On Tuesday afternoon, September 3, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asking for its approval to launch a limited strike against Syria.
Kerry couched his request very clearly in terms of what it was not: it was not a request for approval to go to war. Kerry stated once again that “there will be no boots on the ground.” What he was asking for was “the power to make clear, to make certain that the United States means what we say, that the world, when we join together in a multilateral statement, mean what we say. He’s asking for authorization to degrade and deter Bashar al-Assad’s capacity to use chemical weapons.
The secretary of state made the argument in the plainest terms. He compared what Assad has done – gassing hundreds of his own people, including hundreds of children – to the greatest evil most people recognize. This administration is adamant that Assad be held accountable for committing a heinous act whose victims, Kerry and his boss insist, cry out for retribution.
So this is a vote for accountability. Norms and laws that keep the civilized world civil mean nothing if they’re not enforced. As Justice Jackson said in his opening argument at the Nuremberg trials, ‘The ultimate step in avoiding periodic wars, which are inevitable in a system of international lawlessness, is to make statesmen responsible to the law.’ If the world’s worst despots see that they can flout with impunity prohibitions against the world’s worst weapons, then those prohibitions are just pieces of paper. That is what we mean by accountability, and that is what we mean by we cannot be silent.
After four hours of debate in the Hart Senate Office Building, the committee will go into a closed session tomorrow and then, as early as tomorrow afternoon, may gave this administration what it is seeking: congressional approval to take limited action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The initial text of the resolution authorizing “limited and tailored use of the United States Armed Forces against Syria” was made available late Tuesday evening, Eastern Time. The committee will vote on some version of the draft tomorrow.
The secretary of state was asked what the administration will do if congress refuses to approve the use of force against Syria. Kerry said, “We’re not contemplating that, because it’s too dire.”
The draft resolution provides that the resolution upon which the committee members will vote shall be called ” Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against the “Government of Syria to Respond to Use of Chemical Weapons.” It will
authorize the president to use the U.S. Armed Forces as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in a limited and tailored manner against legitimate military targets in Syria, only to (1) respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government in the conflict in Syria, and (2) deter Syria’s use of such weapons in order to protect the national security interests of the United States and to protect our allies and partners against the use of such weapons; and (3) degrade Syria’s capacity to use such weapons in the future.”
In addition to Kerry, secretary of defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Jack Dempsey also testified in support of the administration’s position.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) issued a statement Tuesday afternoon. Boehner said that “All votes authorizing the use of military force are conscience votes for members, and passage will require direct, continuous engagement from the White House.”
The draft resolution provides for a 60 day period during which the powers granted may be used, with a single additional 30 day extension.