UPDATED 4:31 p.m. EDT: The congressional authorization of military action in Syria passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 10-7-1 Wednesday afternoon. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona successfully proposed language directing the Obama administration to attempt to “change the military equation on the battlefield” so as to help facilitate a negotiated end to the civil war and the departure of the country’s president, Bashar Assad. McCain had earlier indicated that he opposed the force-authorization resolution initially proposed by Tennessee’s Bob Corker, a Chattanooga Republican, because it was in his view too narrow in scope and strategic ambition.
WASHINGTON — Tuesday evening, Tennessee’s Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced he and the committee’s chairman, Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, had agreed to resolution language authorizing U.S. military action against Syria.
According to Corker’s office, “The new draft legislation being circulated to committee members this evening would strictly prohibit American ‘boots on the ground,’ limit the duration of any military action to 60 days, and separately require a report from the Obama administration detailing U.S. support for vetted, moderate opposition groups in Syria.”
During his testimony at Tuesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Secretary of State John Kerry was unable to guarantee the Administration would not put boots on the ground if the US took action against Assad. “I know the administration has zero intention to put troops on the ground,” Kerry offered.
But former CIA director Michael Hayden said in an interview on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper that such a guarantee could not be made. “I can imagine circumstances within a minute or two where you might have to [put boots on the ground]. What if we use manned aircraft, penetrate Syria airspace, aircraft goes down, we have to send search-and-rescue after that crew. You put people on the ground,” said Hayden.
“This shows the difficulty of trying to craft language that’s going to satisfy everyone. At the end of all this, there’s just going to have to be some faith and confidence between the president and Congress,” said Hayden.
President Obama and Senators Menendez and Corker look to have lost a key ally Tuesday evening in Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and usually a reliable advocate for American military interventions abroad. McCain indicated restricting the use of ground troops, imposing a time limit, and not mentioning providing arms to vetted Syrian rebels were key to his decision to oppose the resolution.
“There’s no reference to changing the momentum on the battlefield, there’s no reference to arming the Free Syrian Army,” McCain said.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee met in a top secret closed hearing Wednesday morning, and sources suggest a vote on the resolution could come as soon as Wednesday afternoon.
Also on Wednesday, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul filed an amendment aimed at gauging the sense of Congress in the event a resolution authorizing the use of military force against Syria fails.
The amendment reads in part, “It is the sense of Congress that if this authorization fails to pass Congress, the President would be in violation of the Constitution if he were to use military force against the Government of Syria.”
Sen. Paul’s amendment would strongly condemn President Obama if authorization fails Congress but Obama takes military action anyway.
The Washington Post has an interactive chart on where United States senators stand on action in Syria. As of this publication, 6 senators are against military action, 15 senators (including Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander) lean no, 19 senators are for military action, and the remaining 60 Senators have not yet staked out a position.
In a statement issued Aug. 31, Alexander, a Republican, said: “I’m concerned about the consequences of a military strike in Syria, and what happens with step two, three and four after that. There may be a variety of ways, some military and some not, to show our disgust with the Syrian government’s apparent use of chemical weapons against its own people. Since the president’s proposed action appears not to be for the purpose of overthrowing the Assad government, during the congressional debate I will assess whether a military strike would do more harm than good by setting off a chain of consequences that could involve American fighting men and women in another long-term Middle Eastern conflict.”
The military-force authorization resolution against Syria would have to clear both the House and Senate before making its way to the president. After attending a classified briefing on Sunday, Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a Republican, indicated he won’t be among those voting for it.
“I do not see a direct threat to American interests or its allies or national security,” said DesJarlais, who also cited considerable opposition from constituents.
The resolution likely has a tougher path to passage in the House, despite the fact that leadership from both parties supports taking action. According to the Washington Post, 51 congressmen are against military action, 82 congressmen lean no, 17 congressmen support military action, and 97 congressmen haven’t made a public announcement. No one from Tennessee’s delegation is listed as a for-sure yes vote.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to deliberate on the authorization Wednesday afternoon.
Story filed by Matthew Hurtt, special to TNReport.com. Follow him on Twitter: @matthewhurtt