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September 5, 2013
Sep 5, 2013
2 Min read time
Yesterday, Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey voted “present” on a resolution authorizing the use of American military force in Syria. Twitter screamed. Gabriel Gomez, whom Markey defeated last June in a special election for the seat, called the vote “embarrassing.”
Markey clearly has more misgivings about intervention than the man he replaced in the Senate, Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry has been pitching hard on behalf of the administration’s plan to enforce its red line by “punishing” the Assad government for using chemical weapons, an action that has not yet been confirmed by U.N. weapons inspectors or by the United States. The Foreign Relations Committee voted in favor of military intervention 10–7, with Markey the lone abstainer.
“It’s about the resolution being too broad. It’s about the need for more information. It’s about my worry about a greater involvement in Syria,” Markey said, explaining his noncommittal vote. “The aftermath of a U.S. strike on targets in Syria is difficult to predict, with negative consequences that may be beyond our capability to control,” Markey added.
These are valid concerns—dispositive, even. It’s hard to believe that a legislator harboring them could hold back as Markey did.
The administration has been using a lot of adjectives—narrow, limited, tactical, punitive, surgical—to convince Congress and the public that it does not want a major commitment in Syria. But we heard the same before beginning decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, claims that U.S. interests or security are at stake are not self-evidently true, and the case made for them has been based mainly on assertion, repetition, and fervent pounding of podiums, not on reasoned argument. And neither the president nor his lieutenants are willing to engage the issue of escalation, which Markey has quite properly raised. The nation’s greatest strategic minds are all prepared to start the job in Syria, but they express no readiness to finish it, should the need arise. That is another historical parallel Americans and their representatives in Congress have ample cause to fear.
Given these worries, Markey should have voted against the resolution. But he instead equivocated, and for highly questionable reasons.
“A no vote would have indicated I had sufficient information on which to base the decision. Which I did not,” Markey said, hoping, no doubt, to appear the most levelheaded person in the room.
But Markey doesn’t sound prudent here. His defense is unfathomable.
He had all the information the administration was willing to provide. He heard the plan for war, as well as its strategic, moral, and legal justifications, and he was left unconvinced. There may be additional information somewhere that would persuade him, but he wasn’t asked to vote on the ideal case for war. He was asked to vote on the president’s case, and this was, according to Markey’s own account, insufficient to win his support. What better grounds for a “nay”?
Markey evidently doesn’t understand his role at this point in the Syria conflict. He thinks he is on a fact-finding mission. But the administration has moved well beyond the facts. It is pushing for U.S. involvement on the basis of what is known today. If Markey is not prepared to endorse American entry into the war—and he has articulated important reasons for hesitation—he needs to say so with his vote, not hide behind procedural devices.
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September 05, 2013
2 Min read time
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