Mike Pompeo is a Republican representative from Kansas and a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Tom Cotton is a Republican representative from Arkansas and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
President Obama has asked Congress to support his use of military force against another nation. This is the most consequential vote any Congress can take. We support a well-crafted use-of-force resolution against Syria and urge the president to take decisive, effective military action.
We are Army veterans. One of us served in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq; the other conducted patrols along the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. We understand the gravity of using force. We are also among the most fiscally conservative House Republicans. We’ve challenged nearly all of this president’s efforts to expand government. And as former lawyers and soldiers, we have a deep faith in our Constitution.
We have often criticized this president’s halting defense of U.S. interests and principles abroad. Had the president supported the Syrian people two years ago, al-Qaeda might not have infested the rebel movement. Had he acted decisively against Bashar al-Assad’s earlier use of chemical weapons, we might not face this situation today. Likewise, had he not blindly insisted that “al-Qaeda is on the run,” it might not have metastasized across northern Africa — resulting in attacks such as the one in Benghazi and the recent closing of U.S. embassies across the region.
We understand why many of our GOP colleagues are undecided about a use-of-force resolution. Indeed, we have reservations about the president’s implied course of military action. Yet Congress has its own constitutional duty to defend U.S. interests, and those interests shouldn’t be neglected simply because we have doubts about Obama.
Core U.S. national security interests are implicated in Syria, more so than ever by Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
First, U.S. credibility is at stake: Obama drew this “red line” a year ago. Some have criticized him for a reckless remark, but the criticism is misplaced.
With or without that comment, our enemies and allies would still be watching to see whether we will tolerate rogue dictators using weapons of mass destruction on the borders of our allies. Inaction will tell Assad, Kim Jong Un and others that it’s open season for the use of chemical weapons. Assad might also transfer these weapons to his terrorist ally Hezbollah, which is dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
The day the United States fails to act against Assad is likely the day Iran’s supreme leader spins his uranium centrifuges into overdrive. If we won’t act against a use of weapons of mass destruction, Iran will surely believe that we will not act against its nuclear program. And once Iran has a nuclear breakout, its nuclear warheads could hit the United States in less than two years.
Second, our country has a strong interest in preserving the international taboo against the use of chemical weapons. U.S. troops benefit from this standard. And while some note, fairly, that innocent civilians are no less dead from conventional artillery than from chemical weapons, the key difference is scale. Conventional weapons can cause only so many casualties. With chemical weapons, what kills hundreds today can kill tens of thousands tomorrow.
Third, our allies are being weakened and our enemies emboldened. Israel, our closest ally in the region, faces an existential threat from Iran and uncertainty in Egypt. The last thing Israel needs is Iran, Syria and Hezbollah on the march. Jordan, a close Arab ally and Israel’s partner in peace, is being destabilized by a massive influx of Syrian refugees. Turkey, our NATO ally, faces a similar refugee crisis.
Meanwhile, our enemies act with impunity. Iran and Hezbollah are sending Assad thousands of ground troops and weaponry to fight the rebels. Their involvement has turned the tide in Assad’s favor in recent months. Russia continues to side with these rogue states and terrorist organizations, following Vladimir Putin’s pattern of gratuitous and unpunished affronts to U.S. interests.
Despite these core interests, many Republicans understandably don’t trust the president to take decisive action. We share the concern that Obama won’t execute a proper strategic response. We worry that his action will more resemble President Bill Clinton’s ineffective response to the 1998 African embassy bombings rather than the 1999 Kosovo campaign. But Congress shouldn’t guarantee a bad outcome for our country because of fears that the president will execute an imperfect military campaign.
In such a case, our constitutional role is oversight and advocacy of effective military action. One can vote for a use-of-force resolution yet preserve the right — indeed, the duty — to critique how the president employs such force. After all, we have one commander in chief at a time, and the United States is weakened if our presidency is weakened. No matter the president’s party or his past failures, all Americans should want, and help, him to succeed when it comes to our national security.
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