Since evidence of chemical weapon use was exposed last week, the debate on Syria has consumed Washington, driving wedges deeper between Democrats and Republicans, the President and Congress and even the government and its people.
President Obama, who pushes for a military strike in Syria, argues that America needs to restore its credibility after setting a “red line” against chemical weapons and take a stand against the use of chemical warfare. Backing him is a long roster of foreign security policy experts including Sec. of State John Kerry, Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
“The norms and laws of the civilized world, that’s what this vote is for. If we don’t answer Assad today, we will erode the standard that has protected our troops for a century,” said John Kerry at a Senate hearing last week.
The American people, however, have clearly stated that they do not want war, especially not another Iraq that could again drag the country into years of gruesome warfare at the taxpayers’ expense.
A recent CNN poll showed 59 percent of Americans want Congress to disapprove Obama’s proposal, whereas only 39 percent want Congress to support it.
But the vote whether or not to support the strike has not only become a question of America’s role in the Middle East, it’s also a battleground for potential 2016 candidates to navigate tricky political waters and claim a name for themselves heading into the presidential midterm.
And that means staying as far away as possible from Obama’s proposal.
With the exception of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) who’s officially undecided and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) who said he’s leaving the decision to Congress, Republican players Rand Paul and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) voted Wednesday against authorizing a strike despite previous statements in support of military action.
In the past, successful presidential nominees have often shied away from pro-war stances.
During WWI, Woodrow Wilson won reelection because of his antiwar platform with the popular slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Three decades later, F.D.R ran for a third presidential term and promised Americans he would keep them out of WWII (which he later reversed after Pearl Harbor).
Recent presidents, notably Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, also gained prominence because of their anti-war platforms. Clinton, who adamantly opposed the Vietnam War, won the presidency with an anti-war platform. And one of the defining moments of Obama’s career was his criticism of President Bush’s invasion of Iraq, which helped him win the 2008 election.
So one question today is whether these Washington power players oppose action in order to drum up public support for White House bids or do they really consider it best for America?
Only the 2016 elections may tell.