When a president puts soldiers’ boots on the ground in a faraway war zone, which can devolve into a full-fledged American mess, the American people deserve to be fully consulted.
We don’t see that happening with the White House’ decision to intervene in Syria.
On Oct. 30, President Barack Obama said he would send up to 50 U.S. special operations troops into northern Syria to help fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Although authorization from Congress arguably is not required by law, this represents a fundamental shift in American foreign policy in Syria, one that puts American lives on the line in yet another failing Middle East country. It begs for a formal debate and vote.
The White House strategy in Syria is murky at best. Stephen Colbert on the “Late Show” got it right the other day when he joked, “Today, President Obama announced he’ll be sending U.S. special forces to fight in Syria. Now he just has to decide who we’re fighting.”
According to polls, Americans worry about our nation stumbling or rushing into another war that has no clear goals or exit strategy. This is what got us Afghanistan, Iraq and — the mother of all undeclared American wars in which Congress too often took a powder — Vietnam. America’s involvement in the Vietnam began with a handful of U.S. advisers; it ended with 58,000 dead U.S. soldiers. Last month, Russia began airstrikes in Syria. Now we have full-time U.S. forces deployed in Syria for the first time.
Two years ago, Obama promised, “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria.” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said, “There will be no American boots on the ground — period.”
But now that’s changed, just as things changed when Obama sent about 3,300 U.S. troops back to Iraq. And just as things changed when the president allowed a deadline to come and go for the removal of all American military forces from Afghanistan. Step by incremental step, U.S. involvement in the region again is on the upswing, with little to no serious debate on Capitol Hill.
Whenever the White House feels the need to justify growing Middle East military involvement, it dusts off formal congressional authorizations passed in 2001 and 2002. But those documents are growing threadbare from overuse. If the American people are to stand together on foreign policy decisions that put American lives at risk, they deserve at minimum a formal consideration of that policy by Congress. Politicians behave most responsibly when forced to cast a vote.
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