Right-wing hawks want another war? Make them vote on it

Obama critics like Lindsey Graham are demanding a big old war plan. They may get one! And they should vote on it

Published August 26, 2014 4:34PM (EDT)

John McCain, Lindsey Graham                   (AP/Franck Robichon/Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
John McCain, Lindsey Graham (AP/Franck Robichon/Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Who's excited for a little autumn war in Syria and Iraq? A whole lot of people, it turns out. The big talkers are talking, big. All they want is a comprehensive plan from the White House to defeat ISIS in two countries and fix the Middle East while somehow also getting rid of Assad in Syria and having both Syria and Iraq run by U.S.-friendly democratic regimes. Sounds simple enough. What's the hang-up already?

Rep. Paul Ryan said this weekend that the United States military needs to "finish [ISIS] off because we will either fight them here or we will fight them there," adding that the deployment of ground troops to Syria or Iraq or wherever should not be "off the table." Sen. Lindsey Graham argued Monday that President Obama "is becoming derelict in his duties as commander in chief to protect our homeland by not aggressively confronting ISIL wherever they reside, including Syria."

The hawkish Washington Post editorial board, meanwhile, hasn't been this excited in years. It smells the possibility of widespread military action in the offing and has all sorts of advice. The U.S. needs to launch a war on the cross-border Iraq-Syria theater and find partners: "Kurds in Iraq and Syria, Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq, the Iraqi government if it can become more inclusive, what is left of the Free Syrian Army." Piece of cake -- should only take a few phone calls. "Aiding them does not require a U.S. invasion," the editorial continues, "but it will need 'boots on the ground,' as Mr. Obama already has acknowledged by sending close to 1,000 special forces back to Iraq. They will be needed for training, to assist in air targeting and perhaps more." Perhaps more! But only if we're really lucky.

Well, everyone who's itching for a plan to get the United States in an international military conflict across national borders will be pleased to learn that the administration has just authorized surveillance of Syria, to scope out potential targets. The White House's main concern, at this point, doesn't seem to be about getting involved in Syria -- it's about "how to target the Sunni extremists without helping President Bashar al-Assad," as the New York Times writes. (Let's suggest that bombing the hell out of an well-funded army that's trying to take down Assad is only likely to help Assad. Establish some goddamn priorities.)

So a big bombing plan appears to be on its way for presentation to lawmakers and the public. And, if asked, Congress would simply green-light it, right? Whoa whoa whoa, now -- members of Congress don't enjoy being put on the spot like that.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) blasted President Obama on Tuesday for not having a “coordinated plan” to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

On CNN’s “New Day,” Turner was asked whether he would support U.S. airstrikes targeting ISIS in Syria, but he didn’t state his position.

Mike Turner won't be the only one. We guarantee that any critic who is demanding Obama launch a cross-border military campaign against ISIS right now, no matter how vehement they sound, will instantly criticize Obama's operation as soon as it starts. This is what big talkers do.

So of course Obama, if he decides in favor of military intervention in Syria -- or even prolonged action in Iraq -- should do what he did last summer and call for congressional authorization. That's what senators like Tim Kaine and Rand Paul are calling for. Not many other legislators are, though, because obviously they don't want to go on the record for a friggin' war in multiple Middle Eastern countries, no matter how many heads ISIS chops off. "Congressional authorization will not stop some members of Congress from carping from the sidelines," as Jack Goldsmith recently wrote, "[b]ut it will force every member of Congress to take a stand, and it will diminish the rate and significance of carping down the road."  That's really all you can hope for with Congress -- something that "diminishes the rate" of forthcoming bullshit.

Asking for congressional authorization this time around seems like a no-brainer (and quite possibly even a legal necessity!) and if the Obama administration decides to escalate without doing so, then it will deserve all the criticism it gets.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell