The U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war took a major step today as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution authorizing a military response to chemical weapons use.
On a 10-7 vote, the measure passed. It will go before the full Senate next week.
The resolution would permit Obama to order a limited military mission against Syria as long as it doesn't exceed 90 days and involves no American troops on the ground for combat operations.
The vote marked the first time lawmakers have voted to authorize military action since the October 2002 votes giving President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq.
One of the interesting parts of this entire debate is that President Barack Obama could have authorized this same strike on his own with no approval from Congress. FOX 9 News spoke with former CIA officer Jack Rice about why Obama would consult them and whether credibility, or longer military involvement, are at stake.
Q: President Obama could have done this on his own, so why did he go to Congress?
A: I think he's looking for political cover right now. Let's face it, after more than 10 years of war, it's clear the American people aren't particularly thrilled about going into another country with Iraq, with Afghanistan continuing efforts in Yemen, even in parts of the horn of Africa. The idea of going into Syria is sort of one more place that I think the American people don't want to go, and President Obama is looking for someone to stand in the way if things don't go well.
Q: Is part of the problem the dragging on, some might even say the delay? It was Aug. 12, 2012 when the president mentioned the "red line" quote in an off-the-cuff remark at a press conference. Now, just hours ago, he's kind of reframed that statement at the G8 Summit. Is that part of the problem -- that this has lingered?
A: Oh, absolutely. I think, if he looks back, does he wish he could have said it differently? Clearly. I think, under the circumstances, when you draw this line in the sand and then if you do nothing, there is a credibility gap. You look at what John McCain has been saying and he's been making this very point. Unfortunately, what happens now is this becomes a very political thing. It's a very political football for left and right. Nobody seems to have a particularly good answer. The real problem is: Syria is very, very difficult and has influence -- not just in its own area, but in Lebanon, in parts of Israel, when you talk about the Saudis, their connections with the Iranians. I mean, this is really a lynch pin in many ways, and the Americans know it. I think that's one of the reasons they're trying to take it as seriously as they are.
Q: The president talked today about World War II and the holocaust, saying we're all well aware of what happens when the international community finds reasons not to act -- especially when something like this happens with chemical weapons. What about Iraq and Afghanistan? Is it possible Syria could turn into one of those conflicts?
A: Well, I think it could, but I think it is probably unlikely based upon what the Americans are going to do. But, I do think there is a connection. If we think about what happened with Iraq in particular, we had serious problems with intelligence. The mistakes that were made were very obvious to both left and right. So what happens now is a lot of people, especially on the left, who are saying, 'Look what happened to us in Iraq. Remember the weapons of mass destruction? That sort of bait-and-switch thing?' So what's happening is they're looking at this saying, "Do we truly believe what it is that the American government is telling us?" Frankly, that is one of the reasons the Brits pulled back so much -- because they're doubting the same intelligence.
Q: What about the president, at the G8 Summit, trying to reframe this whole argument here with the international community? What if the U .S. doesn't get the backing from other countries? Does that matter much or is America still going to go it alone?
A: I think in some ways they have to. You see, that's part of the problem. When you draw this line in the sand, you say "this is a bright line," and if you step over that line -- not just once but multiple times -- at some point, there is going to be that credibility gap. But, I think President Obama is conscious of that. Hence, what he is looking for is some support from not just the Senate, but from the House and he can then step in and say, "OK. It's the American government going in, not just President Obama going in."