Obama has put Congress in a pickle. Vote yes and agree with ‘Obama’s war’ – vote no and vote for Assad. Vote yes and defend against the Iran-Syria nexus, vote no and keep America out of a so-far-unpredictable civil war. Vote yes and satisfy the party hawks; vote no and satisfy a generally dovish public. This is going to be a tough call for every representative and senator come the 9th.
Constitutionally, Obama’s move is without precedent. No president, I believe, has put military intervention short of war to a Congressional vote before, in this post-post-modern age of ours. I can see why he felt that he had to; with no UN and no Britain, the traditional ways of justifying action are absent. But it is an unprecedented move without a easily predictable outcome – a strange roll of the dice for our buttoned-up chief executive.
The Times reports today that McCain and Graham are behind strikes; that means the Senate is probably locked up for yes. That leaves the House. There is a lot of talk that the Republicans are split between hawks and an growing isolationist streak, making the vote important symbolically for which side is currently stronger.
I’ll say this. Isolationist politics do not historically fare well in hindsight. They generally delay the inevitable. We are already deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, well before any missiles are fired, whether there is action or not, just like Iran, Russia, and China are deeply involved with or without direct aid.
It probably boils down to whether or not the Navy can launch a devastating enough strike to damage Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons, and shut down their air force and air defenses in the bargain. I’m guessing the answer is yes.
There are six destroyers currently in the eastern Med, and an unknown amount of submarines with cruise missile capability. They can probably fire 200 to 300 Tomahawks, I’m guessing again, in a single strike without resupply. Tomahawks are mostly fuel and less warhead so they have to be targeted very precisely; the Pentagon’s willingness to use them at this point suggest ground and satellite intelligence is very good. It’s unknown if the delay for the Congressional vote will change this – probably not, if Obama is willing to wait that long.