On Tuesday morning, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced their support for President Obama’s proposed military action in Syria. Their support came hours before Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel first testified before Congress on the Administration’s plans. The specific details of military action are unknown at this time. Which begs the question, what are Boehner and Cantor supporting?
On Saturday, when he announced he was going to seek Congressional approval, Obama said he wanted “limited” targeted strikes to “degrade” Syria’s ability to launch chemical weapons. The draft resolution he sent to Congress, however, allowed for a more open-ended engagement and didn’t specifically rule out sending troops into Syria.
On Monday, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said their support of a military strike was conditioned on Obama broadening the mission to embrace “regime change” as a goal. They also urged Obama to arm the Syrian rebels with heavy weapons, a move opposed by 70% of Americans.
In his testimony on Tuesday, hours after Boehner and Cantor endorsed military action, John Kerry opened the door to the possibility of ground troops invading Syria. In subsequent questioning, he tried to minimize that possibility.
On Wednesday, the House Foreign Relations Committee will meet to discuss possible military action in Syria.
What, exactly, have Boehner and Cantor endorsed? Why did they announce support before the Administration had presented its case before Congress. On Tuesday, Speaker Boehner met with President Obama in the White House. Obama no doubt convinced him that military action in Syria is in the best interest of the United States.
With interventionists like McCain and Graham pushing for open war with Syria, however, it is uncertain what specific actions Congress may ultimately authorize. How can any Congressional leader support any action before initial hearings have been held in that body?
The speed with which Boehner and Cantor endorsed a “blank check” on military action in Syria suggests that they will also seek quick appeasement on the looming budget and debt ceiling fights. They seem to have settled on a “prevent” defense. Boehner and Cantor will give Obama everything he wants, in the hopes that the GOP will take control of the Senate next year. Then, in their minds, they would have more political leverage.
Although I am opposed, I can intellectually make an argument for supporting some kind of action in Syria. There is, however, no argument to defend a “hey, whatever you come up with, we support” approach.
Abandoning principle to secure political advantage is a fast-track to minority status. It is a further reminder that the House has a Republican majority. We need a Conservative majority.