As we fully expected, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) rejected out of hand revised resolution that would narrow presidential discretion and put a 60 day limit on military action, subject to a 30-day extension.
He told reporters who asked if he’d support the language: “In its current form, I do not. . . There’s no reference to changing the momentum on the battlefield, there’s no reference to arming the Free Syrian Army.” McCain is right for multiple reasons, and without his backing, the resolution will get virtually no GOP support.
For starters, it is impossible to predict battlefield contingencies and to in advance limit our armed forces. This was President Obama’s mistake in Afghanistan in setting a deadline on the surge. It signals irresoluteness and a lack of seriousness. McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could not have been clearer yesterday: They cannot support a gesture and need a coherent policy to persuade members to vote yes; it seems the president wasn’t listening.
Moreover, this is precisely why the president doesn’t go to Congress to ask permission to do his job. There is one commander in chief. It is impossible to have 535 lawmakers coming up with caveats and rules of engagement.
To that point, this is un-Constitutional. As we’ve explored, the president has the power as commander in chief to wage war and, short of war, conduct more limited military action without congressional approval. The president himself said he doesn’t need Congress’s approval to act (but he’s looking for it anyway). The president might foolishly try to tie his hands, but he cannot under the Constitution delegate this power to Congress. Sorry, Mr. President, you have to decide how to do whatever it is you want to do.
This gets to McCain’s final point: There is no express strategy yet from the White House. I don’t think a statement of our goals needs to or even should be in a resolution, but it certainly must come from the president. There is no getting around the need to spell out to all lawmakers and the American people what our strategy is in Syria.
It is the absence of such a strategy that is causing some conservatives to stick with a “no” position. A spokeswoman for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told me, “If the vote were held today, Sen. Cornyn would vote no. What he is waiting to see is a credible plan from the Administration that will achieve our national security objectives. Specifically, a plan to keep chemical weapons out of the hands of terrorists.”
In an effort to satisfy nervous liberals and poll-conscious conservatives, the president will lose the mainstay of his support plus give fodder to anti-interventionists who say the strike is a useless gesture. That the president is still engaged in this small-bore maneuvering, rather than spelling out his overall strategy and leading the country, is a further example of how pathetic the administration has been.