The full text of the Senate’s joint resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria is now available.
There are a number of parts that I find problematic, like for instance Section 2(a)’s invocation of “legitimate military targets,” a phrase that is as poorly defined as “imminent threat” and “terrorist.” Does that mean that schools and hospitals will not be legitimate targets? What if they house weapon caches or Syrian military personnel?
Another perhaps well-intentioned but nevertheless useless piece of language is Section 2(b)(4)’s requirement that any military force used against Syria must not occur before the President has submitted to the Speaker and President Pro Tempore his “determination” that “it is in the core national security interest of the United States to use such military force.”
I can think of extremely few instances in which this requirement would actually place limits on what force is used in Syria, but it might not be a complete waste of time if it in any way compels the President to offer a substantive and precise explanation of why degrading the Syrian government’s capacity to launch chemical weapon attacks is a “core” national security interest.
More importantly though is the joint resolution’s seemingly mixed messaging on what the purpose of the military force it’s authorizing is.
Requirement b(6) of Section 2 asks the President to demonstrate to Congress his determination that any proposed military action in Syria will be “consistent with and furthers the goals of the United States strategy toward Syria, including achieving a negotiated political settlement to the conflict.”
Section 5 seems to elaborate on what the “United States strategy toward Syria” is, calling for the President to submit an “integrated United States Government strategy” for achieving the “negotiated political settlement.” This plan would need to include language that dealt specifically with “efforts to isolate extremist and terrorist groups in Syria,” “coordinate with allies and partners,” and “efforts to limit support from the Government of Iran and others for the Syrian regime.”
Since the President already stated that his seeking authorization from Congress was a act of goodwill rather than a legal necessity, it’s worth viewing whatever statement of authorization that results as a primarily political document.
That is, it’s less important what exactly Congress authorizes than the total scope of what they choose to include in the document.
To my mind, the fact that the current resolution being considered directly calls for not only a negotiated political settlement, but one that’s achieved through the “combat operations” which are explicitly part of a strategy to materially bolster only certain opposition factions, while at the same time degrading not just the Syrian “regime’s” capacity to launch chemical weapon attacks, but also Iran’s influence in the region, is not limited, targeted, or precise at all.