Reps. Ryan, Johnson, Kelly Consider Action in Syria
BOARDMAN, Ohio -- U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan paused, then paused again before answering the question: Has President Obama weakened executive authority by asking Congress to approve a limited military attack on Syria?
“I hope so,” Ryan replied. “I hope he has. I think this is a noble and correct constitutional move that we should not be getting involved in these things without the consent of the American people.”
Ryan, D-13 Ohio, met with reporters Sunday evening after flying to and from Washington that day to attend a classified briefing with White House and State Department officials. Eighty-three lawmakers were present, according to published reports, including U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, whose district includes half of Mahoning County.
Obama reportedly surprised his national security team Friday when he reversed course and postponed missile strikes on Syria and the regime of Bashar al-Assad so that Congress could debate whether international law banning the use of chemical weapons is sufficient reason for the Unitd States to become involved in a civil war.
Throughout the Labor Day weekend, cable news channels, newspaper opinion pages and political blogs debated the effect of the president’s decision on the war-making powers of the executive branch. Recaps of presidents taking military action without congressional authorization -- from Harry Truman to George W. Bush -- served as primers for the argument. Wrote one commentator, Walter Shapiro, “The president's decision to go to Congress represents an [sic] historic turning point. It may well be the most important presidential act on the Constitution and war-making powers since Harry Truman decided to sidestep Congress and not seek their backing to launch the Korean War."
In making his argument that limiting executive power to wage war is good for the country, Ryan drew distinctions.
“We’re not talking about national interest [in the Syrian civil war.] I don’t think there is a direct national interest. This is not Pearl Harbor. This is not 9/11. This is not where we’ve been attacked directly,” he said. “This is our responsibility as a global power enforcing international law to try to prevent innocent people from getting killed from chemical weapons. That ultimately is the question here. So I think the president moving in that area should have the consent of Congress, and as a former constitutional law professor, Obama recognizes that and that’s why he’s going to Congress.”
Like Ryan, Johnson does not see the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against that country’s rebels and people as a direct threat to the United States.
“The decision on whether or not to commit American troops and risk American lives when the United States is not directly threatened is a difficult one, and the president has the heavy burden of convincing the Congress and the American people of its merits,” Johnson said Sunday in a prepared statement. “I left this afternoon’s briefing with more questions and concerns than I had when I arrived.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-3 Pa., whose district includes Mercer County, Pa., released a brief statement Saturday calling on Obama “to adequately answer all of the lingering questions that Americans still have, and fully explain the defined objective of an American military strike, the precise strategy for carrying it out, and how it involves our national security interest. Most importantly,” Kelly added, “I want to hear from my constituents in the third district and encourage them to be as forthcoming as possible with their opinions and concerns in the days and weeks ahead.”
Congressional briefings continue this week with House debate set to begin Sept. 9. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hear testimony today from Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey.
“It’s tough sitting in Youngstown, Ohio, to think why we would get involved in the Syrian civil war,” Ryan said.
“My question very early on, when I first went down [to Washington Sunday] was, can we make the situation better -- and I’m not sure we can,” he continued.
“What reduces the chances of innocent civilians getting killed? That’s what I want to evaluate over the next week, because quite frankly, at this point, I don’t think we can make the situation any better. We’re not going to bring democracy to Syria. There’s not a grand plan. The issue is, can you limit the amount of innocent lives that will be killed over the long term, not just in Syria but also in other places where dictators may use chemical weapons if they see the U.S. or Russia or China or any other country is not going to take action against them,” Ryan explained.
“That’s how the next week or so is going to play out as far as my decision-making process. … That’s my barometer at this point.”
Copyright 2013 by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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