Senate may grant Obama’s wish on Syria; House is tougher, but president has key allies

Al Kamen
Columnist September 5, 2013

There’s been much talk that President Obama will have a tough time getting Congress to pass a resolution authorizing airstrikes on Syria in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

But that may not be the case if we look at the 2002 Iraq war vote, in which Congress gave President George W. Bush the authority to wage full-scale war “to defend U.S. national security against . . . Iraq,” based on thoroughly bogus claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that he was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because some Iraqi official may have been seen having lunch with some guy in Prague who may have been a 9/11 plotter — or maybe ran a hedge fund.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Looking at the Senate, 55 current members voted on that 2002 resolution (22 were in the House at the time). Of those 55 lawmakers, 39 — 13 Democrats and 26 Republicans — voted for the resolution, according to data compiled by our colleague Alice Crites. So maybe Obama needs to pick up only about a dozen or so senators from the 45 who weren’t in Congress in 2002.

NOTE: This, of course, assumes a modicum of policy consistency among our senators, an obviously iffy assumption. And there’s a possibility that some who voted in favor of the resolution in 2002 may have been a bit chastened by the result.

(On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7, with one member voting “present,” to approve airstrikes, with seven Democrats and three Republicans in favor.)

The House may be a more dicey proposition for Obama. Only about one-third of its members were there in 2002 to vote on the measure that led to nearly 4,500 U.S. military deaths, many more thousands wounded and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths in order to rid Iran of its most bitter enemy.

Of the 144 current House members who voted on that resolution — and will vote on the Syria resolution next week — 78 voted for it (including only 20 Democrats) and 65 Democrats and one Republican voted against it.

While House Republicans in 2002 voted overwhelmingly to attack Iraq (only six opposed the resolution), the new GOP members may be much more isolationist than their counterparts 11 years ago, a year after Sept. 11. Add to that a strong majority of House Republicans who have never voted for anything Obama favored. (Not that politics might be a factor.)

But House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have said they favor authorizing airstrikes, and the measure will be brought to the House floor for a vote. If the Democrats eventually rally behind Obama, he won’t need to pick up much GOP support.

And if key House Republicans prove difficult, Vice President Biden might want to note the spectacular move by his predecessor Dick Cheney before the 2002 vote. Cheney — according to our colleague Barton Gellman’s excellent book “Angler: the Cheney Vice Presidency” — gave a very reluctant Dick Armey (R-Tex.), then the House majority leader, a private briefing in which Cheney claimed that Hussein was looking at making suitcase nukes that he could share with his terrorist pals.

Armey changed his vote.

Waiting game in Ottawa

The Canadian media have been most upset recently by President Obama’s failure to name anyone to be ambassador in Ottawa.

“Is this any way to treat a best friend?” one report wondered. Another article, noting that nominees had been submitted for various other countries — not to mention confirmed for places such as the Dominican Republic — asked, “So what’s wrong with Canada?”

And then came the usual references to “largest trading partner,” “longest border,” NATO ally and so on. Even Anna Wintour, Vogue editor and artistic director for Conde Nast, popped up again in a list of possible nominees.

The presumed nominee, Chicagoan Bruce Heyman, an Obama mega-bundler and wealthy Goldman Sachs partner, leaked out on April 3. And then nothing. He wasn’t even in the July flood of nominees confirmed before the Senate recessed. The Canadian speculation was that Heyman had dropped out of the running, perhaps because of some vetting issues.

So we checked into this. Sources said Heyman’s financial situation — we’re talking a very wealthy guy — was indeed complex, and it took substantial time to sort things out before he could be nominated.

In addition, Heyman apparently just graduated last month from “charm school,” the State Department’s diplomatic training course. That’s obviously not something he would be doing if he’d withdrawn from consideration.

People tend to forget that, unlike in most every other country in the world, these things take a lot of time here in Washington.

For Frantz, a tough new job

From hack to flack. Our former colleague Doug Frantz, who was The Post’s national security editor, is the new assistant secretary for public affairs at the State Department.

The White House on Tuesday announced the pick, calling Frantz and several other appointees “fine public servants.”

Per President Obama: “Our nation will be well-served by these individuals, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”

It won’t be Frantz’s first time toiling under Secretary of State John Kerry. Before joining The Post — but after a long and illustrious journalism career, including stints at the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times — Frantz was deputy staff director and chief investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Kerry held the gavel.

And with Kerry on the hot seat this week, testifying before Congress on the couldn’t-be-hotter topic of a possible U.S. military strike on Syria, it looks like Frantz won’t have a slow start to the job.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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