Now that headline may confuse you, especially if you’ve been watching any news lately. Our country stands on the brink of another major foreign policy decision (war): do we follow a more isolationist view and choose inaction, or do we further embroil ourselves in a region that we neither truly understand, nor has explicitly asked for our help?
If you’re a 20-something like me, it’s hard to remember a time when we weren’t at war. I was 11 when 9/11 happened, and the events that led to the Iraq War followed quickly in the months soon after. If it’s one thing you can say about George W. Bush, it’s that the man knew how to sell a war.
But here we are again. The police man of the world. Or are we?
President Obama, speaking from St. Petersburg, Russia at the G-20 Summit on Friday said that the world will always look to the U.S. in times like these. That much is true. But as Rep. Charlie Rangel said Thursday, “I refuse to believe we’re the only ones that have an armed forces.” Now, we’re not fully alone in this. We’ve got France, for example. But what people seem to be forgetting is that the UN was created for moments like this. International communities solving international problems. People also seem to be forgetting that that same United Nations will be issuing a report on what happened in Syria within the next few weeks (New York Times estimates around September 15th. We can allege a lot less and steep ourselves in more facts once that information comes out. According to The New York Times, the EU said Saturday that any military strikes against Syria should be held off until the preliminary UN report
But back to why I’m proud of Congress. These debates are hard. Most debates are hard in Congress. And I say most because there’s always that legislation like the Coins Act that I can’t imagine had too much strained debate behind it. But it’s these hard debates we elect them to have and the tough votes we trust them to take. Now, more often than not, our lawmakers “kick the can down the road” on these tough issues. Think back on the past few years and the road is littered with cans like gun control, immigration reform (that can still has a little life in it, but not much), tax code reform, debt ceiling limits, the list goes on. But the Syria can is too big to be kicked. Senators and congressmen and women are forced to put their names on one side or another. Support the resolution or block it.
Now coming down on one side or another, especially when it comes to military action, has huge ramifications. It was a big reason why Hillary lost the 2008 Democratic nomination to Barack Obama. (Then-Senator Clinton voted ‘yes’ on Iraq, while Obama, not yet in the Senate, campaigned in 2008 on his early opposition to the war. The irony of this current situation, in light of that background, should not be lost.) Key political players on both sides will have to defend their vote on Syria in 2016, be it in primaries or national elections. Hillary Clinton has backed Obama, while Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a rumored 2016 hopeful, voted ‘no’ on the resolution coming out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Another GOP-hopeful, Rand Paul, has called it “a mistake” to get involved in the Syria civil war. This won’t be the last these lawmakers hear of these choices.
But unlike many (most) things in Congress, this Syria vote does not break down along party lines. I checked myself the other day when I wrote that Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor back the president’s plan because those words and names go together almost never. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is also backing Obama, as is Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Those names are less surprising. Noticeably quiet is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but that’s another story entirely.
That’s how you know this is huge: party lines are blurred. That’s saying something in a political arena where almost every issue is hyper partisan even before legislation is proposed. Now there are those, especially in the House, who will vote with their respective party leaders. Pelosi is notorious for her ability to whip votes at critical moments. But if you’ve watched any of the public hearings from the House or Senate committees, you’ll see that our lawmakers are asking good questions, important questions, and pressing the administration for answers. I’m happy that those members who voted on Iraq are asking for deeper evidence, especially after the lies and faulty proof they were shown by the Iraq architects and members of the Bush administration. To use President Bush’s own words, “fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice,” and he kind of broke down from there, but you know how it goes.
Take this moment to think about how you feel. Call your representatives. Call your Senators. Tweet them, write them, Facebook them – they are listening. This isn’t a situation like gun control where the wishes of the 90+% of Americans polled backing background checks fell on deaf ears. These lawmakers are listening to you now. If you want them to back Syria, tell them. If you don’t, take action. House members, especially, have changed their votes based on what they’re hearing from their constituents.
Syria is a dire moment in American foreign policy. The declaration of the red line put our credibility on the line in a very real way. We now have to deal with the ramifications of that. But this is a big moment for democracy, too. President Obama ensured that when he took it to Congress – as he should have – in the first place.
See where your representatives and senators stand, courtesy of The Fix.
By Ali Vitali