Our View: Congress should question Obama’s Syria plan

September 6, 2013 

Idaho’s congressional delegation has every right to be skeptical, or even opposed, to President Barack Obama’s squishy campaign to intervene in the Syrian crisis.

As the nation has learned during the Bush administration, it is far easier to get involved in a military conflict than it is to get out of it. Mistakes of the past were the centerpiece of Obama’s campaign for the presidency. And now he wants to go into Syria with a questionable military strike plan that seems to change daily, if not hourly.

With the Idaho congressional delegation, it’s not a matter of Republicans opposing a Democratic president. It is a matter of doing what is right. It is not too much to ask for the president to be clear on what the threat is, what he wants to accomplish and what constitutes a successful mission — questions that Congress, unfortunately, didn’t ask satisfactorily when Bush sent troops to Iraq a decade ago.

Sen. Jim Risch, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence, has the most access to briefings and the Obama administration’s rhetoric on Syria. We have watched his position on Syrian intervention morph from tepid distrust to flat out rejection of the idea of a punitive strike. Risch believes, as we do, that the president’s plan is devoid of a clear objective and naive regarding international repercussions — not to mention escalated unrest in what Risch termed a “Syrian civil war” during a Boise press conference Thursday.

Sen. Mike Crapo is reserving final judgment until he can participate in similar intelligence briefings when Congress returns on Monday. But unless Obama suddenly starts to inspire confidence in his leadership, it is difficult to imagine Crapo going from skeptic to supporter.

Risch was on the losing side of a 10-7 committee vote to support a strike against Syria. It’s a good bet that the full Senate will follow suit and give the president what he wants.

The House provides a more difficult challenge to a military intervention. Reps. Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson, who don’t always see eye to eye, have made it clear the president has no business ordering a strike without congressional authorization. Simpson, a friend and ally of House Speaker John Boehner, is right to proceed with caution even though Boehner already voiced support for Obama’s plans.

Assuming the Senate passes an authorization measure, we will be looking for a very close vote in the House where the Republicans will be split and Democrats will be asking themselves if this is President George Bush or President Barack Obama asking for military action.

At his press conference Thursday, Risch said Syria was the most dangerous neighborhood on the face of the planet, and that “the risk of doing something was worse than the risk of doing nothing.”

President Obama should be reminded that it is the United States, and not the “international community” that he is courting on this matter. He also should be reminded what his former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said just two years ago.

“I’ve said many times that I believe the single, biggest threat to our national security is our debt,” said Adm. Mike Mullen.

Oh, yes, our debt. A president and those who govern this country — which is about to run out of money on Sept. 30 and face another rise in our debt ceiling in October — should give the admiral’s statement some thought before launching missile strikes, committing air and naval support to the area where there is a civil war raging that has no end in sight.

“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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