Senator Paul has written a brief explanation at Time on why he will vote no on Syria. The argument is quite straightforward (and worth reading in its entirety):
- “War should occur only when America is attacked, when it is threatened or when American interests are attacked or threatened.”
- “If American interests are at stake, then it is incumbent upon those advocating for military action to convince Congress and the American people of that threat. Too often, the debate begins and ends with an assertion that our national interest is at stake without any evidence of that assertion. The burden of proof lies with those who wish to engage in war.”
- “The U.S. should not fight a war to save face….If American interests are at stake, then our goal should not be stalemate.”
One might reject the first point—an important premise—and claim that there are myriad reasons to go to war (e.g., to spread the model of liberal democracy or “to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women” to quote international relations theorist Conan the Barbarian). But to my knowledge, the administration is arguing from national interest. The second point is the most important one. Thus far, the claim of national interest has been followed by appeals to emotion (e.g., the number of children killed with chemical weapons) rather than a clear argument supported by evidence and a sober weighing of the costs and benefits of different outcomes. The third point is somewhat less convincing. One could imagine a range of actions that could be used to alter behavior.
Although the authorization for military engagement has passed its first threshold, there is little to suggest that it would pass the Senate or the House today. If President Obama wants to secure the resolution, he will need to decide whether he wants to expend his limited political capital–a difficult decision, given the number of important issues that have been forced onto the agenda for this fall. Assuming that President Obama is committed to military engagement in Syria, there will need to be extensive debate to garner the needed votes (Minority Leader Pelosi believes that it could take weeks in the House).
Hopefully, as the debate continues, attention will remain focused on Senator Paul’s second point.