caught with their pants down. But of course the uprising in Syria is still not over.

FeebWillis
FeebWillis

Well, I guess the real world is too much for these little Republican minds.  They should all go home to their paranoid little farm towns, tend to their Federally subsidized sheep and continue dreaming about impeaching Obama for the next 10 years.

anti-government
anti-government

It's great to see that PEACE, rather than war-as-usual, is receiving some consideration. AMERICA LOOKS AND FEELS BETTER AS A MESSENGER OF PEACEFUL SOLUTIONS THAN AS THE WAR-MONGERING BULLY/POLICEMAN OF THE WORLD.

Peace is patriotic!

War is unpatriotic (when the war does not further the interests of the American people)!

Buy American

USA: Stop trying to run the world

doctari
doctari

Whats really funny (or sad) is that when Hussein gassed 1000 people Ronald Reagen did absolutely nothing...

jmac
jmac

“There are so many moving parts,” says Congressman Aaron Schock, a Republican from Illinois.

That made me laugh.   If only we had the cowboy back he could put a pointer in Colin Powell's hand and explain it in real simple terms so Fox and Company could understand. (truth not an issue)    It was so easy back then.  Evil - bad;  USA - good.  Patriots vs Traitors (those darn French Fries).    Easy.   


ZanyRoberts
ZanyRoberts

Oh, the poor republicans are so confused.  "First this happened and then that happened and then this happened.  There are just SO many moving parts!"  Waaaa.  What a bunch of children.

ValleyForge
ValleyForge

250 congressman on record opposing a military strike would indicate they have decided. The point of this article is that it is the president who continues to confuse the issue.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@doctari What is even more sad is that before them he provided them targeting coordinates so that they could kill thousands of Iranians with the same gas.

Pollopa
Pollopa

Wait a minute. What are you saying. He did something for sure. His buddies sold them more chemicals and arms. That ole' gipper entrepreneurial spirit hard at work for America.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@jmac 

Seeing that a Dem is in power it's hard for GOP to rubberstamp something that lines war profiteers pockets with our tax money.

This one will be tough

ValleyForge
ValleyForge

Bleeting to Time's beat I see. First it was Obama's redline, then gas was used but it wasn't world news so he didn't care, then it was used again and it made the news and he threatened to attack, then he deferred to Congress ( rightly), then it wasn't Obama's redline anymore, then it was a small attack, then a significant attack, then tiny again, then he didn't need Congress' backing again, then a diplomatic solution was floated, then it was disowned, then embraced, now it's on a deadline with option to attack again. It is not just Republicans who are confused, it is any rational person. See for instance every non-sycophantic public figure (and many sycophants too).

Sparrow55
Sparrow55

@ZanyRoberts Bingo!  That's why the GOP is so intent on shutting down all forms of government.  It has too many moving parts for them to comprehend, so they just want to get rid of it. 

ZanyRoberts
ZanyRoberts

I think you're willfully trying to make the not-confusing, confusing. Or maybe that's just the way your fevered mind works. Either way, it's not my problem that you're not smart enough to keep grips on a fluid situation. Too bad the world isn't as simple as your philosophy. Then there wouldn't be as many confusing choices to make!