President Obama surprised the world on Saturday when he announced he would seek authorization from Congress to use military force in Syria. Obama said he’s eyeing a “limited” mission – “This would not be an open-ended intervention; we would not put boots on the ground” – and hopes lawmakers will agree.
And to that end, the president soon after sent House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) a formal document, alongside a brief letter that read, “I transmit herewith the attached draft legislation regarding Authorization for Use of United States Armed Forces in connection with the conflict in Syria.”
But the “draft legislation” the White House sent to Capitol Hill and the ultimate resolution that will receive a vote aren’t going to be the same thing. As Adam Serwer reported, the draft proposal crafted by the administration is, as many lawmakers soon realized, quite open-ended. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) described the resolution as “very broad.”
“It authorizes the President to use any element of the U.S. Armed Forces and any method of force,” writes Jack Goldsmith, a former Bush Justice Department official who now teaches at Harvard law. “It does not contain specific limits on targets – either in terms of the identity of the targets (e.g. the Syrian government, Syrian rebels, Hezbollah, Iran) or the geography of the targets.”
In other words, though the administration has publicly said it is seeking Congress’ approval for a limited strike on Syria, it’s proposal would grant Obama authority for a much more open-ended mission – one that ultimately could include boots on the ground, if Obama decided it were necessary. As written, the draft language would also approve more than just an attack on Assad, but on any of Syria’s regional allies, or even the Syrian rebels if Obama decided it were necessary.
Even White House allies on the Hill expect to make significant changes, and by all accounts, the reactions were not surprising in the West Wing, which assumed that Congress would change the measure to lawmakers’ liking.
Still, it’s another angle to keep in mind this week – Congress won’t just debate the contentious issue of whether or not to authorize the use of force, but also how to approve of military action, if at all.