Stephen Weissman in Roll Call: Congress Needs to Assert Itself on Syria and Foreign Policy

We wish to draw your attention to Stephen Weissman’s opinion piece, “Congress Needs to Assert Itself on Syria and Foreign Policy” which appeared in  Roll Call  on September 4, 2013. Below is an excerpt:

“Congress’ consideration of President Barack Obama’s proposal for military action against Syrian regime targets will be sorely lacking unless it addresses this fundamental question: Is bombing Syria for its reported use of chemical weapons an effective option for furthering U.S. national security interests in the Syrian civil war? Regrettably, up to now Congress has neither debated nor voted on American policy toward the Syrian conflict. It will need more than a few days or a couple of weeks to formulate a thoughtful response to the president’s request. This shouldn’t be a problem since the latter has said U.S. strikes will be “effective” even “one month from now.”

But how has Congress managed to avoid tackling one of the biggest looming issues in U.S. foreign policy? Well, in June the administration publicly announced a new policy of providing weapons and other military support to the Syrian rebels but paradoxically designated it a CIA “covert action” that cannot be discussed by the public and may go forward without a congressional vote.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, has complained that the covert program “effectively prevents any real debate about U.S. policy in Syria.” Such debate is especially important because CIA paramilitary operations carry a high risk of escalation.

Corker has also noted that the openly declared “covert” operation in Syria “flies in the face of the statutory requirement that ‘the role of the United States Government … not be apparent or acknowledged publicly’ in covert actions.”

The issue isn’t just Congress’ indifference to democratic process and disinclination to uphold the law. It’s also Congress’ continuing acquiescence in a demonstrably ineffective mechanism of secret war. For example, after reviewing five major CIA covert paramilitary operations, the 1975 Senate Church Committee investigation judged that four had failed to achieve their policy goals.


In the past several years, Congress essentially took a pass on the president’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. A legislature that refuses to defend its constitutional role in foreign policy, even against an absurd oxymoron (“overt-covert action”), and abdicates its responsibility to help safeguard America’s national security interests, cannot maintain its self-respect, let alone that of the American people.”

The full essay is available here.

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