Today I actually got involved in an e-mail debate with none other than Talking Points Memo founder Josh Marshall (who never before has answered my e-mails). He contended that President Obama has complete authority as commander-in-chief to order an attack on Syria without congressional authorization, and he lectured me for allegedly being ignorant on the subject of constitutional war powers.
“It’s a complex topic,” said Marshall. “I simply don’t think this is as simple as only Congress has the right to get us into shooting wars.” He’s wrong of course, and I gave him some detailed arguments which I could repeat here, and maybe will in comments. But tonight on Lawrence O’Donnell’s MSNBC show I learned about another debate that quickly got to the point. I could not do better.
[Note: Please ignore the AIPAC ad]
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) emerged from a meeting with President Obama and other congressional leaders earlier today and publicly declared her continued support for military intervention in Syria. But before she left the press gaggle, she shared one last story about a curious conversation she had with her five-year-old grandson over Labor Day weekend.
Before she left her home in San Francisco, Pelosi said her grandson approached her with this question: “Are you ‘yes’ war with Syria, ‘no’ war with Syria?” First of all, she wanted everyone to know that “we’re not talking about war, we’re talking about an action” in Syria, but none-the-less she continued the anecdote.
When she asked her grandson what he thought, he said, “I think no war.” She proceeded to make her case to the young man, describing how Bashar al-Assad’s regime has “killed hundreds of children there.”
“Were these children in the United States?” her grandson asked, bringing up the salient point of how the strike will affect American interests.
She told him, no, but they are “children” wherever they are. “It affects our interests because, again, it was outside of the circle of civilized behavior,” she told reporters. “Humanity drew a line decades ago that I think if we ignore, we do so to the peril of many other people who could suffer.”
From her remarks, it sounds like Pelosi may not have been able to sway her five-year-old grandson. Will she be able to convince her colleagues in the House?
Attacking Syria would be a big mistake, the biggest of the Obama administration. Everyone can see it. The only division is between those who can admit this in public, and those who cannot.
UPDATE: The New York Times reported:
Administration officials said the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee was already at work pressing for military action against the government of Assad, fearing that if Syria escapes American retribution for its use of chemical weapons, Iran might be emboldened in the future to attack Israel. In the House, the majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, has long worked to challenge Democrats’ traditional base among Jews.
One administration official, who, like others, declined to be identified discussing White House strategy, called AIPAC “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” and said its allies in Congress had to be saying, “If the White House is not capable of enforcing this red line” against the catastrophic use of chemical weapons, “we’re in trouble.”
But later, the NYT editors cut all mention of AIPAC from the story without explanation.
UPDATE: General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in July (emphasis added):
I know that the decision to use force is not one that any of us takes lightly. It is no less than an act of war. As we weigh our options, we should be able to conclude with some confidence that the use of force will move us toward the intended outcome. We must also understand risk—not just to our forces, but to our other global responsibilities… Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next.
Pay close attention to what General Dempsey said today, following an interesting exchange between Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY):
Seriously, when is war not “war”?