We should all urge our representatives in Congress to support President Obama’s proposed military strike in Syria, should it come to a vote. Granting the president this authority is critical to maintaining the integrity of our system of checks and balances and the United States’ leadership in the world.
Last week, President Obama asked Congress to delay voting on a military strike on Syria while his administration pursues a diplomatic settlement. Members of the Senate are preparing a resolution that would give Syria a deadline for complying with this diplomatic solution. Should Syria fail to meet that deadline — which history suggests is likely — Congress will return to the Syria resolution they have been debating until now. In such a vote, our representatives will determine three things. First, and at the most basic level, they will decide whether to support a limited military strike on Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons on civilians. But in a broader sense, Congress will also determine the body’s ongoing authority over military action in Syria, and it may also determine how future presidents exercise their authority as commander-in-chief.
If Congress authorizes President Obama’s military strike on Syria, it will be able to define the scope of that strike. For anyone concerned about this strike turning into another Middle East war, that authority should be comforting. The resolution currently in the Senate bars President Obama from sending American troops into Syria. Should Congress vote no, it will not be a partner in the decision-making process with President Obama, nor will it have any authority over the scope of the military action. By voting yes on Syria, Congress will affirm its authority over the use of military power. It will also secure a place for itself in the Syria conversation, should the president move forward with military action. An affirmative vote will also send a signal to future presidents that including Congress in the initial decision to use military force — an action that is not required by the War Powers Resolution — will not result in dysfunction and embarrassment.
This is not to say that Congress should rubber stamp the president’s request. There are several reasons that a military strike on Syria — a limited strike — is in our country’s interest.
Action against Syria will impart an important message to Iran. It will tell both Iran and Israel that when the United States sets a “red line,” that “red line” has real meaning and real consequences. As President Obama continues to try to dissuade the country from building a nuclear weapon, his credibility will determine his success or failure. The Iranian government has a proven record of supporting anti-American terrorist groups. Allowing such a regime to have a nuclear weapon would raise the risks associated with any terrorist attack to unacceptable levels.
Finally, the United States does have a vested interest in maintaining the international norm against chemical weapons, which have not been used against American troops since World War I. They are also difficult for terrorists to obtain, as most countries do not produce them anymore. When terrorists have used chemical weapons — such as in a subway in Tokyo in 1995 — the attack injured some 6,000 people. The importance of this norm and the protection it offers should not be underestimated.
A vote for a military strike in Syria is not a vote for a new war. It is a vote to delimit the use of U.S. military force. It is a vote for U.S. credibility in the international community. And most importantly, it is a vote for American values and security. Call your congressional official and urge him or her to vote yes.
Jamie Morgan is a lifelong Oak Parker. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in international relations at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Before coming to Princeton, Jamie spent five years working on national security policy in Washington D.C. and conducting research on U.S. government counterterrorism policies in Indonesia.