Obama, JFK, Reagan

To Congress, Re: Syria

The character of great nations is not defined by doing what is easy — it is defined by doing what is hard, because it is right.

Great leaders — Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt come to mind, and John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan — do not act by putting their fingers to the wind and following the polls. They do what is in the interest of their nation and what their nation stands for.

Dear members of the House and Senate: I suggest that what President Obama is trying to do in Syria involves the combination of the threat of force and the use of diplomacy, such as that employed by Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis and by Reagan during his historic dealings with the Soviet Union that precipitated the end of the Cold War.

For years Bashar Assad lied and claimed he did not have chemical weapons, which he now admits he has and claims he will give up, only because of the resolve of Obama, President François Hollande of France, bipartisan leaders in Congress and others.

Members of Congress: Who do you think Assad amassed chemical weapons to use against?

The answer is clear: against the people of Syria who oppose him and against the people of Israel.

Never again means never. Not “Never, except for today.” Not “Never, except when Congress reads the polls and lacks the will.”

If Congress removes the threat of force against a tyrant who mass murders his people through crimes against humanity, Congress will destroy the prospects of diplomacy and the deterrent capability of America.

I applaud the resolve of France’s Hollande, who has acted like a world leader of courage, clarity and conviction in response to the crimes against humanity of Assad.

I ask Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband of Great Britain to reconsider their failure to lead. The “special relationship” between the United States and Britain involves standing together when the issue is hard, when the chips are down and when the merits of action involve matters of security and principles of decency that our two nations share.

It will be a tragedy for humanity if historians conclude that Obama seeking congressional authorization for a limited military action in Syria, which is not required by statute or the Constitution, was an act of great good faith and bad political judgment.

It is easy for commentators to dissect the president’s past decisions. It is simple for politicians to speak like Winston Churchill and act like Neville Chamberlain after raising fingers to the wind, counting the polls, and calculating the math for the Iowa caucuses.

Congress should grant the president authority for limited military action while he negotiates the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Imagine if Congress had prohibited Kennedy from employing a blockade during the Cuban missile crisis! Imagine if Congress had prohibited Reagan from any use of force and any weapons development while he negotiated with the Soviets!

What Kennedy understood, what Reagan understood, and what Obama understands today is that for diplomacy to succeed, nations must demonstrate the resolve that at times includes the willingness — if diplomacy fails — to use appropriate and focused military force.

Kennedy was right. Reagan was right. Obama is right.

It would be an epic disaster condemned by historians for generations if a dysfunctional Congress were to destroy the president’s negotiating hand and provide a victory to Assad, who would commit more mass murders with impunity, aided, abetted and encouraged by a refusal of Congress to act.

Imagine what it was like for those who were mass murdered with sarin by Assad’s regime, for the children paralyzed by fear, shaking with agony, trembling with panic, retching with nausea, screaming in desperation, pleading to God, crying for help.

The president, secretary of State, Speaker of the House, House majority leader, House minority leader, Senate majority leader and senior senator from Arizona have given them their answer.

What is your answer?


Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.