Even before Secretary of State John Kerry inserted an expensive shoe in to his mouth and Russia stepped in to the fray to provide a diplomatic approach to stopping U.S. military action in Syria, the chance that President Barack Obama would be granted congressional approval to authorize U.S. military action against the small nation in crisis did not look promising. True enough, Obama secured the support of Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) along with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) who both pledged their support for military action following White House meetings. As Boehner explained, House leadership sought to call on members to place “conscience votes” — which would presumably get members on each side to cross party lines. Boehner also told reporters, ”I believe that my colleagues should support this call for action.”
They were convinced…others not so much.
Asking for members of congress to vote for their conscience would indicate that they have one. Call me cynical or call me attentive, but I don’t see that happening — especially not from that group of obstructionists in the House or war-weary Democrats in the Senate. Obama’s Syrian speech saw the commander-in-chief dually advocate for both war and diplomacy within the same address. He wasn’t especially convincing on the need for military action.
Still, President Obama cautioned:
I’d ask every member of Congress and those of you watching at home tonight to view those videos of the attack, and then ask, what kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way?
It remains to be seen on how exactly this might go, but if there’s any reason a wave of Democrats might lend their support, one congresswoman has offered a frank assessment on why. In an interview with radio host Bill Press, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC, pictured) expressed her uncertainty about using military force in Syria and revealed what ultimately might sway her decision to support Obama’s initiative.
Holmes Norton realizes that Syria’s use of chemical weapons requires a response, but noted, “I can’t believe that the only way to address it is a slight bombing, which will somehow punish somebody or deter somebody.” As for whether the President would be justified should Congress vote down his proposal, Holmes Norton said, “No, oh boy, no. I think it’ll be like the red line trap. He said [don't cross the] red line. I think once you say, ‘I’m going to Congress,’ you can’t say, ‘Okay, I’m going to do it anyway.’”
Holmes herself cannot vote, alleviating what likely is a very difficult vote for Democrats who don’t want to be responsible for launching yet another military conflict in the Middle East. But should Obama get the approval he seeks from Congress, she has a thought on what might’ve ultimately swayed them. Holmes Norton explained, “If [Obama] gets saved at all, I think it’ll be because, it’ll be because of loyalty of Democrats. They just don’t want to see him shamed and humiliated on the national stage.”
She added, “At the moment, that’s the only reason I would vote for it if I could vote on it.”
Holmes was roasted online by the usual suspects, but to her credit, she gave an honest response.
It’s a response not especially surprising either. Partisanship motivates most politicians no matter their political persuasion. Such is the way of D.C., though as naive as it may sound to say, do you really want to make a decision that affects so many lives over loyalty to a political leader? If anything, wouldn’t Obama’s past as an outspoken critic of the Iraqi war despite overwhelming support from both parties be an inspiration for pols to place principles ahead of party?
I know, I know. Pat me on the head, call me cute, and send me on my way.
Still, Holmes Norton sounds way more realistic than say, National Security Advisor Susan Rice who told NBC News, ”We think that the Congress of the United States and the American people understand that we have compelling national interests at stake here.”
Eh, if you say so.
As horrific as it is for Assad to allegedly use chemical weapons on his own, we’ve stood idle when it happened at different points in history when it suited our greater interest.
Of all the people who’ve offered statements about whether we should strike Syria, the most convincing has been from Jon Stewart:
Now that’s how you present an argument.
Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer. You can read more of his work on his site, The Cynical Ones. Follow him on Twitter: @youngsinick