McCain balks at Syrian resolution


Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) evolution on U.S. policy in Syria has taken quite a few twists and turns of late, and the Republican senator isn’t quite done.

Last week, McCain heartily endorsed the use of military force in Syria. Over the weekend, however, McCain said he could not “in good conscience” support limited military strikes in Syria because he hoped to see a more ambitious military intervention.

Yesterday, McCain seemed to switch gears again, saying it would be “catastrophic” for Congress to oppose a resolution authorizing the use of force, adding that those who vote against the measure would risk undermining “the credibility of the United States.”

And then this morning, he risked whiplash by quickly reversing course once more. NBC News’ Kasie Hunt, who talked to Rachel last night about developments on Capitol Hill, reported this morning:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Wednesday told NBC News that he doesn’t support Senate language authorizing President Obama’s desired military intervention in Syria because it is too limited.

“In its current form, I do not” support the new draft of the resolution, McCain said. That draft was released late Tuesday; it prohibits combat operations on the ground and limits Obama to a 90-day window in which he could use force against the Syrian regime.

McCain said the resolution doesn’t mention his top policy priorities in Syria. “There’s no reference to changing the momentum on the battlefield, there’s no reference to arming the Free Syrian Army,” he said, referencing a Syrian rebel group with which he’s worked.

Note, the resolution McCain is balking at is a bipartisan proposal, co-authored by one of his allies, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

The rhetorical acrobatics on display are increasingly silly. It’s tough to take McCain seriously when he says on Tuesday that opposing a resolution would have “catastrophic” consequences, only to say he’ll personally oppose the same resolution on Wednesday.

That said, this is a piece in a larger puzzle.

It can be difficult to determine McCain’s true motivations, but at this point, it’s likely that the senator is trying to leverage his position a bit – he obviously wants U.S. military intervention in Syria, and figures that he can get a more expansive resolution if he withholds his support for a while. The longer he balks, the more the White House and its allies will try to think of new ways to make McCain happy.

And if there’s one thing McCain likes, it’s attention.

But the lobbying won’t happen in a vacuum. If proponents of military strikes alter a resolution to allow for a more expansive military operation, they risk losing progressive support on the other side. Greg Sargent reported yesterday:

In an interview with me today, Dem Rep. Chris Van Hollen – a key member of the Dem leadership who is also respected by Congressional liberals – was surprisingly pointed in warning that doing too much to win over the likes of McCain and Graham could end up driving him away, along with many other liberals and Dems.

“You’ve got some members of Congress, particularly Republicans in the Senate, who would like to use this resolution to open the door to large scale U.S. intervention,” Van Hollen told me. “That would be a big mistake. So to the extent that the administration tries to placate those voices, they’re going to get a lot of resistance from those of us, like me, who believe the scope needs to be significantly narrowed.”

And so, the White House and its allies have a decision to make. Do they (a) blow off McCain in the hopes of securing more mainstream votes, confident that McCain’s either bluffing or his vote is unnecessary; or (b) expand the resolution to satisfy McCain, and hope that Democrats go along in the end.

Foreign Policy, Syria and John McCain

McCain balks at Syrian resolution