Syria attack: High-stakes decisions on Capitol Hill are yes, no and maybe

Their constituents are against it, their party leaders in Congress are generally for it, and President Obama has declared it a moral imperative — leaving rank-and-file members to sort it all out and take a career-defining vote on whether to authorize military strikes on Syria.

For some, the decision to approve strikes is about international human rights and chemical weapons.

SEE ALSO: White House to saturate airwaves with Obama’s message on Syria

For others, it’s part of a broader war on terrorism that Republicans in particular say Mr. Obama has been losing, and they see a chance for the president to get back on track in confronting radical Islam.

For what appears to be a growing number in Congress, the decision is a referendum on Mr. Obama’s competency: Do they trust him to manage the attack in the limited way he says and not get drawn into the larger Syrian civil war?

The Washington Times spoke with three lawmakers about their decision-making, and what came through in each case was how seriously the members were studying the briefings provided by the administration and working through the pitfalls and possibilities of a strike.

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The ‘yes’ vote

For Rep. Mike Pompeo, a West Point graduate who also has a Harvard law degree, support for strikes against President Bashar Assad’s regime is a decision he makes almost in spite of, rather than because of, the case the president and his aides have laid out.

The second-term Republican from Kansas said the president has been disengaged from the Middle East and has allowed America’s enemies to become emboldened, with the Syria situation as one result. But that doesn’t mean the president isn’t right to order a military strike.

SEE ALSO: Sen. Rand Paul: Results of Congress’ Syria vote should be binding

“As much as I think the president caused this problem — our weakness over the last few years in the Middle East has absolutely been provocative to Iran and Hezbollah — that doesn’t get members of Congress off the hook. We have an independent constitutional responsibility to get foreign policy right,” he said in a phone interview Sunday after returning from his most recent trip to the region.

For Mr. Pompeo, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, allowing Mr. Assad’s actions to go unanswered is the same as sending a green light to other U.S. enemies. He says Iran, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood are just a few that would see U.S. inaction as a permission slip. In the case of Iran, that means producing nuclear weapons.

Mr. Obama has erred, Mr. Pompeo said, in pushing strikes only as a response to chemical weapons.

“They pinned their entire cause for action on Assad’s chemical strikes. While I’m as troubled and terrified by the use of chemical weapons, it’s problematic to allow chemical weapons use to go unanswered. But that’s not the sole rationale, and it’s the one the president is presenting,” he said. “He is deeply conflicted about this. I’m not. I’m deeply aware of the concerns, but I’m not conflicted.”

Mr. Pompeo wrote an op-ed with Rep. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican and another Army veteran, in The Washington Post last week urging their colleagues to back the use of force.

“We share the concern that Obama won’t execute a proper strategic response. We worry that his action will more resemble President Bill Clinton’s ineffective response to the 1998 African embassy bombings rather than the 1999 Kosovo campaign. But Congress shouldn’t guarantee a bad outcome for our country because of fears that the president will execute an imperfect military campaign,” the two congressmen wrote.

The ‘no’ vote

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