Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has emerged as the only top congressional leader to oppose President Obama’s proposal to launch a military strike against Syria, pointedly rebuking the president Tuesday while confirming his own hawkish approach to national security.
“I will be voting against this resolution,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “A vital national security risk is clearly not at play; there are just too many unanswered questions about our long-term strategy in Syria, including the fact that this proposal is utterly detached from a wider strategy to end the civil war there.”
McConnell’s speech came as he faces a primary challenge in Kentucky from businessman Matt Bevin, who has already come out against action in Syria. It also came on a day that many in Congress began to tack away from a vote on the use of force, in favor of a diplomatic solution. McConnell was skeptical of that option, too.“Let me remind everyone that even if this is agreed to, it’s still a long way off to reaching an agreement at the United Nations, to Syria gaining entry to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and to eventually securing, and destroying the stockpile,” he said.
Still, McConnell’s stance on a military strike stood in contrast to his counterparts in the House, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who said last week that they would support a use-of-force resolution, though they would not help persuade their colleagues to back it. Unlike the other Republican senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, who opposes the use of force on noninterventionist grounds, McConnell said that the U.S. should not withdraw from the world stage.
“If this episode has shown us anything, it’s that the time has come for the president to finally acknowledge that there’s no substitute for American might,” McConnell said. “It is time for America to lead again, this time from the front. But we need strategic vision, in the Middle East and in many other places around the world, to do it.”
Recent events have thrown the Senate debate over the use of force into upheaval, and a Senate vote that was expected Wednesday has been delayed as a proposal to transfer Syria’s chemical weapons to neutral monitors begins to gain traction.
Meanwhile, public support for striking Syria is anemic. A recent United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll showed that 55 percent of Americans wanted the government to stay out of the Syrian civil war. The number increases to 60 percent among Republicans.
Congressional support for using force has likewise remained low. Vote tallies compiled by a number of media outlets show that a resolution to use force in Syria cannot pass in the House and could face strong headwinds in the Senate.
This article appears in the September 11, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.