Views on the McKeon amendment

levantRep. Amash (R-MI) writes:

What have we learned from the last decade of war? Those years should have taught us that when going to war, our government must:

  1. be careful when defining a military mission,
  2. speak forthrightly with the American people about the sacrifices they will be called to make,
  3. plan more than one satisfactory end to the conflict, and
  4. be humble about what we think we know.

These lessons should be at the front of our minds when Congress votes today on whether to arm groups in Syria.

Today’s amendment ostensibly is aimed at destroying ISIS—yet you’d hardly know it from reading the amendment’s text. The world has witnessed with horror the evil of ISIS: the public beheading of innocents, the killing of Christians, Muslims, and others.

The amendment’s focus—arming groups fighting the Assad government in Syria—has little to do with defeating ISIS. The mission that the amendment advances plainly isn’t the defeat of ISIS; it’s the defeat of Assad.

Americans stood overwhelmingly against entangling our Armed Forces in the Syrian civil war a year ago. If Congress chooses to arm groups in Syria, it must explain to the American people not only why that mission is necessary but also the sacrifices that that mission entails.

The Obama administration has tried to rally support for U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war by implying that our help would be at arm’s length. The amendment Congress will vote on broadly authorizes “assistance” to groups in Syria. It does not specify what types of weapons our government will give the groups. It does not prohibit boots on the ground. (The amendment is silent on the president’s power to order our troops to fight in the civil war; it states only that Congress doesn’t provide “specific statutory authorization” for such escalation.) It does not state the financial cost of the war.

As we should have learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must plan for multiple satisfactory ends to military conflicts before we commence them.

If the Syrian groups that are “appropriately vetted” (the amendment’s language) succeed and oust Assad, what would result? Would the groups assemble a coalition government of anti-Assad fighters, and would that coalition include ISIS? What would happen to the Alawites and Christians who stood with Assad? To what extent would the U.S. government be obligated to occupy Syria to rebuild the government? If each of the groups went its own way, would Syria’s territory be broken apart, and if so, would ISIS control one of the resulting countries?

If the Syrian groups that we support begin to lose, would we let them be defeated? If not, is there any limit to American involvement in the war?

Perhaps some in the administration or Congress have answers to these questions. But the amendment we’ll vote on today contains none of them.

Above all, when Congress considers serious actions—especially war—we must be humble about what we think we know. We don’t know very much about the groups we propose to support or even how we intend to vet those groups. Reports in the last week suggest that some of the “appropriately vetted” groups have struck deals with ISIS, although the groups dispute the claim. The amendment requires the administration to report on its efforts to prevent our arms and resources from ending up in the wrong hands, but we know little about those precautions or their effectiveness.

Today, I will vote against the amendment to arm groups in Syria. There is a wide misalignment between the rhetoric of defeating ISIS and the amendment’s actual mission of arming certain groups in the Syrian civil war. The amendment provides few limits on the type of assistance that our government may commit, and the exit out of the civil war is undefined. And given what’s happened in our country’s most recent wars, our leaders seem to have unjustified confidence in their own ability to execute a plan with so many unknowns.

Some of my colleagues no doubt will come to different judgments on these questions. But it’s essential that they consider the questions carefully. That the president wants the authority to intervene in the Syrian civil war is not a sufficient reason to give him that power. Under the Constitution, it is Congress’s independent responsibility to commence war.

We are the representatives of the American people. The government is proposing to take their resources and to put their children’s lives at risk. I encourage all my colleagues to give the decision the weight it is due.

Rep. Capuano (D-MA) writes:

The House tomorrow will vote on a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government beyond September 30th. As part of that legislation, the House will also consider an amendment to provide funds to arm some Syrian rebels with certain conditions imposed. Here is the text of the amendment if you would like more detail.

Over the past few days my staff and I have attended numerous meetings, asking questions and gathering information. I wrote last week that I remain skeptical about arming the rebels but I am open to listening. I have approached all of the briefings this week with that perspective; I am keeping an open mind and am working to fully understand all aspects of current circumstances as well as strategies to address them.

Based on what I have read and heard, my opinion remains the same. I believe that the President should continue the air campaign against ISIS in order to protect our interests and allies. The Administration should continue building an international coalition; and the strategy should be refined as more information becomes available and as circumstances change on the ground.  Today, America does not yet have enough reliable allies willing to shoulder enough of the burden in this effort.  Today, we have not vetted any faction within the Syrian opposition enough to trust them. Let’s not forget, a year ago, many ISIS fighters would have been trained by the U.S. as part of a “trusted” force.

 At this time, I cannot support this amendment. If the strategy is clarified and international partners make firm and explicit commitments to participate, Congress can and should be called back into session immediately for further discussion and a vote on the matter. The House should not rush to judgment in such a complicated region until there is more certainty surrounding our alliances and the goals of any mission.

 Equally important, this issue should not be an amendment to a Continuing Resolution necessary to keep the federal government running until after the election.  These are separate and distinct issues and each is important enough to be voted on separately. Absent additional information, I will vote NO on the amendment.

Congressman Joe Kennedy III today released the following statement after voting against a House proposal to authorize funding for arming and training moderate Syrian rebels.

“Left unchecked, ISIL poses a grave threat to our allies and interests in the Middle East and – potentially – to the US homeland. Defeating them will require military action, diplomatic strength, coordinated allies throughout the region and viable partners on the ground in both Syria and Iraq. This means, however, that the authorization sought by the President today is not an isolated action but a piece of a much larger mission that could involve US resources and personnel for years to come.  No matter how targeted, the decisions to train and arm moderate rebels in Syria does not exist in a vacuum. It is a step towards escalating a costly, complex, and currently open-ended military engagement overseas. That’s not a step we can take lightly, quickly, or piecemeal. If the Administration is asking our men and women in uniform, their families and the American public to stand behind this mission, they must come to Congress and allow for the kind of thorough, comprehensive deliberation that decisions of war and peace demand.”

The amendment to arm Syrian rebels passed 273-156. Rep. Reed voted Aye. It must have been a difficult decision. I have no quarrel with Rep. Reed’s vote, but I do wish he would explain his reasoning.



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11 Responses to Views on the McKeon amendment

  1. josephurban says:

    The amendment seems to me to be a great piece of bureaucratic red tape. It is open to multiple interpretations,. It says go to war, then imposes a number of restrictions. You either go to war or don’t .Which means the GOP will come back in two months and say Obama violated it and should be impeached. And the Dems will say Obama had all the authority he needed under the amendment.
    ISIS should not be treated with this much respect. They should not be identified as an Islamic “State” just because they call themselves a “state”. They have no popular support. No government. No elections. Take hostages. No due process. Enslave women. They are a bunch of thugs who were able to capture weapons we paid for and left behind after the Iraq debacle. Without access to that high tech weaponry they would not even exist as a military force.They should be treated as criminals and terrorists .
    As such, no “war ” authorization is needed. Just go after them.
    The arming of the rebels is a different story. I tend to agree with those who say we should not do so simply because history tells us that today’s “”freedom fighters” are tomorrow’s tyrants.
    Give air support to the Iraqi and Kurdish troops on the ground. It is their fight. .


  2. Deb Meeker says:

    I agree very much with Rep. Amash’s opinion. What is the difference now in sideways attacking Syria, than – as Amash says being “against entangling our Armed Forces in the Syrian civil war a year ago.”? The difference is two American Journalists were beheaded? Or is it that these two horrifically carried out deaths can be used as the Bush Cabal used the 911 terrorist attacks to attack an unrelated-to-the event country; by the Whistling War Hawks and their always wrong supporters?
    Senator Lindsey Graham warns us ” ISIS is coming to kill all of us!” Senator John McCain insists we must continue the Bush wars post haste, with all manner of military at our disposal. Damn the torpedos! Full speed ahead! When have we heard this before? ISIS may be more potent in viciousness than most other terrorist groups. Ebola is more terrible than ISIS, yet the Drummers can only see blood in Iraq. It makes their owners rich.


  3. whungerford says:

    What about Syria?


  4. whungerford says:

    Rep. Amash writes much about what he would not do and little about what he would do.


  5. Deb meeker says:

    I’m not sure Amash was called upon to say what he would do, but I appreciate the fact that he explained the reasoning for his vote. Recent polling purportedly shows Americans are in agreement with the President’s plan. I am not. It is difficult for Americans to know what is to be believed. Even in the case of the Haditha Dam being “threatened” – do we know this was factual? It seems ground intelligence knows enough when the US military needs to strike, but never enough to be sure who are the friends and who are the enemies. Amash is correct I believe, in not buying the ” we’ll stand down when they stand up” rhetoric.

    The US, in my opinion, should follow through on it’s promise to withdraw from Iraq as previously scheduled, back away slowly as it were, and expect other countries in the region to begin policing their own region. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, and other countries must have at least as much vested interest in the conflict as the US; the US military needs to stop “policing” the world. The record of non accomplishment ( in fact the opposite has happened) in the Middle eastern nations should make that clear to all of us. If our physical country were attacked, that would change the equation; it has not been.

    The US should begin to understand: we are not an empire, we cannot force our version of democracy on others who do not want it, and we cannot bomb an ideology away


  6. josephurban says:

    Good points, Deb. ISIS is adept at using the media to draw attention to themselves. Beheadings are dramatic, but are they any less horrific than the bombing and killing of thousands of Iraqi civilians during the Iraqi occupation? Is it really more viscious than using IDEs in market places? We need to be careful that we don’t fall into the same trap that was set by 9/11…responding to violence foolishly and setting ourselves up for more failure and more American deaths. Thankfully Obama seems to be more measured and mature in his approach to this outlaw group than the chickenhawks. The response should be well planned.


  7. whungerford says:

    A year ago, Republicans orchestrated resistance to President Obama’s plan to attack Syria to destroy chemical weapons. This question became moot after there was a diplomatic solution for that one issue. However the armed struggle in Syria continues. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel are involved. Are we prepared, and is it politically possible, to maintain a hands off policy whatever may happen–even chaos throughout the region–not only during the remainder of Obama’s term but indefinitely? Is it wise to limit our options? Perhaps the McKeon amendment is an important part of a policy based on TR’s suggestion to “speak softly and …”


  8. josephurban says:

    The US should not take a hands-off position in areas with real terrorist threats or areas where there is real brutality against the innocent. But that does not imply the US should jump in, alone, in these areas. The proper response is to strengthen international responses. Over the last 40 years (since Reagan) the US has been a major reason for the weakening of the UN , for example. We should seek to strengthen international organizations and encourage an international response, rather than degrade those organizations. IF we had a strong UN we would not feel obliged to be the world’s policeman. Ironically it is the same folks (like McCain) who demand a weak international force who always want the US to go to war unilaterally instead.


  9. whungerford says:

    Joseph, I agree about the importance of the UN and international coalitions. Still, it is hard to see a course that doesn’t collide with the interests of others. Whether we regard the struggle in the Levant as class based, religious sectarian, or based on national interests, no stable solution is evident. In Iraq, the US resisted the division of the country between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, yet developments seem to carry Iraq inexorably in that direction.


  10. Deb Meeker says:

    Ultimately don’t the populations of these countries you mention above need to wrest control of their own lands? Every time there is foreign interference with the governments in place – the situations have deteriorated even more. Then, of course, with each new attacking country’s removal of the “leader”, destructions of infrastructure, occupation, and drastically reducing employment – the ability to recover deteriorates even further.
    There is one reason President Bush attacked Iraq. That unholy reason is still the driving force for continued aggression from all sides. Meanwhile, the human beings that live there are being slaughtered from all comers.
    No matter what President Obama chooses to do, it will be “wrong”, since two, let alone fourteen wrongs don’t make a right. The most successful targeting of terrorists in these conflicts has always been small stealth operations. ISIS could succumb to the same practices, if ( big if ) surrounding countries were serious about calming their region.


  11. whungerford says:

    The rights of minorities–ethnic or religious–within nations is a difficult one. After the Hundred Year War, Europeans seem to have learned that Catholics and Protestants needn’t fight and kill each other. In other parts of the world, that idea has yet to take hold.

    Yesterday, Scotland voted to remain part of the UK–a good thing I think.


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