The Senate resolution authorizing Obama to use force is supposed to be much narrower in scope than the original draft resolution presented to the Senate. It also limits the duration of the action.
Republican Senator Bob Corker said of the resolution:“Our negotiations have led to a much narrower authorization that provides for the appropriate use of force while limiting the scope and duration of military action, prohibiting boots on the ground, and requiring the Obama administration to submit their broader plan for Syria,” The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted just 10 to 7 in favor of the revised resolution to authorize a punitive U.S. strike against Syria. A vote in the full Senate could come next week.
While some parts of the resolution appear to narrow the scope of any attack, other parts support the view I have had all along and that is that the aim is regime change by degrading Assad's military while providing more armaments, training and other aid to the rebels. This will turn the tide of battle and eventually lead to the defeat of Assad. The policy section includes wording that could have come from a hawk such as John McCain indicating that the US seeks to shift the balance on the battle field against the Assad government. Why such a statement should be in a motion that is alleged to be about punishing Assad for the use of chemical weapons is hard to fathom unless it is meant to set out the real aims of what is going on in the policy section.
Part of the text says: It is the policy of the United States to change the momen-
tum on the battlefield in Syria so as to create favorable
conditions for a negotiated settlement that ends the con-
flict and leads to a democratic government in Syria
while upgrading the lethal and non-lethal military ca-
pabilities of vetted elements of Syrian opposition forces,
including the Free Syrian Army
1) the provision of all forms of assistance to
the Syrian Supreme Military Council and other Syr-
ian entities opposed to the government of Bashar Al-
Assad that have been properly and fully vetted and
share common values and interests with the United
Obama has just recently postponed talks with Putin to set up a conference to bring the parties together to find a negotiated solution. Of course neither Obama nor the rebels have the slightest interest in a negotiated solution until Assad is gone. The rebels have made it a condition of even engaging in talks. Just to give one formulation of their conditions: The Syrian rebel military chief Salim Idriss said that the opposition would not enter any negotiations until the rebels controlled Aleppo, Damascus, and Deraa and also Bashar al-Assad and his generals had left the country.
The full text of the Senate resolution can be found here.
Louis Fisher, scholar in residence at the Constitution Project, and formerly an expert for the Congressional Research Service said that there was plenty of "wiggle room" for Obama to act in the wording of the resolution.
Fisher found the language of the resolution surprising. He wondered what the meaning of "limited and tailored" could be. I expect that they are used for their emotive sense, meant to have people feel that the resolution does not lead the US deeper into war. Perhaps it is a more open phrase than "surgical strikes" that used to be more in favor. Fisher points out that such types of phrasing often do not work. He points to the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution that authorized a limited response but ended up escalating US involvement in the Vietnam war.
While the language of the resolution seems to limit Obama's power to act to 60 days plus a 30-day extension, both Fisher and Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith point out that once the 90 days are finished Obama could say as he did in Libya that he was not engaged in hostilities. He could say the same in Syria. He is just ensuring that Assad cannot use chemical weapons etc. etc. He could also point to an earlier part of the resolution that says he is authorized under the Constitution to use force to defend the national security interests of the US as mentioned later.
Fisher found the wording of the resolution wording an abdication of Congressional responsibility: “A huge abdication by Congress, I’ve never seen such a broad abdication before in the war powers area. If the president does indeed have that authority, why did he come to Congress and request statutory authority? Moreover, if for some reason the bill fails to pass, is Congress through this draft language giving a green light to unilateral presidential action?” The wording thus supports Obama's view that he did not need to go before Congress in the first place. No doubt if he wants to keep on using force, he will not return if he thinks a vote might go against him. Fisher is referring to a clause in the "whereas" section of the resolution that says“ the president has authority under the Constitution to use force in order to defend the national security interests of the United States.”
There is a section prohibiting the use of combat troops but Professor Goldsmith pointed out that this probably would not include special forces. Indeed they are probably already there.
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