[UPDATE: guess that's the party line: Kerry echoed it in his testimony this afternoon:Ms. Pelosi said..that she was hopeful the American people “will be persuaded of” military action.“President Obama did not write the red line,” she said. “History wrote the red line decades ago.”
Now, some have tried to suggest that the debate we're having today is about President Obama's red line. I could not more forcefully state that is just plain and simply wrong. This debate is about the world's red line. It's about humanity's red line. And it's a red line that anyone with a conscience ought to draw. ][9/5: Obama said the same in Sweden.]
The U.S. decision to move toward possible strikes appears, rightly or wrongly, wisely or unwisely, to be all about reinforcing international norms. It’s not about us; it’s not about “because Obama said so.” It’s about “because international norms say so.”Enforcing that norm is the narrowest possible definition of a prospective intervention in Syria, and therefore a fit for Pelosi's constituency:
Washington has a tendency to perceive what happens in Washington as the most important factor in any event, which is a big part of why many here are focusing primarily on Obama’s “red line” against chemical weapons. What this misses is that Obama’s red line is only a year old, was never taken particularly seriously by the rest of the world (few missed Obama’s reticence to intervene) and was always vague. More importantly, it missed that there is an international norm against the use of chemical weapons, which is far more established and taken more seriously than Obama’s red line.
The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is old, reasonably well established and recognized by almost every country on Earth. It was established by the 1925 Geneva Protocols and has been observed far from perfectly but at least partially ever since. It’s one of the few international norms restricting warfare that we have in the world. And, while Obama’s red line might matter a whole lot in Beltway politics, the international norm against chemical weapons matters in just about every corner of the globe, because no country wants to expose itself to future chemical weapons use by letting the norm slacken.
At the same time, assurances must swing the other way to win the hawks, led by McCain and Graham (from the same article as the Pelosi quotes):But, she said, people in her district were not convinced that military action was necessary. And she said the administration needed to continue making its case.“There’s work to be done,” she said. “Some won’t ever be comfortable with it.”
In the battle to win Congress, can the mission creep to win the hawks and creep back to win the doves?After an hourlong White House meeting on Monday, Mr. McCain said that Mr. Obama had given general support to doing more for the Syrian rebels, but that no specifics were agreed upon.Officials said that in the same conversation, which included Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, Mr. Obama indicated that a covert effort by the United States to arm and train Syrian rebels was beginning to yield results: the first 50-man cell of fighters, who have been trained by the C.I.A., was beginning to sneak into Syria.There appeared to be broad agreement with the president, Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham said, that any attack on Syria should be to “degrade” the Syrian government’s delivery systems. Such a strike could include aircraft, artillery and the kind of rockets that the Obama administration says the forces of President Bashar al-Assad used to carry out an Aug. 21 sarin attack in the Damascus suburbs that killed more than 1,400 people.The senators said they planned to meet with Susan E. Rice, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, to discuss the strategy in greater depth.“It is all in the details, but I left the meeting feeling better than I felt before about what happens the day after and that the purpose of the attack is going to be a little more robust than I thought,” Mr. Graham said in an interview.
As far as action, goes, note that McCain won no concrete promises but is set up to hold the president to amorphous ones:
While going to Congress was a cautious move, the pause, and the debate,may push toward fuller engagement than a quick strike would have done.But Mr. McCain said in an interview that Mr. Obama did not say specifically what weapons might be provided to the opposition or discuss in detail what Syrian targets might be attacked.“There was no concrete agreement, ‘O.K., we got a deal,’ ” Mr. McCain said. “Like a lot of things, the devil is in the details.”In remarks to reporters outside the West Wing, he called the meeting “encouraging,” urged lawmakers to support Mr. Obama in his plan for military action in Syria and said a no vote in Congress would be “catastrophic” for the United States and its credibility in the world. Mr. McCain said he believed after his conversation with the president that any strikes would be “very serious” and not “cosmetic.”