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Hawks And Doves Team Up To Fight Obama's Syria Strikes In Congress

The unusual coalition includes neo-cons, libertarians, and anti-war Democrats.

Posted on August 31, 2013, at 5:31 p.m. ET

President Barack Obama, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, delivers a statement on Syria in the Rose Garden Saturday.
Kristoffer Tripplaar/Pool/Abaca Press / MCT

President Barack Obama, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, delivers a statement on Syria in the Rose Garden Saturday.

WASHINGTON — President Obama's call for Congress to vote on striking Syria appears likely to result in an unexpected and fluid coalition of "no" votes, with libertarian Republicans linking up with anti-war Democrats and even neo-conservatives.

Everyone from Sen. Rand Paul to Rep. Barbara Lee to Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham — all of whom are thanking Obama for putting the proposed military action to a vote — have said they'll likely be opposing the President. They all have different reasons, and many say it's too early to predict the outcome.

"This coalition has come up and I think it's not partisan — it'll be on the basis of how people view public policy and I think from that standpoint it is harder to make a judgement on where this will go," said Rep. Jim McDermott, a Washington State Democrat. "You can't go straight along partisan lines, I don't think that's what's going to happen. I think this will be a very divided vote."

"I used to vote with Rand Paul's father Ron on all kinds of stuff, that's not new," McDermott said. "Experiences make you very wary of making a snap judgement on a situation like this, I don't think that's possible here. Use of the military in my view should be the last resort."

"I think it's premature to determine how the vote will go," said Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California. "We need to understand the ramifications, the possible unintended consequences and the regional conflict breakdown."

"I'm not surprised there was such a broad coalition calling for the president to have a vote," Lee, who sent a letter with 50 other Democrats to Obama demanding a vote earlier this week, said.

On the Republican side, Rand Paul put out a statement commending the president for asking for a vote.

"I'm encouraged President Obama now says he will fulfill his constitutional obligation to seek authorization for any potential military action in Syria," Paul said. "This is the most important decision any President or any Senator must make, and it deserves vigorous debate."

A senior aide to Paul who spoke on condition of anonymity said that a coalition may form between his wing of the party and the establishment against the type of action being proposed in Syria.

"I could see where you have congruence between some of the more hawkish neoconservative people who have been saying don't just launch the cruise missiles, if we're going to do this we should go all in," the aide said. "And the people that have been much more cautious about engaging and saying no one has been making a compelling case about this being in our national interest — they would agree as well that punitive strikes are not what we need to be doing."

"Obviously we'll have more clarity on this when [Paul] is on 'Meet the Press' tomorrow and it's an evolving situation," the aide said. "He's been pretty clear that he does not believe that as it stands this meets the litmus test of being in the United States' national interest. I don't know what Obama can say unless something changes on the ground that would change this among the Rands, the Cruz's, the Levin's and others who have raised this issue. It's a hard sell for them."

Cruz released a statement on Saturday mirroring Paul's stance.

"I remain concerned that the mission proposed by the President is not in furtherance the vital national security interests of the United States," Cruz said.

"Assad's murderous actions have claimed the lives of more than a hundred thousand of his own people, which is a humanitarian tragedy," Cruz said. "But our chief strategic concern should not be international norms; it should be preventing the chemical weapons from falling into the hands of al Qaeda or other terrorists who might use them against us and our allies."

Some of the loudest Syria doves in Congress thanked the president for the vote and reiterated their opposition to military action on Saturday, including libertarian Republican Congressman Justin Amash, who tweeted, "Pres Obama hasn't come close to justifying war in #Syria. I look forward to this debate. Pres must comply w/ vote of Congress; not optional."

Rep. Trey Radel of Florida, who signed Rep. Scott Rigell's letter to Obama asking for a vote, said Congress didn't know enough about the administration's intelligence on Syria to be able to vote.

"We have not only a war-weary United States we have a lot of members of Congress that have deeper questions than have been asked in the past," Radel said. "We've heard a rhetoric for decades about promoting freedom. We've seen where that has gotten us."

"I know that Democrats and Republicans are going to ask tough questions of this administration and we are not just going to go along to get along with the president saying essentially we need to step into a civil war," Radel said.

The most surprising element of the nascent "no" vote coalition is hawkish establishment Republicans like Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who released a statement on Saturday saying they would not support limited military action in Syria — because they want more.

"We cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the President's stated goal of Assad's removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict, which is a growing threat to our national security interests," Graham and McCain said. "Anything short of this would be an inadequate response to the crimes against humanity that Assad and his forces are committing."

Sen. Marco Rubio echoed McCain and Graham, saying in a statement that "a limited attack would do nothing to change the dynamics of the conflict, but could trigger a broader and even more dangerous conflict in the region."

"Given those harsh realities, if the President concludes that military action is warranted, instead of having administration officials leak details to the press, he must clearly lay out to Congress and the American people why this is in our national interest, what the goals of this action are, and how the military action he is taking would achieve this objective," Rubio continued. "I am deeply concerned that so far he has failed to do this. Military action, taken simply to save face, is not a wise use of force."

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